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This article is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

Pictures from a Library

40: Threads, Traces, Clues and Yarns: The Texts of Isabella Banks
Stella Halkyard
A WOMAN, nearer to the end of her life rather than it’s beginning, sits for her portrait at the photographers Elliott and Fry in the late 1890s. Her silver hair is covered in a cap of lace of her own making, its fineness so filigree it seems to have been stitched in air. Her shawl, fashioned by her own hand into patterns and textures of intricate virtuosity, denotes the practiced skill of an expert needlewoman. Caught in the act of writing, she stares into the middle distance lost in thought, the metal nib of her dip pen poised on the surface of a sheaf of paper, awaiting a flow of inky words.

The shared etymology of the word ‘text’ and ‘textile’ that links the acts of writing, weaving and sewing are brought together by the photographer in this portrait of the Manchester author, Isabella Banks. As she observed, ‘just as I began my career as a novelist by telling and inventing tales for my little sister when I took her to bed, I made my own designs for fancywork of any kind’. Her art is shown as the interweaving of the ‘manipulation of threads and the inscription of traces’ in a ‘textility of making’ (Tim Ingold). Like a latter day Penelope or Ariadne, Isabella is a spinner of yarns.

Her first poem was published in the Manchester Guardian when she was just sixteen but it wasn’t until much later that she became a professional writer. Her domestic circumstances in adult life were difficult as her husband suffered from ...


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