Remarkable Old Lady
Grandma Moses : My Life's History. Introduction by Louis Bromfield. Edited by Otto Kallir. (Andre Deutsch. 21s.) "CHOOSE an Author as you Choose a Friend," says the text on the old book-case. I wonder how many people do this nowadays. My impression is that many contemporary readers of sex-soaked fiction choose their authors for the same reasons as dancers ostensibly choose their partners in an apache darice—for the sheer pleasure of being scowled at and whirled around by their back-hair. Of course, in a slightly more refined and subtle form, this feeling of reluctant admiration for the books of a writer who Is personally antipathetic has long been familiar to authors and critics. Jane Austen said of Walter Scott : o" I do not like him and do not mean to like Waverley' if I can help it—but fear I must." How often "one fears one must " I It is rather a relief, then, to come upon a writer like Anna Mary Robertson Moses who stands serenely apart from the literary conflict, whose first book has been published when she is ninety-two, and whose modesty, cheerful simplicity and practical wisdom would make anyone proud to be called her friend. The autobiography of Mrs. Moses—one may perhaps be forgiven for dropping the" Grandma," though I notice she signs her letters that way—is an unpretentious and patently sincere account of a life spent entirely "on the farm," mostly in New York State but for a long period after her marriage in the South. She remembers the death of Lincoln when she was four, and how her aunt said : " Oh, what will become of us now ? " At eighty-nine she took tea with President Truman in the White House and "could not think but that he was one of my own boys." She tells us in between how she enjoyed her childhood, how to make applebutter, how she saw a ghost, how she "never was friendly with any boy except my hus- band," how she fell out of the runaway surrey into a muddy pond, and how she faced the joys and tragedies of what has been a hard but happy life. " I have found in after years," she says, " it is best never to complain of disappointments, they are to be." " Of course, I had trouble," she writes in another place, " but I kind of brushed it off, I tried to teach myself to forget it, and that everything is going to come off in the end anyway." And her conclusion is in tune with what has gone before : "I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be."
It might then be quite an ordinary story—the background of The Story of an African Farm shifted to the -United States, told without Olive Schreiner's touch of literary genius—and a story that probablY would never have been written, if it were not that fourteen years ago Mrs. Moses, at seventy-eight, began to paint, that a New York collector passing through the town of Hoosick Falls saw and bought some of her paintings which were exhibited in the local drug-store, and that from that time onwards she became increasingly famous through exhibitions and through " those millions of Christmas cards, made from my pictures." At Gimbels' auditorium in New York " it was shake hands, shake, shake, shake—and I wouldn't even know the people now. My, my, it was rush here: rush there, rush every other place...." Sixteen of Mrs. Moses pictures are well reproduced in colour in this book, and they are undeniably attractive, these American " primitives," full of under. standing of country life and country ways, gay in their colouring, fluently composed with a true sense of the poetry of landscape. All this can be said without claiming " Grandma " Moses as a great artist—a claim she would be the last to make. When she encountered adverse criticism she wrote to her friend Dr. Kaifu (and I keep her own spelling) : "This is a free country and people will talk. Let them, if we do what is right they can't hurt us, and if one gets a little ahead of another then there is jealousy allwise has been allwise will be, and we must not pay any attension to it, we must be above that. NO pleas don't worry about anything as far as I am conserned for I ant all right, have taken care of my self for the pass 90 years and are good for another. . . ."
Mr. Louis Bromfield does well in his introduction to compare Mrs. Moses' work to Persian and Moslem paintings in which the figures are " caught in an arrested moment of action," and, as he says, there is some resemblance to Breughel, especially in the recur.' ring snow-scenes. On the other hand, one picture here, " Hoosick Valley from my Window," is almost Chinese in its feeling. Certainly, "Grandma "Moses is an unusually gifted old lady, and all that she tells Lis about her painting—it is not very much—will be read with great interest. The pictures and the text clearly reflect the same wise and loving philosophy, and I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone jaded by the cold war who may need some reassur- ance as to life 's " ultimate values." What the ultimate values of M rs. Moses' pictures may be, we can safely leave to another generation to decide. DEREK HUDSON.