I’ve been reading THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY recently. It’s by Robert Burton and was first published in 1621 and is one of the earliest books to be written about depression and its causes. To use a strictly technical term it is a stonker of a book. My version is about three inches thick. Burton was the librarian of Christ Church, Oxford for many years and died in 1640. Four more versions of the book came out in 1624, 1628, 1632, and 1638.


The Frontispiece of the Anatomy of Melancholy. That’s Burton holding the book.

In the ‘Argument of the Frontispiece’ (don’t ask) Burton has this to say about his ‘author etching’ which appears in the said frontispiece. It is the equivalent of the modern author photo.

Now last of all to fill a place

Presented is the author’s face;

And in that habit which he wears

His image to the world appears.

His mind no art can well express

      That by his writings you may guess . . .



It was not pride nor yet vainglory

(though others do it commonly),

Made him do this: if you must know,

The printer would needs have it so.

So he’s blaming the presence of his picture on his publishers Henry Cripps and Leonard Lichfield. Mmm … I wonder … perhaps he doth protest too much.

I’ve been thinking about author photos recently because someone who shall not be named said that my photo (in the orange jacket against a white wall) looks as if I’m about to be shot. Well, I wouldn’t be smiling so sweetly if that were the case I thought bitterly to myself but it also made me remember one of my favourite author photos and here it is:


Colm Toibin

Why I hear you ask? Well, it’s the mess. I just love the mess of it and the fact he doesn’t look that happy or defiant about it; he’s just standing in the middle of it all. Of course you’ll find all kinds of other photos of Toibin – rather more conventional ones but this is by far my favourite because to me it’s by far the most accurate image of what a working writer’s room actually looks like when you’re in the thick of it. Basically, it looks as if you’ve just been burgled.

When it comes to photos, of course, men can get away with this kind of thing whereas women can’t. Women are judged differently. The photos I really can’t bear are of women writers looking perfect, sitting at perfectly organised desks perhaps with the sun coming in behind them and lighting up perfectly tended pot plants. It doesn’t in any way equate with the reality of my life.

(A small interlude shall pass while I go and water my withered money plant.)

I work in quite a lot of mess and chaos. I scrub up a bit when I go out so I don’t frighten the horses – but not that much. The horses around here are very forgiving. I really enjoyed it when Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. There she was coming home from the shops only to find god knows how many TV crews and journalists on her doorstop. She does not look a happy bunny because she is not a happy bunny. It is worth watching this all the way through to the end. I wonder if Radio 4’s The World at One got that interview.

All I can say is I aspire to be Doris.

What are your thoughts on author photos? Got any favourites?


  1. That’s really interesting about how male & female authors are judged differently. I can’t think of a favourite author photograph but I did decide not to read a book once based on the overly self-conscious pose adopted by the author (I leapt to the conclusion that her writing would be pretentious). Unfair of me really, as all author photographs will be self-consciously posed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Madame Bibi – it would be an interesting exercise to transpose any female author into that photo and see how it was viewed! Or what the judgments would be. The first author photos I had done in a studio ranged from mad to serial killer – I’d written crime novels then but I’m not sure that was the look they were going for!

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  2. Totally with you on the Toibin one, although he can do no wrong. I have generally liked Kate Atkinson’s novels but I really dislike her author photos which always look brooding and melodramatic with no chink of humour. And I’m amused by author photos that are really out of date – shocks of glossy black hair when you know what little remains these days is white…So I can only think of one author photo that I like and it’s yours. Have a Nobel, please…

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s a fantastic writer isn’t he? And I love the honesty of that photo. One that always makes me laugh is of Patricia Cornwell posing in a flying jacket with a helicopter in the background. I agree some can be deeply off putting. It’s as if the author is supposed to physically represent the contents of their book – which is to my mind utter b******s. I’d never dare be as stroppy as Doris though. Darling Colin thank you for liking my author photo – it just means I’ll love you forever!


  3. I love the fact that they’re talking about the Nobel prize in the presence of an artichoke and a bunch of onions! I always look at an author photo but I’ve never thought much about them before – they usually are pretty standard poses, so it is interesting to see something different. Going to be shot? I think that’s a bit harsh 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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