The short version
If you subscribe before May 1, 2018, I’ll attach a short story by Henry Kitchell Webster to your welcome email.
And now the long version …
Art ca. 1890-1915 … and what happened next
Some of my favorite visual art comes from late 19th- and early 20th-century America. That includes works by Saint Gaudens, MacMonnies, and Parrish (about whom I’ll be speaking at the Cordair Arts & Wine weekend in July).
Why does this art appeal to me so much?
First, artists were still rigorously trained in the technical knowledge that their predecessors had gained over the course of 2,000 years. The sculptures and paintings of this period are often executed superbly. It’s a lot easier for me to submerge myself in an artist’s world if I’m not distracted by a misshapen arm or a pitted finish.
Second, the works of this period often have an upbeat sense of life that’s linked to the results of the Industrial Revolution (with all it implied for improved standards of living, longevity, belief in progress, etc.) and also linked to the ethics and politics that drove the American Revolution.
Because that sense of life wasn’t based on a consistent philosophy, it didn’t hold up against opposing views. In the late 19th century, wealthy Americans began steaming across the Atlantic to study in Europe. Under the influence of Kant and his followers, the attitude of American intellectuals toward technical expertise and the principles of the Founding Fathers began to change. The Great War (1914-1918) ended an era, killing millions and traumatizing many more. By the end of the 1920s, even the mood of non-intellectuals was changing.
So the period from the 1870s to circa 1915 is a high point for the sort of art I love – art that shows the world as a beautiful, benevolent place where man can work to achieve his own happiness.
Henry Kitchell Webster
It delighted but surprised me that I loved every story and novel I’ve read by Henry Kitchell Webster, an almost forgotten author. Then I realized that Webster (1875-1932) began writing ca. 1900. He has the same positive sense of life as Saint Gaudens and my other favorite artists of that period. Webster thinks business is good: he often uses it as background or as a central feature in his works. When romance is involved, he depicts couples who are equals in intellect and ambition. (And this at the end of the Victorian era!) The outcomes of his stories and novels are always satisfying: I’ve not yet guessed a single one. I usually read the short stories a second time, just to see how Webster played with my expectations and set up the resolution.
My current “hobby” is to publish new print-on-demand editions of Webster’s novels. I’m also compiling Webster’s short stories for publication in a single volume. Most of them haven’t been in print for over a century.
A gift for new Patreon subscribers
If you’re full up on good fiction and don’t need more to read, I’m jealous! But if you need a regular fix of uplifting, lighthearted works, consider supporting me on Patreon. I’ll be giving subscribers some of Webster’s stories as I transcribe them for publication, and offering discounts on the novels when they’re available.
Monthly rates for Patreon support start at $5. Aside from the occasional short story from Webster, as a Patreon subscriber you’ll receive the password for the compilation of all my past recommendations: books, movies, music, sculpture, painting, and more. Also, you’ll be helping me produce my other works in progress: see my Patreon home page for the current list.
If you subscribe before May 1, 2018, I’ll attach a Webster short story to your welcome email.
Sample of Webster’s work: from Chapter 1 of The Sky-Man
For many hours — Cayley was too much of a god today to bother with the exact number of them — he had been flying slowly northward down a mild southerly breeze. Hundreds of feet below him was the dazzling, terrible expanse of the polar ice pack which shrouds the northern limits of the Arctic Ocean in its impenetrable veil of mystery.
Cayley was alone, as no man before ever had been alone, for the planet which spun beneath him seemed to him, aloft there in the empyrean, as remote as Mars or as the Pleiades. …
But the thing that caught his eye now, that made him start and draw in a little involuntary gasp of wonder, was the sight of a little clump of black dots moving slowly, almost imperceptibly from this distance, across the face of the glacier. He blinked his eyes, as if he suspected them of playing him false. Unless they had played him false, these tiny dots were men.
Instinctively, he shifted his balance a little to the left, lowering his left wing and elevating his right, and began reaching along, thwartwise to the wind, in their direction.
Presently he checked himself in mid-flight, wheeled and hung, soaring, while he restrained that rebellious instinct of his, an instinct which would have led him to sail down into the midst of them and hold out his hand for a welcome. What were mankind to him? Why should the sight of them make his heart beat a little quicker?