In October 2011, my debut novel, "The Luminist," will be published in the US and elsewhere. This week, my publisher (Hawthorne, http://www.hawthornebooks.com/) released the image that will grace the cover. When I saw it, I could not help but hear the closing of a circle that began in the beautiful halls of the Getty Museum.
This is what I say in the Acknowledgements to the novel:
The Luminist was initially inspired by an installation of Victorian-era photography at the Getty Museum in Southern California. The character of Catherine Colebrook is very loosely suggested by the life and work of Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the first photographic pioneers. Her pictures of children were especially haunting, at once warmly immediate and bittersweet; those lives are, after all, lost to us now. What followed – research into colonial life in Ceylon, the traditions of Victorian photography, a plunge (inadequate, I’m certain) into the religions, cultures and customs of India – really began there, with photographic relics and writerly imaginings about the woman who made them.
The first photograph I saw that day was of a young woman, staring inscrutably at her beholders. Suffused in shadow as was Ms. Cameron's style (a style forged as much from her developing, yet still lacking, knowledge of photographic technique as from her own sensibilities and a desire, I have come to believe, to find light in dark), this unnamed woman held me. She still does. It's something in her eyes, in the way they seem to hold their own light.
I came to learn that this woman was Julia Jackson, Ms. Cameron's niece and the future mother of none other than Virginia Woolf. The circle was curling back to me, to writing. I did not know that yet.
Over the life of the writing, I would go back to Ms. Cameron's work. I kept safe her spoken desire to "arrest beauty." I stitched that need into the fact that in life, she'd borne the terrible pain of a child who died far too soon. Together, what she lost and what she longed to hold onto became a story, heavily fictionalized, that at its heart was about all of us who write, or paint, or act, or dream. We want to make something beautiful, and we want it to remain after we are gone.
The circle took me up with it and continued on.
This week, my publisher and their phenomenal designer sent me the first version of the novel's cover. I have (hopefully) uploaded it below so you can see the cover for the book...which is, in fact, that very image I first glimpsed at the Getty, that drew me in, made me dream of people I did not know and places I had never seen. My publisher did not know any of this when they selected the image. They did not know that they had brought the circle to a close. They only knew what they read.
That, more than anything, gratifies me. Maybe something of me will last after all.
Causes David Rocklin Supports
AIDS Project Los Angeles; ONE Campaign; Human Rights Watch