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Serendipity | Yearning for Wonderland
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Serendipity

Is there any more happy accident than serendipity?

For once, the dictionary is no help. It describes serendipity as (n) the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. It is a pat description, but little explains that shivery feeling that true serendipity creates. Serendipity is where coincidence and destiny intersect. 

The word was coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92) in a letter to Mann (dated Jan. 28); he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” (dictionary.com)

Perhaps I am a Princess of Serendip. My father has always been a strong believer in serendipity. He told me to look for it and be ready when it comes. I have always kept one eye to the happenstance that leads to consequence.



My latest experience with serendipity has been a startling one. This blog is newish and I am continually refining the design, to make it more pleasing to the idea and easy to read. I find big chunks of text without pictures to be exhausting, much like Alice (“What is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations!”).

To that end, I had added an image of this painting to the sidebar:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

I had actually never seen this painting before, in any of my art history classes. I was familiar with the artist, Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840). Below is his most famous work, which is in every art history textbook under Romanticism.

Casper David Friedrich, The Wanderer

I remembered the way this painting had made me feel, its capture of infinite possibilities. I wondered if the artist had other works that featured a woman and that same sense of yearning. So I googled his name and found the window painting and put it up. I was thrilled at how it looked on the page and complemented the wallpaper of the vintage photo of the girl at the window (which incidentally I found at a curiosities shop in Adare, Ireland). So I arranged it and promptly forgot about it…

Until four days later when my mother called and left a mysterious message on my voice mail. She sounded odd. When I called her back, she asked when I had put up the painting on my blog. When I told her, she was silent. Then she said, “I just bought you a book with that painting on the cover. I just saw that painting.”

My mother had just returned from New York City, where she spent the weekend. She and her best girl friend headed off to The Met, as any artistically-minded traveler would do. There, she was attracted by a special exhibition called Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century. One painting in particular caught her eye – she said it reminded her of me – and it was actually the featured painting in the exhibit. She sat there for a long time looking at it, the patinated greens of the dress and the soft brushwork. She loved it so much that she had to buy the exhibition catalog, which featured it on the cover, for my birthday. She knew I would love it too. She almost bought the poster, but the color match wasn’t true enough. I’m sure you’re following along, dear reader. The painting was this:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

 And the exhibit was here: Metropolitan Museum: Rooms With a View, The Open Window in the 19th Century


It was no doubt rather a shock to load up my blog when she got home and see that exact painting pop up. It startled her so much that she left the cryptic message on my phone. Cue shivery feeling.

My mother and I are very compatible in our tastes, so it’s no surprise that we would both love such a dreamy, Romantic painting. What I cannot seem to explain is how, completely independent of each other, we both found a painting that we had never seen before in the same moment.


“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet


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1 Comment

  1. Dasia
    Feb 28, 2012

    That’s awesome! I love when strange things like that happen. Also, serendipity is one of my favourite words. Serendipity serendipity serendipity… :)

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