Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Le Fanu and Herbert van Thal

I was recently reading Herbert van Thal’s interesting autobiography, The Tops of the Mulberry Trees (1971), which covers many of van Thal’s roles in publishing—as an agent, anthologist, editor and publisher.  Here are a few paragraphs on J. Sheridan Le Fanu:
An author to whom I have always been greatly addicted is Sheridan Le Fanu. It was that remarkable person A.J.A. Symons who first drew my attention to him. I have always been surprised that Le Fanu has never achieved the popularity of his contemporaries, such as Wilkie Collins, though Collins’ reputation rests solely on The Woman in White and The Moonstone, and of whom I am no less of an admirer. Le Fanu is barely known save for Uncle Silas, and some of his short stories from In a Glass Darkly. A. J. A. Symons had a remarkable collection of his works and now that the Sadleir collection is no longer in this country, his works are one of the scarcest to be found. I began collecting his books late in life, and therefore was unable to complete a run of volumes. Those I had I regret now I sold at Sotheby’s in 1964.

Ardizzone's frontispiece to In a Glass Darkly
Peter Davies had the good ides of republishing In a Glass Darkly with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, but as usual, the result was not so admirable financially. I have always felt that it is a pity that the marriage between illustrator and novelist is no longer popular. I suppose everyone has a preconceived idea in their minds’ eye as to the appearance of the characters in their favoured writings, and prefer not to have this dispelled by an artist’s view. I, however, do not agree with this argument. I always see Alice through Tenniel, Pickwick thought Boz, and I felt similarly Edward Ardizzone completely captured the spirit of Le Fanu, and I only wish that had In a Glass Darkly been a success we could have continued to republish Le Fanu with that artist’s illustrations.

When I had my own publishing house, I naturally wanted to republish Le Fanu, but I only republished one short story from The Purcell PapersA Strange Adventure in the Life of Miss Laura Mildmay.  Montague Summers reproved me for not stating that the story first appears in Cassell’s Magazine Volume IV, 1868, and not in The Purcell Papers. The Le Fanu of Spook Sonatas no loner terrifies—the host, the familiar and the vampire only hold court in the world of the cinema—and in its place something far more realistically horrid is necessary to titillate the flesh of the toughened and permissive young of our time.

The small Le Fanu volume that van Thal published, A Strange Adventure of the Life of Miss Laura Mildmay: A Tale from Chronicles of Golden Friars (London:  Home and van Thal, 1947) included an introductory note by van Thal and a frontispiece by Felix Kelly.  Van Thal also included Le Fanu’s “An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street” in his anthology Great Ghost Stories (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960), and introduced a reissue of Le Fanu’s novel, The Cock and the Anchor (London:  Cassell, 1967).  

A sample page-spread from In a Glass Darkly (1929)

Edward Ardizzone contributed over 150 illustrations to the Peter Davies edition of In a Glass Darkly, published in November 1929.  Only six of these are full-page illustration; the rest are smaller vignettes.  All are rather impressionistic ink sketches.  I find I can’t agree with van Thal that Ardizzone is especially desirable as an illustrator for Le Fanu’s writings, nice and atmospheric as those the illustrations may be.

1 comment:

  1. I just received a copy of UNCLE SILAS illustrated by Charles Stewart for The Folio Society, and how I wish they had published a companion volume of IN A GLASS DARKLY with the same illustrator!