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“Inspiration” or “What I Found at the Victoria and Albert Museum”: Guest Post by Sabina Murray

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

Today is the last day of the inspiration series on my blog! I love this surprise zing! of an inspirational moment that author Sabina Murray describes… You never can tell when one will hit you:

This past summer I was in London at the V & A attending an exhibit about beauty: an impressive showcase of pre-Raphaelites, people like Morris and Rossetti, that also presented the decorative arts in a lovely wash of stained glass and Arthurian verve. Regardless of the excess of beauty surrounding me, I was not inspired. I was somewhat jet-lagged and despite the fizzy, grape-flavored liquid cheerfully administered by my friend Liz earlier that morning, still a touch hung over. While explaining to my kids the importance of sculptural elements and repeated imagery in Pre-Raphaelite visual art, my phone had gone off: my cousin’s son (in Philippine culture this is the equivalent of an identical twin) was traveling Stateside with his daughter to show her Deerfield Academy, where he’d studied, and wanted to visit. I was facing a dilemma firstly because I wasn’t at home to host him, but secondly, since I was in London and hadn’t contacted his cousin (also the equivalent in Philippine culture of one’s identical twin) who lives in London, with whom I should have made a plan, and would now be exposed. So, I had trans-Atlantic guilt, with a jigger of family, all poured over some nice cubes of hangover. While I was trying to get off the phone with my “nephew” a disapproving museum guard had taken me by my elbow and was steadily leading me to an exit that certainly led to some Doctor Who-like fourth dimension, and, no doubt, once I had been expelled through it, I would never see my family (nor fizzy-drink dispensing friends) ever again.

All to say I was not feeling inspired. And the odds of me getting inspired (for those gamblers amongst us) were very, very slim.

Everyone will be happy to know that I am not posting this from the Doctor Who-like fourth dimension. I was able to get off the phone with my nephew before reaching the “portal of banishment.” More importantly, as I was making my way back to my people, I paused by an unassuming pen and ink drawing, and by the image read this quote:

“All art consistently aspires towards the condition of music.”

This was penned by a Walter Pater, whom, Wikipedia later informed me, was an eminent Victorian famous for being an eminent Victorian, although perhaps not eminent enough to be recognized—without further scrutiny—for much else. Suddenly I found myself inspired. If the room had begun to spin about with me as epicenter, it would have been no less remarkable. This simple sentence sprung before my reasoning and distorted and sharpened every struggle and triumph I’d ever had while writing.

I am a writer of ideas and am inspired, in a loose sense, by injustice and history and art. But when it comes to the finer sense of inspiration, I am interested in taking these large notions, creating characters moved by these forces, and bending the sentence to most approximate fine music. This is my goal on a daily basis. Filling pages has never presented much of a challenge to me, but what makes it sublime is to try to make the words sing on a page. I am not impervious to the “gotcha” moments in life, but in a refined sense, the “state of music” is my writing compass and what keeps the challenge and focus—the inspiration—real.

—Sabina Murray

Sabina Murray is the author of three novels and two short story collections, including the PEN/Faulkner Award winning The Caprices. Her work is included in The Norton Anthology.  She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim Foundation and Radcliffe Institute and is on the fiction faculty of the MFA program at Umass Amherst. She wrote the script for Beautiful Country, a Golden Bear contender, for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Her latest, Tales of the New World, was recently published by Grove/Black Cat.

Visit Sabina at

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2 thoughts on ““Inspiration” or “What I Found at the Victoria and Albert Museum”: Guest Post by Sabina Murray

  1. This was a lovely piece. I’ve never been to the Victoria and Albert, but I’ve idealized it since childhood, when I read Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.

  2. “So, I had trans-Atlantic guilt, with a jigger of family, all poured over some nice cubes of hangover.” Oh, I hear you. Lovely, lovely!!! Made me laugh out loud.

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