Friday, December 16, 2011

Meet Rory of "Penengro"

Rory O'Malley was picked out in an Irish orphanage by the parents of a 12-year-old boy who looked just like him, with red hair and freckles. When we first meet Rory, he is escaping from the house because he finds it creepy to be living out the memories and expectations of still-grieving parents.

He explains to an evidently inebriated man he meets and helps on the road to Dublin that "they wanted me to be their dead boy."  He explains also to the man, Lionel Usher, that he has no relatives. Usher observes: "You have too few [relatives] and I have too many. Have some of mine." In the end, Usher is discovered by relatives and he brings Rory home with him, claiming him as a nephew. But in the morning Usher doesn't remember his offer, and Rory moves on.

At left is a drawing of Rory in the middle of Dublin. He walks by Nelson's Pillar, which was then (about 1950; the Pillar  was destroyed in 1966) in the center of O'Connell Street. From there he is advised to get food in the market on Moore Street. At the market he comes across two girls in gypsy dress selling paper flowers. The younger one, Rory's age, is accused by a baker of stealing a cake. Rory notices a yellow stray dog eating the cake and he points it out to the baker, earning the gratitude of the girls, who disappear. Attention is then focused on the dog, who would have been taken in by the police if Rory didn't claim it as his own and pay for the cake. Rory and Sandy are picked up by a boy with a wagon delivering potatoes. Sandy leads Rory to the place where the gypsies (also known in Ireland as tinkers or travelers) had made their camp. Sandy is welcomed by the other dogs because he belonged to the flower girls. Rory is welcomed because the flower girls had explained the story of Rory's successfully defending them. Zena, the younger flower girl, and Rory become very attached to each other. Rory learns to speak Romany, the language of the gypsies, and learns much from them about their customs and about their way of life and beliefs.

The author shows how the Romany believe they own the earth and everyone else is only borrowing from them. G. K. Chesterton put it well when he said: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property, that they may more perfectly respect it." (The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908)

Rory in turn tells stories from his life and in time is given the high compliment of being called "Penengro" - the Roma word for story-teller. 

To go on might spoil the story for those who have not read the book. The ending for Rory is realistic and satisfying. The book is based on Hilda van Stockum's research into the Roma, the gypsies as they were widely called when the book was written. HvS considered it reason enough to side with the Roma, to know that that Hitler persecuted them! As Desmond Oakley says in the preface to the 2010 edition (the original edition was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1972): "In showing the challenges faced by a downtrodden minority, it also reveals to the rest of us how much we have lost our relationship to nature." This book could be considered an introduction to gypsy history, a topic of great controversy and interest. As an entry point into the current dialog, see Sinéad ní Shuinéar, "Apocrypha to Canon" (from the 2004 conference of the Gypsy Lore Society), History Ireland, Winter 2004. Discussed in an interview on “Sullivan’s Travels”, a talk show on LTV in East Hampton, for 2012 airing.
How to Order Penengro. The book is available from Amazon for $9.95 (free shipping for orders above $25 to a single U.S. address). Preview (“LOOK INSIDE”) available. Kindle version available for $6.95.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

PATSY | Five-year-old girl finds dog

A puppy follows Patsy home.
Patsy is a girl who rolls with the punches. She always wanted a puppy but her mother thinks Patsy is too young, even though she is "almost five years old now".

But one day a puppy follows her home. Patsy gives him something to eat. Her mother makes it crystal clear that the puppy belongs to someone else and must be returned. The mailman recognizes the puppy: "It belongs to Mrs. Murphy in the pink cottage on the hill." So Patsy must return the puppy immediately.

What an assignment! Patsy takes the long way round and gets into all kinds of adventures on the way, but never once gets discouraged or loses track of the puppy. This is a story about adopting and taking responsibility for a pet.

Patsy feeds the pup and wants to keep him.
It's not easy. The puppy runs around trees, wrapping the leash around the trunks. He runs into the street, provoking angry comments from a driver. He runs into a drainpipe. He chases a kitten and ends up inside a school room. He eats the teacher's lunch, so Patsy gives the teacher her own sandwich. Patsy and the pup finally get to the hill where Mrs. Murphy lives, but the puppy chases a rabbit into a deep wood. They were lost.

There is a noise. Is it a bear?  This is the low point of Patsy's tale... But a hunter rescues them and takes them out of the woods to within sight of Mrs. Murphy's house. The puppy is not eager to return. Patsy returns the pup.

 Mrs. Murphy's response is unexpected: "Sure and I'd hoped I'd never set eyes on him again. That pup's nothing but a botheration."

Patsy is agog. "You mean you don't LOVE him?" Mrs. Murphy answers: "Wasn't I glad to get rid of him?" Mrs. Murphy gives Patsy the pup and a cookie to take with her. Patsy and the pup dance their way home, as in the cover picture below. When her mother hears about Patsy's adventures and Mrs. Murphy's response, she decides to let Patsy keep the pup, whom Patsy calls Honey. "You seem to have taken care of him quite well," says Patsy's mother. "I think you deserve to keep him." Patsy and Honey then have a nice long nap.

Clickable cover on Amazon site.
The character of Patsy is based on Hilda van Stockum's daughter Elisabeth at about five years old - the dedication is to "Elisabeth and Trusty", the latter being the Marlins' Montreal dog, delivered as a puppy to Elisabeth in a pail. In a preface to the 2009 edition, Elisabeth Marlin writes: "This is a story that parents and children from two to six will enjoy reading together, over and over again." A book now for Elisabeth's growing number of grandchildren!

The book was discussed in an interview on “Sullivan’s Travels”, a talk show on LTV in East Hampton, NY for 2012 airing.

How to Order Patsy and the Pup.  Available from Amazon for $9.95 (free shipping for orders above $25 to a single U.S. address). Preview (“LOOK INSIDE”) available on the Amazon website.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meet Kersti of "Kersti and St. Nicholas"

Kersti goes sailing in a washtub.
Kersti is one of Hilda van Stockum's controversial characters. She is the last child in the van Disselen family, which was - after six daughters -  perhaps understandably hoping for a boy. Kersti is naughty. But as Elisabeth Marlin says in the Preface, "her naughtiness [is] balanced by courage and generosity." She is also a convincing advocate for her causes, and this is the heart of the story. After a number of Kersti adventures that make clear that St. Nicholas would be well within his rights to leave a lump of coal in her clog come the night of December 5 (the eve of the saint's birthday, when he visits children), Kersti comes face to face with St. Nicholas and gets him to agree to give presents to undeserving children. Hilda van Stockum was criticized for this by some reviewers and her published response was: "I claim no responsibility for [Kersti's] actions. I had a lovely, sweet, good little story for nice little children and Kersti just came and played havoc with it. She ruined the moral, shocked Pieterbaas, had a very bad influence on St. Nicholas and did not deserve a present at the end. I wash my hands of her." But we  know that Hilda van Stockum had a huge love for all her characters, especially including Kersti.  The story is based in Zeeland, in the southwest corner of Holland, bordering on Belgium. Hilda van Stockum was thereby staking a claim in a different part of Holland from her first book about Holland, A Day on Skates, which was based in Friesland to the north.
Cover of Kersti on Amazon.
Kersti was first published by Viking Press in 1940 and was highlighted in the roundup of new children's books in the New York Times on December 1 that year. The book probes the mythology of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas), who visits homes with his Moorish assistant Piet on the eve of his day, December 6 to mete out rewards for those children who have been good during the year. St. Nicholas Day is the year's most important celebration in Holland. It also provides a realistic picture of Holland in the days before cars and electricity.

How to Order "Kersti and St. Nicholas" for Yourself or as a Gift for Someone Else.  The latest version of the book issued in late 2011 has  each of the major, glorious illustrations spread over two pages. Kersti is available from Amazon for $13.99 (free shipping for total orders above $25 to a single U.S. address).  A preview of the book (“LOOK INSIDE!”) is available - go to the Amazon site. 

LITTLE OLD BEAR | Meet Jeremy Bear

The books of Hilda van Stockum are filled with vivid characters. Here is one of them, the book he is in, and a description of the story line that brings the character alive.

Jeremy Bear of Little Old Bear has lived a long life and is discarded, cohabiting in an attic with mice and spiders. A lady is sweeping out the attic and throws out the little old bear. He has no eyes but with ears... and emotions. He is tossed out in a garbage can and feels bereft. Even the birds and dogs reject him because he has little fur left and nothing for them to eat. Some boys play with him but get tired of it and toss him over a wall. A girl picks him up and seats him with her dolls but he has nothing to say to them. She also gets bored with him and tosses him over another wall. Fortunately, this time the bear lands on an elderly lady who is at first annoyed but then apologizes because she sees the bear is blind. She takes pity on him, brings him home and gives him new eyes. Now the bear can see, and sits by a window, looking outside, pining for a friend. The lady is preparing to give him away to the church bazaar. But before she gives him away, her favorite grandson Benjamin comes home. The meeting between Benjamin and Jeremy is love at first sight. Benjamin tosses away the characterless new bear he had been given (Benjamin couldn't think of a name to give it) and welcomes the little old bear into his arms. "He is more interesting," he says to his grandmother. "You may give the other bear to the church bazaar. I want this one. His name is Jeremy."

This book about rejection and acceptance will bring tears to the eyes of both grandchildren and their grandparents.

It's also about getting new eyes - a good gift for eye surgeons and their families!

Reviewed in the East Hampton Star and discussed in an interview on “Sullivan’s Travels”, a talk show on LTV in East Hampton.

Available from Amazon for $8.95 (free shipping for orders above $25 to a single U.S. address). Preview (“LOOK INSIDE”) available. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

QUERY | John Cyril Donnelly

I have received an email from Tim Smyth, who is I researching the life of John Cyril Donnelly (1912-1948). Donnelly was attached to a smart Trinity College, Dublin crowd in the early 1930s.  
This group included
- E. R. ("Spike") Marlin
- Willem van Stockum, brother of Hilda van Stockum who married Spike Marlin
- Owen Sheehy ("Skeff") Skeffington
- Christopher ("Christo") Gore-Grimes
- David Grene
- Orson Welles

All I have been able to find is a link on with the following information:

John Cyril Donnelly Found 10 Records, 5 Photos and 267,629 Family Trees

Born in Dublin, Ireland on 2 Apr 1912 to John Herbert Donnelly (1876-1956) and Gertrude Mabel Robinson (1885-1982). He passed away on 29 Jun 1948 on Pershing Av, Lima, Peru. 
If you have any information about Mr. Donnelly, please send me an email and I will forward it to Mr. Smyth).
John Tepper Marlin

Thursday, October 20, 2011

5th Anniversary of Death of Hilda van Stockum

Remembrances of Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006)

October 20, 2011 - All Six of Her Children Have Posted Remembrances.
Her Fifth Anniversary is November 1, 2011 - All Saints' Day.
OLGA (Joan in The Mitchells Series) has for 51 years been based in Nairobi, Kenya, and in June 2011 received an honorary D.Litt. degree from Strathmore  University in Nairobi. She writes from the Navarre Clinic in Pamplona, Spain: "Mother liked to say that we were a family that knew how to love. I think this is very true. Our parents lived for us, and we grew up very close to one another..." More  
Hilda next to her Self-Portrait
Hilda van Stockum with Her Self-Portrait

BRIGID (Patsy) writes from Berkhamsted, Herts., UK, where she paints and writes, living near her sons Chris and Desmond and Desmond's wife Anna and son Ivan: "Mother often seems to be near me. She was a larger than life person and I can detect parts of me as I get older that are parts of her. I feel in a way she has gone ahead into the unknown valley of death to help us cross the barrier when the time comes..."
RANDAL (Peter) writes from Ottawa, Canada, where he teaches at Carleton University and Ottawa University, writes articles about Wikileaks and propaganda, lives with his wife Elaine and keeps in touch with their six children, two of whom have married: "We know Mom thought a lot about her duties as wife and mother. In an interview, when someone asked how she could write, paint and raise a family all at the same time, she replied 'by neglecting my duties.' One day (or night) she had an epiphany about her duties as wife..."
SHEILA (Angela) writes from the High Elms Manor in Garston, near Watford, Herts., UK, where her four daughters and spouses, grandchildren and friends live under the same grand roof: "After five years, the memory of Mother has not faded but is just as strong. I have become far more appreciative of her books and paintings..."
JOHN (Timmy) is writing from New York City, where he teaches at NYU and Pace Universities, manages Boissevain Books, engages with the media and lives with his wife of 40 years, Alice. They visit frequently with their two nearby children: "We can't know how Mom has changed in the last five years! But the five years since her death have given me so much better an appreciation of who she was and how she got there. Her letters and unpublished manuscripts, as well as her published books and paintings and photographs..."
LIZ (Catherine) writes from London, where she lives with her husband Cliff Paice and is called on frequently for babysitting for their grandchildren. They have two married daughters and a married son: "I find myself remembering Mom's sayings. 'Writers write. Painters paint. If you haven't got time just now, you aren't a writer or a painter.' ..."   More
To add your own remembrances, go to Facebook or NY Times Legacy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hilda van Stockum on Her Father, and Dreams 2001-2002

I have just posted some newly transcribed writing by Hilda van Stockum. It has some well-written information about her father, Bram van Stockum, and a story about her escape from being trapped in quicksand. Then she describes a series of her dreams. The dreams show, for example, that she was conscious of having less control over her money. She was grateful for the visitors who came, especially Brigid and Sheila, and the parishioners who drove her to church. But above all she expressed her loneliness. Despite all this, she wrote a terrific poem that is a tribute to her late husband Spike, sorrow at his absence, and the need for love to have an object to focus on. Here is the poem:

After a party when all have gone! (February 2002 - her 94th birthday month)
The farewell kisses,
The echoes of past fun,
The footsteps and the company
It's gone away, all done,
Oh how bereft it's left me,
How utterly alone,
It's like a sudden stumble
When off my feet I'm thrown.
I'm now alone, alone -
Like a dog without a bone -
No pleasure, except a lingering kiss,
Which only I remember, and miss -

Oh how our hearts falter without their echo,
The other heart with which to share -
It takes two or more to be content,
For only so can love be spent.

The full transcript is the last entry under HvS2000to2006 -

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hilda van Stockum at Children's Book Fair, East Hampton

The East Hampton Book Fair was held at the Library yesterday and the books of my late mother Hilda van Stockum were shown and sold at my booth. In the space of a few hours I sold nine copies of "Little Old Bear", four copies of "Patsy and the Pup" (Boissevain Books) and three copies of "Penengro" (Boissevain Books), all published by Boissevain Books> I also sold two copies of "Pamela Walks the Dog" (Bethlehem Books) and there was much interest in "A Day on Skates" and "The Winged Watchman", both published by Bethlehem Books.
John Tepper Marlin

Monday, June 20, 2011

BUCKET LIST | The Matisse Chapel, Vence

The Cross over Mattisse's Chapel. All
photos by JT Marlin.
My "bucket list" is quite long because Alice and I are expecting to enjoy traveling for many more years. The list included the Matisse Chapel.

My mother, Hilda van Stockum lived with her children in Paris for a year, 1954-55. She referenced the chapel when it was just three years old, in a letter on October 13, 1954, pasted here in her album for that year (p. 19):
We discussed Matisse’s work on the chapel at Vence. It is a Dominican church… Mrs. Schneiter… was enthusiastic.
Later my mother did get to see the chapel, as did my artist sister Brigid, from whom I have comment at the end of this post.

The creation of the chapel is a touching story. Henri Matisse designed it in his late 70s (he was born in 1869). During a four-year battle with cancer, he was looked after by Monique Bourgeois. She became a nun at the convent in Vence, a house of the Dominican Sisters of Monteils (Aveyron). She continued to care for Matisse after joining the convent.

A grateful Matisse spent four years designing the chapel and all its details, down to the colors of vestments. He prepared remarks for the opening of the chapel on June 25, 1951 that he was too ill to deliver, but were read out on his behalf:
This work required of me four years’ exclusive and entire effort and it is the fruit of my whole working life. In spite of all its imperfections I consider it as my masterpiece.
Posted Map of Greater Vence. 
Alice and I set off to see the chapel last Monday (June 13, 2011) with Beatrice and John Eldon, whom I have known since schooldays at Ampleforth College.

He and Randal were both at St. Thomas's House. I was at Gilling Castle (now St. Martin's) and then the Junior House.

Leaving Villefranche (between Monaco and Nice) after spending several hours nearby at the Rothschild Villa and Gardens, we headed back to Nice and northward above Cagnes to Vence, tucked in the mountains (see map).

Vence is north of St.-Paul de Vence, which was the subject of a nostalgic story in the NY Times travel section just yesterday.

We ascertained from the chapel web site that the chapel is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, afternoons only, 2 to 5:30 pm, and Tuesday, Thursday mornings from 10 am to 11:30 am and afternoons from 2 to 5:30 pm.

Vence is not so hard to find but if you don't approach from the right direction, signs to the chapel are scarce until one is close.

It didn't matter how quickly we got there. Alas, when we arrived, the bonnes soeurs said regretfully that the chapel was closed for the Monday after Pentecost.

This day is celebrated as an independently important holiday in France. Who knew?

We were disappointed, but I took pictures of the outside of the chapel. The soaring cross is gorgeous. Worth a visit by itself. Other views of the stained glass and murals inside are on the chapel web site.

Outside of the Matisse Chapel.
One has to picture the inside to get a sense of the integrity of the chapel that was Matisse's goal.

At any rate, I have seen enough of the Chapel to take it off my Bucket A List.

I asked my sister Brigid, an accomplished artist,  for some reactions to the chapel. She found the nuns themselves very interesting, because the chapel of which they are curators comes out of a movement toward recognizing the primitive ("sauvage"), yet the art itself requires a sophisticated taste. Brigid said:
The nuns were clearly awed by the fame of their chapel and the artist, but nonetheless some of them seemed to miss having faces to pray to on the representations of Jesus and the saints.
As the monks of Ampleforth used to say about the rosary, invention of which is credited to the Dominicans, "The rosary is good for two kinds of Catholics. Those who enjoy praying with it, and those who don't."

The nuns must have had to relearn how to pray in this chapel, without the realistic representations of holy faces that they must have been used to. Some must have found it harder to adjust than others. They deserve special respect.

Postscript, Dec. 31, 2015

This day in 1869 Matisse was born, in Le Cateau, France. Through his education in law school, he showed no interest in art and never visited a museum. But when confined to his bed with appendicitis, he took up painting to while away the time and he said: "For the first time in my life I felt free, quiet, and alone ... carried along by a power alien to my life as a normal man." At 22, he quit law and became a full-time artist. A revolutionary who dressed like a bourgeois, he once said, "It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else."