While sitting by Tasha’s fireplace, sharing tea and stories, at some point, our conversation moved into what books we had recently read or the books that had inspired us. Tasha was a well-read woman with a library tucked off her parlor, so that unless a visitor wandered through that section of the house, she wouldn’t notice the many bookshelves. While the room held Tasha’s literary selections, her gardening books dwelt in one of the upper bedrooms.
One time while perusing Tasha’s book collection, I was amazed to discover a couple of first editions with Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. My hands shook as I viewed the pages and realized what treasures I held.
“I found them in a London shop years ago, when I was living in England,” Tasha explained. “Mr. Rackham’s art inspired me to want to illustrate children’s books.”
While I had read Pride and Prejudice, Tasha waxed on about Austin’s other novels, Sense and Sensibility and Emma and nudged me to read them. She also pointed out that to some degree, they are books that women cherish more than men.
We both loved Thomas Hardy’s books and would muse about certain scenes such as the chapter with country dancing at the beginning of The Return of the Native. And of course, while living in England, Tasha had seen some of the places Hardy mentioned in his books. My husband, John and I had never read any of Wilkie Collins’ mystery novels until Tasha praised The Moonstone, and The Woman in White, plus she pointed out that Collins predated Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. So, John and I read all of Collin’s books and watched the film adaptations of his most famous novels.
Ever generous, one snowy morning, Tasha drove us to a bookstore housed in a barn that was managed by a friend. She insisted that there were a few books that I must own, and that the shop owner would probably have them. Among the volumes she chose was the novel, Cranford by Mrs. Gaskell, with forty colored illustrations and sixty pen-and-ink sketches by Hugh Thomson, published in 1898. Miraculously, the shop owner located that exact edition of Cranford, and Tasha showed me the illustrations.
“Thomson was another artist who inspired me to become an illustrator,” Tasha said. “When you read this, think about how much his art contributes to the story. And it is a lovely story.”
I cherish that faded green volume with gilt lettering, a symbol of times spent learning from Tasha, and hearing her memories of what inspired her art, just as Tasha continues to inspire me.