Friday, 2 May 2014

Lanoe Falconer photo found

This is a really nice photo of the writer Lanoe Falconer (Mary Elizabeth Hawker), who I mentioned in DWWW1: part 1.

I can't resist a puzzle. After finding the small woodcut image (right) of Lanoe Falconer in the Picture Magazine, 1894 (credited - rather uselessly, as "from a photograph") I spotted that it seemed to be an unknown image, and contacted her biographer Peter Rowland. It was - and we concluded that it, and another very obfuscated one, must come from the same origin. I said I'd keep an eye open, as I read a lot of Victorian periodicals. But once the puzzle was there, it was more than just keeping an eye open.

It took it around 20 minutes. I don't say this to be smug, but I can understand what William Gibson had in mind with the character Colin Laney in his novel Idoru: the intuition for finding stuff in vast amounts of mundane data. There were obvious things to look for - ["Lanoe Falconer" "portrait"] / ["Lanoe Falconer" "photograph"] and so on - but these ran off into hundreds of irrelevant hits (because her stories contain references to photographs and portraits).

I had a vibe instead to go to a proxy server (which gets post-1865 Google Books hits not normally accessible outside the USA) and try ["Lanoe Falconer" "severe"]. I have a theory that if a photo has some characteristic, an article relating to it will contain that concept, even if not directly commenting on the photo. This may be garbage - but it worked. Third hit down the list was 1892 issue of the Boston-based magazine The Writer. The proxy server linked through sufficiently to find the photo, and the excellent Hathi Trust site had a good-quality scan.

The photo comes from page 25, The Writer v.6 January 1892 - December 1893, Boston: The Writing Publishing Company (Hathi Trust link); it heads a short biographical sketch by TGL Hawker. Whoever prepared the above Picture Magazine image exaggerated the severity, making her look absolutely scary, rather than the reality: just pleasantly formal. It might be a pose; she did rather go for hiding her identity.

- Ray

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