Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Tiny Worlds

When my mother's mother died many years ago, my mother found in a drawer of her dressing-table a locket containing an exquisitely painted miniature portrait of a golden haired child. No-one in the family had any idea who the subject of the picture was, and it still remains a mystery. Here is a picture of it, although, possibly due to my incompetence with cameras, I cannot manage to capture the detail of the thing (jewellers have told me that we should not open it to clean the glass as the picture might be damaged by exposure or never quite fit back together perfectly again):

Anyway, my mother very generously gave me the locket a few years ago and, whenever I wear it, people always want to look at it, fascinated by the minute brush-strokes. There seems to be something about perfect smallness that human beings find appealing.

I thought about this yesterday when listening to one of the New Yorker's splendid fiction podcasts. The story I heard yesterday was by  Steven Millhauser. It was called In the reign of Harad IV  and it tells the story of a 'master of miniatures'.

I cannot recommend the recording highly enough, including the discussion afterwards between the New Yorker's fiction editor and Cynthia Ozick, who selected and read the story for the podcast; if you are not a fan of listening, of course, (like my husband whose music report in primary school one year read, 'Prefers singing to listening'), you can find the text here instead. I thought it was one of the most intriguing stories I'd ever come across.


  1. Exquisite. An overused word but here the right one.

  2. As opposed to 'The exquisite aroma of the KFC Double Down' or 'This beautiful [insert name of any tacky piece of merchandise made in a factory in China]will create an exquisite ambience in your home, impressing your friends and delighting you day after day'?