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On the Shelf

Naming Miss Rumphius, and Other News

February 19, 2016 | by

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A detail of the cover of Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney.

  • This account of Georg Eberhard Rumpf, a seventeenth-century botanist, is fascinating enough. But can we talk about the fact that he was manifestly the inspiration for one of the greatest characters in all picture-book literature, Barbara Cooney’s Lupine Lady? Rumpf, Atlas Obscura tells us, “preferred to go by Rumphius, the Latinate spelling of his name.” Miss Rumphius, which won the National Book Award for Childrens Picture Books in 1983, is about a woman who adds beauty to the world by sowing lupines far and wide. 
  • Other stealth children’s-lit news: FURIOUS GEORGE, reads the headline. Seeing the Year of the Monkey in with a bang, a capuchin of Paraíba, Brazil, quaffed some cachaça in a bar and chased patrons around with a knife. “It was a bar staff oversight that ended with the monkey drinking some rum and taking the knife,” said fire-department Lieutenant Colonel Saul Laurentino. So they put him in a nature preserve. But George was furious! Narrates Laurentino, “We had to recapture him because he was causing problems and threatening children living near the reserve.” In other news, he punched the Man with the Yellow Hat and robbed an armored car.  
  • In which The New Yorker applies its famously rigorous copyediting process to Donald Trump’s statement on the Pope. 
  • As fans of Soul Mining and proud bearers of the word the—it’s in all Paris Review e-mail addresses—we have complicated feelings about the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’s new logo. Primarily among them: this does nothing to elucidate the age-old confusion between the museum and the opera. Vulture has not hesitated to term the bold, new design a “graphic misfire,” but, while some of us may mourn the passing of the art-nouveau M that graced their buttons for decades, it’s always good to see the humble article getting its due. 
  • Andreas Huyssen defines the written miniature for the LA Review of Books: “Modernist miniatures are short prose texts written for little magazines or newspaper feuilletons (arts supplements) by major German, French, and Austrian modernists. Always published in groups, they reflect on the fleeting experiences of modern city life, especially as it was shaped by the arrival of photography and early cinema. As such, they register the resulting historical transformation in perceptions of time and space in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. These feuilleton texts, which we now read in book form—for example, Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris or Benjamin’s One-Way Street—sought to capture the visceral feeling of acceleration and compression, social conflict, and cultural upheaval that defined urban existence. In their focus on dream images, ghostly appearances, surreal memories, and urban phantasmagorias, they largely shunned the realistic description, typical of older urban sketches like those of Louis Sébastien Mercier in the 18th century. The miniature did not merely imitate visual media — it absorbed them, condensing objec­tive and subjective perceptions into the very structure of language and text and asserting the aesthetic specificity of literary language and its own power to capture visual experience. In their compressed form, miniatures also accommodate the short attention spans of urban readers, but in their conceptual ambition and complexity, they sit like foreign bodies in the feuilleton, a section of the newspaper mainly geared toward easy consumption.” 

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  1. […] stumbled across it the other day. “Rumphius” is an odd name, isn’t it? In the Paris Review, Sadie Stein suggests that the character was inspired by the 17th-century naturalist Georg Rumpf, who preferred the […]