Anne here. I love libraries. For me, there's nothing better than being let loose in a building full of books. It's my idea of heaven and it has been since I was a small child. A library made me the writer I am today — it was a small regional library where at the age of 11 I borrowed my first Georgette Heyer. Or maybe it was the remote little country school library where, in grade 5 and 6, a friend and I competed to read the most books, and the librarian "tested" us to make sure we really had read them. Made me a fast reader. Yep, I've never met a library I didn't love.
I've been seeing a lot of the State Library of Victoria lately — that's it in the picture below. It's in Melbourne, my home city and it's an absolute treasure of a place.
Quick detour into history: the State Library of Victoria is one of the oldest cultural institutions in Australia (which, remember is very young as modern nations go.)
The "village" of Melbourne began in 1835, with a handful of free British settlers. The village grew steadily but in 1851, it received a huge boost when gold was discovered in Ballarat and other regions and the gold rush began. Fortunes were dug out of the ground and people came in their thousands. In a decade the population of Victoria increased sevenfold.
In 1854, just three years after Victoria was declared a state (the same year as gold was discovered) the State Library of Victoria was founded. It's hard to imagine the forward-thinkingness (is that a word?) of the original founders, but just consider this: In 1854, this was the part of the city nearest the port.
In 1855, this was the city of Melbourne. (Goodman Teale, engraved by Nathaniel Whitlock,)
And yet, with more than half the population transient and living in tents, this is what they planned — see the architect's vision below—an enormous library, that would be free to all people, regardless of birth, income or education.
A magnificent, forward-looking vision, is it not? In 1853, they decided to build the library and they didn't wait around; by 1854 they had the plan and the foundation stone laid, and in 1856 the library opened with a collection of 3,800 books. All done without convict labor (Victoria was a free colony) and in a time when workmen were in drastically short supply because of the gold rush.
See the dome in the architect's drawing above? This is it now.
This is the reading room where I first got the idea for An Honorable Thief. It's also where I read the journals that I based so many details of the journey in Tallie's Knight.
And here's the Queen's Hall. Can't you just imagine a fabulous Regency event here?
So you can understand why I'm proud to be a member of this library. It's also a fabulous research resource for my books — still free, and with brilliant on-line resources as well, but I digress.
The reason I was there last week was for the announcement of an exhibition coming in 2012 — Love and Devotion – from Persia and Beyond. It's a collection of stunning illustrated manuscripts dating from the 13th-18th centuries, on loan from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, with the theme of Love and Devotion.
We're talking love poetry, and more. I'm no expert, and I don't intend to go on about the history of Persian writing, except to say that Persian art and literature extended far beyond Persia and had a powerful effect on European culture as well. At the announcement event, they had on display a collection of rare and beautiful books, all influenced by Persian literature.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was influenced by it, Chaucer, Dante, Kit Marlowe, Byron, all read and studied Persian literature. And I'm sure we all know a line or two from one of the many translations of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam: A jug of wine, a book of verse – and thou.
I'm so eager for this exhibition to come here, but I'll have to be patient, because it's a year away. In the meantime, I'm delving into Persian love poetry. While I was writing The Perfect Kiss, I developed a taste for some of the Arabic poetry that flourished in Ottoman Spain in the middle ages — also strongly influenced by Persian culture. Those of you who've read the book will remember my heroine, Grace, reading this from the poem, Night of Love by the Poet of Andalusia, Ibn Safr al-Marini:
And she came like bright dawn
opening a path through the night
or like the wind
skimming the surface of a river.
The horizon all around me
breathed out perfume
announcing her arrival
as the fragrance precedes a flower.
And here's part of a lovely poem written by Khusrau in Persian in 12th century India.
Do not overlook my misery by blandishing your eyes,
and weaving tales; My patience has over-brimmed,
O sweetheart, why do you not take me to your bosom.
Long like curls in the night of separation,
short like life on the day of our union;
My dear, how will I pass the dark dungeon night
without your face before.
(trans. M. Rehman)
I could go on — but I won't. Do you enjoy poetry? Here's a task for you: share with us a few lines of a favorite poem from any culture or any era. Or else tell us about your favorite library and why you love it.