When I first plunged into The Children's Book
, what struck me was how real the characters were. Olive Wellwood and her circle of friends and family didn't feel like characters, they felt like people. From just a few sentences, I felt like I knew these children who were wandering through the South Kensington Museum in London, looking for adventure. As I continued to read, I was impressed with how A. S. Byatt succeeded in making the innovations of the late 19th century, like electric lighting and automobiles, seem rare and magical without being trite.
The expansive scope of this novel, and the attention to detail in so many areas - theater, pottery, fairy tales, anarchy, socialism and many others - is impressively handled and rarely does the history interfere with the storytelling. The historical characters (Oscar Wilde, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emma Goldman, Queen...
Beyond the Book
One of the main characters in The Children's Book
is Phillip Warren, apprentice to eccentric master of ceramics Benedict Fludd. While Fludd is a fictional creation, the kind of pottery being made in his house is in a style that came to be known, in the early 20th century, as Studio Pottery - that is to say pottery made by artists working alone or in small groups, producing unique items or small quantities of similar items.
In the wake of the industrialization of pottery in the previous centuries, those who created unique items from earthen- and stone-ware struggled to have their work accepted as art. Some of the leaders of the Studio Pottery tradition were William Staite Murray, Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew. Were...