GERTRUDE JEKYLL by Sally Festing


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 Having revealed her taste for the obscure in books on Norfolk fishermen, lavender, and attitudes toward animals in the 18th century, Festing now offers the intense and productive but parochial life of Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932)--her gardens, flower arrangements, crafts writings, and English gentry friends and their country homes. One of six children of an upper-middle-class family, Jekyll traveled and studied to be an artist, but her poor eyesight and competing interests led her to crafts, photography, and gardens, and to develop theories of color, texture, design, flower arrangement, and breeding that she published in 15 books with such titles as Wood and Garden and Garden Ornament. Like Ruskin (her inspiration, whom she met while visiting her sister in Venice) and William Morris, Jekyll participated in the Arts and Crafts Movement, a reaction against industrial mass-production in favor of well-designed, handmade goods, especially pottery and needlework. Politically an elitist, personally an abrasive, autocratic, reclusive perfectionist, excessively sensitive to sound, she was affectionately known as ``Bumps,'' an awkward ``spinster'' who disliked children but inspired such loyalty that after her death her gardening boots went on a 20-year odyssey as friends tried to place them in major museums. Largely because of the great writings about it, the garden has come to serve a powerful metaphoric function in English life. While Jekyll may have been aware of the significance of her vocation, especially as a woman, Festing apparently is not. Instead of a cultural lineage, she offers social lineage and unfamiliar names- -Hercules Brabazon of Oaklands in Sedlescomb, or the Higford Burrs of Aldermaster Court, for instance, and of the ``imperishable memory'' of visiting ``Mr. Barr's Tooting nursery with Mrs. Bennet- Poe.'' With few illustrations of Jekyll's work (the 47 b&w photographs are mostly of people) or quotations from her writings, it is difficult to tell what purpose this biography serves.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-670-82788-6
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1992