Monday, May 20, 2019

Drawn From Memory and Drawn From Life

Drawn From Memory and Drawn From Life, by E. M. Shepard

Last Christmas, I had utterly failed to find a good gift for my mom and had fallen back on nice socks.  We all like socks, but still.  And on December 23, Lory posted about her new book -- a memoir by E. H. Shepard, who illustrated Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows.  This was clearly the ideal gift!  It didn't arrive for weeks, but eventually my mom got a really good present, and then I borrowed it too.  Naturally!





Drawn from Memory is the story of Shepard's early childhood until the age of 8, and it is utterly charming.  He was a the child of a fairly ordinary middle-class Victorian family in London, albeit one with theatrical and artistic connections.  It was 1887, and life was very exciting, what with horses and cabs, ships in the seas, and a Jubilee for the Queen.  Shepard just shares a succession of memories of ordinary Victorian life, from childhood illnesses to exciting moments such as a neighborhood fire or a trip to the pantomime.  Such as:

I remembered very well my first introduction to sea-bathing. Father and Mother had been in for a dip and had taken Ethel with them. Cyril and I were handed over to the tender mercies of the Bathing Woman. This formidable female was dressed in a serge bathing dress and a straw bonnet.  She had red and brawny arms and her skin looked as if it were covered with barnacles. As she spent most of her life in the water, this may even have been the case. Her method was simple: the more difficult subjects, like my brother and myself, were tucked under her arms, where, our tender skin suffering acutely from contact with the rough serge, we were carried out to sea. The protesting body was then ducked, not once but several times, according to how the victim took it. The more he yelled, the more the duckings, until, nearly asphyxiated, he was reduced to silence. The torturer, meanwhile, in what was supposed to be a soothing voice, repeated, 'Dippy go under, dear!'  with each immersion, though her final remark to me did not sound like that. It took a lot to reduce me to silence and I was handed back to my parents with the comment: 'Well, that's the last I want to see of 'im!'
When Shepard was ten, his mother became ill and died, which was an enormous shock and loss to them all.  Thus he begins his second memoir at that point, when his life was shattered.  He and his siblings went to live with the aunts for a while.  School also began around then and was quite horrible for a while.  There were, however, many better moments as well, and as young Ernest had always been talented at drawing, he started to attend art classes.  This memoir goes all the way up through art school, his engagement with his wife Florence (Pie), who was a talented painter, and the beginning of their married life.

Both volumes, as you'd expect, are liberally sprinkled with lovely little illustrations.   They're a joy to read and I'd highly recommend them to anyone interested in Victorian life or, as we might say, the lives of great illustrators.  Shepard's work is so well known -- almost anyone would recognize the drawings of Winnie the Pooh -- and this might be a nice selection for any Pooh or Wind in the Willows fan.

"simply messing about in boats"

4 comments:

Marian H said...

Wow, I'd never heard of this book, but it sounds fascinating! I think my mom would enjoy it, too.

Michelle Ann said...


This sounds excellent. I still have a childhood book called Frogmorton, by Susan Collings, which although pleasant, is a bit of a rip-off of The Wind in the Willows. In this book, a poor tortoise is rescued by a friendly frog. However, I have always loved it, mainly for its illustrations, and it was only as an adult that I realised they were by E. H. Shepard. A truly great illustrator.

Lory said...

Hooray, I'm so glad this finally came and was a great gift for both of you. Shepard's illustrations are priceless and his memoirs are lovely too.

Unknown said...

These sound wonderful. I'm glad they are illustrated! I've become fascinated, recently, by illustrations of life like travel journals, nature diaries, and the like.