Saturday, April 22, 2017

Guest Post: Arthur Machen’s A Handy Dickens: The Frontispiece Fret, by Nick Wagstaff

It was a pleasure to see the frontispiece of Arthur Machen’s edited book A Handy Dickens of 1941 appearing in Dale Nelson’s guest post of 8 April. What a warm hearted depiction of Dickens’ characters is displayed in this coloured pen and ink sketch, featuring recognisable or generalised Dickensian characters in their glory. Surely the artist’s affectionate vignettes of Dickens’ imaginative world - with nods to nineteenth century illustrators - would be a delight for all to enjoy? The publishers, Constable loved it. But Arthur Machen, the editor of the book, had nothing good to say about this illustration by the famous artist Edward Ardizzone.

Machen complained in a letter of 2/11/1941 to Montgomery Evans, his friend from the USA and strong advocate of Machen’s writings, that the work “does not strike me as altogether admirable. But I gather from Constable, the publishers, that Ardizzone is it.” He developed his view in another letter (of unclear date) to the same recipient that “Ardizzone’s title page is rubbish, but it seems agreed that his silly scrawls and smears are magnificent.” The artist was asked by the publishers to select some episodes from the extracts chosen by Machen to produce a composite title page. Machen noted that Ardizzone “has carefully avoided using any one episode which appears in the selection.”

Machen goes on in a letter to John Gawsworth of 30/10/1941 to write that “Ardizzone has excelled himself. He has changed the title to ‘A Handy Dickens’. The designs are not original, they are what I should call rough recollections of Phiz, covered with a pale pink wash.”

Certainly the gothic arch in the centre of the illustration favours the use of the letter ‘A’ rather than the word ‘The’. Was it important that the ‘The Handy Dickens’ title ended up as ‘A Handy Dickens’, and can one accept Machen’s view that the illustrator acting alone had the power to do this?

Machen felt strongly about the frontispiece. He also felt strongly that the publishers missed a trick by bringing out the book three or four days before Christmas and in doing so failed to cash in on Christmas sales.

In defence of Machen one can see that the illustration did not meet his precise requirements in what would be his final book as a content editor and preface writer. Maybe an author is allowed to be tetchy about the presentation of his last book (Machen was 77 when this work was published).

Machen is very hard on Edward Ardizzone. One can imagine he was too busy undertaking his duties as War Artist in 1941 to fulfil the precise brief of producing an immaculate frontispiece to A Handy Dickens. He had much other business to attend to. Did it really matter that the frontispiece did not map on to the episodes selected by Machen? Taken as a whole, despite dark street corners and apparent prison gates, the sketches Ardizzone produced for the frontispiece to A Handy Dickens are serene in a time of global war. Perhaps some notion of serenity was what he wished to see, and also share with readers, at that time of conflict.

Nick Wagstaff

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Guest Post: Machen's Bookplate Rediscovered, by Boyd White

In his prefatory note to Nathan Van Patten’s The Lost Bookplate of Arthur Machen (Greenwood Press, 1949), Vincent Starrett refers to Machen’s bookplate as “one of the great rarities in its field.”  Starrett mentions a letter from August 15, 1922, in which Machen notes his bookplate “dates from the early nineties.  I think I have now only one book containing it, and the plate itself disappeared long ago.”  Van Patten asserts that the bookplate’s designer is G. P. Jacomb Hood, who produced the etching used as the frontispiece for Machen’s translation of The Fortunate Lovers, published by George Redway in 1887.  At the time when Van Patten’s booklet was published, only three copies of Machen’s  bookplate were known to exist: : 1) one in Machen’s copy of The Great God Pan, referred to by Machen in a letter to Starrett dated November 1, 1923, whereabouts unknown; 2) one in Machen’s copy of M. P. Shiel’s Shapes in the Fire, which was owned at the time by Adrian Goldstone; and a copy of the bookplate, presumably loose, cataloged by Thomas Thorp, a bookseller, in 1922, whereabouts also unknown.

A fourth example of Machen’s bookplate was reproduced in Steve Eng’s essay “M. P. Shiel and Arthur Machen: Parallels in Life and Literature” in Reynolds Morse’s M. P. Shiel in Diverse Hands: A Collection of Essays (Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1983).  This example of the bookplate is taken from Machen’s copy of the John Lane edition of Shiel’s Prince Zaleski, which at the time belonged to Shiel enthusiast John D. Squires.  Machen’s copy of Prince Zaleski was unknown until Squires acquired it from Massachusetts bookseller Harold M. Burnstein in March of 1980.  This copy of Prince Zaleksi is part of the Squires’ archive currently being cataloged by noted bookseller Lloyd Currey.

Years later, Squires correctly identified the designer of Machen’s bookplate as Herbert Jones, the chief librarian of Kensington from 1887 to 1924.  In email to Caermaen, the Friends of Arthur Machen, dated September 28, 2010, Squires discusses downloading  a copy of  Artists and Engravers of British and American Book Plates: A Book of Reference for Book Plate and Print Collectors by Henry Walter Fincham (Keagan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd., 1897), a resource clearly not available to Van Patten in 1949.  Squires states, “At page 51 [the reference] lists various bookplates designed by Herbert Jones, London, including for Arthur Machen, ‘Two Varieties,’ signed on the plate ‘HJ.’”(Van Patten had mistakenly read the initials on the bookplate reversed as “JH.”) Squires also wonders, “Is anyone aware of any further examples of the bookplate?  Or what distinguishes the ‘Two Varieties,’ which Fincham noted?”

While recently helping Lloyd Currey identify some typscripts of Shiel stories that resemble screen treatments, I wrote Ray Russell at Tartarus Press to see what insights he might have, inadvertently forwarding him an email exchange between Lloyd and I about Machen’s bookplate and the fate of the books in Machen’s library.  This turned out to be entirely fortuitous.  While Ray didn’t know anything about the Shiel typescripts, he did have information regarding the whereabouts of Machen’s books: “Those books [Machen] owned at his death stayed in the family, and I remember seeing in Janet Machen’s library a number of such volumes.  I am sure these are still with the family.  However, he obviously disposed of books at various times in his life, some of which ended up in the hands of US collectors.”  More importantly, Ray disclosed the discovery of a fifth example of Machen’s bookplate: “The Friends of Arthur Machen recently received, as a gift, Machen’s own copy of Parker’s Gothic Architecture, which we have now donated to the British Library.  It was inscribed to Machen by his father, and had Machen’s bookplate, and was obviously very personal—but there was an entry from a bookdealer’s catalogued tipped in to show that it had been sold for 5s during Machen’s lifetime.”

Excited by the prospect of getting to see images of this example of Machen’s bookplate, which is still unknown to most Machen enthusiasts, I wrote Sharon Agar, a metadata specialist at the British Library, to see if she might be able to send me scans from the book.  Thanks to Sharon and her colleagues at the St. Pancras location, the images below have been made available for us to enjoy.  The book in question is John Henry Parker’s An Introduction to the Study of Gothic Architecture published in 1874 by James Parker and Company.  As his father’s inscription indicates, Machen received this book as a Christmas present in 1876 when he was just fourteen years old in the Lower Fourth at Hereford Cathedral. 

“Arthur Ll. Jones. Machen / (from his father) / 1st in Lower Fourth / Hereford Cathedral / School Xmas 1876.”

As Ray was reading over an initial draft of this post, he suddenly recalled that UK bookseller Neil Parry had acquired two copies of Machen’s bookplate, both loose, in either the late 1980s or early 1990s.  Neil and I are old friends, and I immediately sent him an inquiry to confirm Ray’s claim and learn if these bookplates were still in Neil’s possession.  Neil quickly confirmed that he did once own two copies of Machen’s bookplate.  On a whim many years ago, he had written a well-established UK dealer who specialized in bookplates and was amazed when the dealer responded to his inquiry by offering him two copies of Machen’s bookplate.  Although Neil sold these bookplates to collectors a while back, he recalled an interesting detail about them: “I can confirm that the two plates were slightly different, the colour of one was of light green and the other brown.”  Could this variation in color account for the “two varieties” of Machen’s bookplate listed in Fincham’s reference book?  Without seeing them or additional examples of Machen’s bookplate, we will probably never know for certain.

To bring things full circle, after hearing from Neil, I wrote my colleague, Jim Kuhn, associate director at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, to see if he could confirm John Squires’ assertion that Machen’s copy of Shapes in the Fire resides in the Center’s Adrian Goldstone collection.  Although the Ransom Center has five first editions of Shapes in the Fire, including a copy with Shiel’s own bookplate, Machen’s copy with his bookplate is not among their holdings.  Jim, however, did send scans of two additional previously unknown examples of Machen’s bookplate that are in the Adrian Goldstone Collection.  One is cataloged as a “proof” of the bookplate, and the other, seen in a black and white snapshot of book inscribed by Machen in 1923, is cataloged as an “unknown bookplate.”  (The images Jim shared cannot be reproduced, but the items are described in the list of the Center’s Adrian Goldstone holdings in container 19.5, along with the typed manuscript of Van Patten’s booklet.)

Are there even more extant copies of Machen’s bookplate floating around in the ether?  Almost assuredly there are, and ideally the collectors and curators who “rediscover” them will continue to share them with those of us who love Machen’s work and all things related to him.

Boyd White 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Arthur Machen and the Art of the Hieroglyph

A quick note here to call attention to a recent publication by Le Visage Vert:  a new single-author critical volume on Arthur Machen.  It is by Sophie Mantrant, an associate professor and lecturer at the University of Strasbourg.  It is called Arthur Machen et l'art due hiéroglyphe.  It has a lengthy introduction, followed by five sections of five chapters each (and each section also contains a short conclusion). The volume closes with a more general concluding chapter, an extensive bibliography, and an index.  The main thrust of the book's argument is that Machen's texts evoke a re-enchantment with the world in disenchanted times, and that Machen accomplishes this through the art of the hieroglyph, which give the mysteries of the universe in a symbolic language. A fine produced volume, as usual.  Order via this link (scroll down).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Guest Post: A Bust of Pitt in Dickens and Machen, by Dale Nelson

In “The Novel of the Black Seal,” an indication that something strange is happening in Professor Gregg’s rural residence “‘in the west of England, not far from Caermaen,’” is provided by the removal of a dusty bust of the English statesman William Pitt from its customary place atop a 15-foot cupboard and its placement on the scholar’s desk.   Miss Lally is puzzled by Gregg’s evasiveness about the matter.   We learn eventually that Gervase Cradock, horribly transformed, moved the bust by means of a “slimy, wavering tentacle” extruding from his supine body.  Gregg’s horrible surmises have been fulfilled.

Having read, sometimes reread, all of Dickens’s novels except Dombey and Son, I have been making up that deficiency just now.  I’ve discovered that, before being placed on Professor Gregg’s cupboard and then moved by Gervase, the bust of Pitt was an ornament in proud, mammon-worshipping Mr. Dombey’s house.   It is mentioned four times in Dickens’s novel, in Chapters 5 (twice), 8, and 51.  In Chapter 8 we read that it is “about ten feet from the ground” and “near the bookcase.”  In Chapter 51 it is “upon the bookcase.”  This suggests that it has been moved.

I don’t suppose that Machen derived the idea specifically of a moved bust of Pitt from Dickens’s novel, but I imagine that the Pitt-bust itself was placed in Machen’s mind by one or other of his readings – I imagine there were more than one – of Dombey and Son.  That Machen was a great reader of Dickens is well-known.  It’s his preface that begins A Handy Dickens.  Overt references to Dickens appear in other things by Machen, and perhaps further instances of (likely) unconscious allusions to Dickens will come to light.

A Handy Dickens (1941)

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Box of Disquiet

At the Bristol Artist Book Event over the weekend of 1-2 April 2017, the Bookartbookshop were displaying a fine press edition of selections from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Passages from the work had been hand-set and hand-printed on items of ephemera and presented in a box in an edition of 80, 50 of which were for sale.

The project was the work of Tim Hopkins at what he describes as his “back bedroom letterpress”, using a small, table-top Adana printer. It had been the work of many nights and days, sometimes using type so small that a magnifying glass was required in the setting of it. This is an inspired and extraordinary tribute to Pessoa's book, echoing the way his work was written on fragments of paper and kept in a chest. There will be an exhibition of the book's contents from 6- 20 April at the bookshop.

The edition has, not surprisingly, sold out before publication (mostly to libraries), but the bookshop also offered “relics” from the project – pieces that hadn’t made it in into the completed sets. It was a delight to sift through the box of these and select a few - well, all right, rather more than a few.

Here were Pessoa's words printed on a label from a bottle of port wine, a sheet from an old accounts ledger, the backs of maps and old photographs, filing cards, postage stamps, and other mysterious pieces of paper whose provenance and purpose was cryptic. The text, already strange and haunting, acquires a new lonely and bittersweet quality when it is read in this form. Each piece seems to carry within it hints of an untold story or a set of extra associations and possibilities.

There may possibly still be some relics left, though not, I suspect, for long. After that each of these Pessoan paper talismans will be leading its own life: and who knows where they may end?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Thrillers of "Glint Green"

Between 1931 and 1933, four novels appeared under the deliberately odd pseudonym "Glint Green." Hutchinson, the publisher of all four books, made no bones about the books being pseudonymous. In fact, they used it as a promotional gimmick.  The four novels are all detective thrillers featuring Inspector Fred Wield, and they are in sequence, Strands of Red ... Hair! (1931), Devil Spider (1932), BeautyA Snare (January 1933), and Poison Death (July 1933).  All four novels are very rare. The only one I have read is the second, Devil Spider, in which Inspector Wield searches for the clever murderer of Sir Arthur Andrews, whom Wield calls a "Devil Spider."  Printed on the cover of Devil Spider the pseudonym is given in quotation marks, with a parenthetical notice: "Pseudonym of a Famous Author Writing in a New Vein." On the half title, the publisher's blurb reads in part:

With Strands of Red ... Hair, the mysterious "Glint Green" achieved an initial success in his (or her) entry into the realms of detective fiction. It would be interesting to know if any of "Glint Green's" readers formed theories as to his (or her) real identity. So much we know, that he (or she) is a writer who, having achieved immense success in one field of fiction, has ventured into another and does not wish to confuse the two. Devil Spider is "Glint Green's" second thriller, and a very sprightly, entertaining affair it is. The web spread by the Devil Spider catches the butterfly wings of Penelope and very nearly entangles the whole of her life's happiness. 

I do not know when the real identity behind the pseudonym was revealed, but the British Museum Catalogue give the authoress as Margaret Peterson.  Peterson (1883-1933) was a very successful writer of popular novels for women, most of which are forgotten today. One of her later books, Moonflowers (1926) is set in central Africa and centers upon a murderess whom some firmly believe to be a vampire, while others equally firmly believe her murders are completely non-supernatural.  The authoress manages to maintain an ambivalence through the very end of the book, without a firm resolution to one side or the other (though their are hints...).  Devil Spider is an engaging and competent detective thriller of its time.  Margaret Peterson's authorship of the "Glint Green" books is not disclosed in her entry for Who's Was Who, nor were the books mentioned in her obituary in The Times (30 December 1933). The U.S. Copyright registers do give the authorship of the "Glint Green" novels as Margaret Fisher, "Fisher" being Margaret Peterson's married name.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

In Search of the Cockatrice

In the summer of that year I went in search of the cockatrice. For those not quite up in their fabulous beasts, I should explain that the cockatrice has the head and feet of a cock, but the body and forked tail of a small dragon…

'As Blank As The Days Yet To Be' started as an essay about a piece of folklore, turned into an autobiographical vignette about a visit to a lair of the fabulous beast, and then became a story about an encounter with the quietly singular.

The text by Mark Valentine is illuminated by beautiful images from the photography of Julian Hyde. Design and print is by Full Point Design.

This new booklet published by Voices in a Lane will accompany an exhibition of Julian Hyde’s images at St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, Cumbria, from 4-7 April 2017. It is limited to 100 copies and is available for £10 including postage in the UK. Enquire for overseas orders.

To order, please contact julian[at]voicesinalane[dot]co[dot]uk

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The "Books for the Imagination" Series

I first learned of the Henry Holt and Company series of “Books for the Imagination” via an article by A. Langley Searles in his fanzine The Annex #7 (Winter 1989-1990).  Searles noted that the series began shortly before World War II, and encompassed books such as Past the End of the Pavement (1939) by Charles G. Finney, Windless Cabins (1940) by Mark Van Doren, The Survivor (1940) by Dennis Parry, and Lest Darkness Fall (1941) by L. Sprague de Camp. 

A little research shows that the situation with this series is rather more complicated.  The first book labeled as part of the series was in fact Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s The Incomplete Enchanter (1941).  The earlier titles are listed in the description of the series on the rear cover of the dust-wrapper, even though they pre-dated the series itself.  The series lasted for only one more book, Land of Unreason (1942), by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, which has an advertisement of the series on the rear flap of the dust-wrapper. I give the full advertisement from The Incomplete Enchanter below, followed by an extract from the slightly re-written advertisement on Land of Unreason. Finally, I give details, chronologically, on the six books that make up the entire series.

From the rear cover of The Incomplete Enchanter
The publication of a book like The Incomplete Enchanter is a somewhat unusual experience. In theme, in plot, in treatment, it falls clean outside the ordinary patterns of contemporary fiction; this very fact is one of the reasons for putting Mr. Pratt’s and Mr. de Camp’s story between book covers. For we believe, as publishers, that there is a substantial body of readers today who welcome books which don’t “conform.” The rare and priceless quality of imagination is a sort of reading vitamin—without it no diet of books is really complete. Too much contemporary fiction seems to us to lack this very quality: the moribund products of historical research, the novels with plots as standardized as the appeals of mass advertising, the books of reportorial sociology dressed up as fiction crowd the booksellers’ tables. Only occasionally is there a story written which is alive with the vitality with a fresh imagination and impact for narrative.

We are on the constant lookout for such manuscripts, and it is part of our policy to publish them when they can be found. Already there have been several in our past lists. Mark Van Doren’s Windless Cabins, for one, Dennis Parry’s The Survivor for another. L. Sprague de Camp’s  Lest Darkness Fall was a third. The experiment has been a successful one. No project has brought in to our offices so many unsolicited letters—or so many manuscripts. One of the most interesting aspects of the publication of this group of books is the way in which people continue to buy and read them long after the usual life-span of a modern book of fiction. They have proved to be stories worth reading long after their initial publication.
The Incomplete Enchanter is, we believe, a book for the imagination, for what an earlier day would have called the “fancy.” It is not like any of its predecessors except in this one fact, for the imagination is not a stereotype. Our expectation is that some readers will be wildly enthusiastic, some entertained, and some, perhaps, uncomprehending. But it’s worth trying, just to see whether it doesn’t supply you with a form of reading pleasure you may have been missing . . . .
 An extract from the rear flap of Land of Unreason:

Books for the Imagination is the informal title we are giving to a series of books we have been publishing for several years. They represent a somewhat unusual enterprise; in theme, in plot, in treatment, they fall clean outside the patterns of contemporary fiction. That is why we publish them.

The Complete “Books for the Imagination” Series

Past the End of the Pavement, by Charles G. Finney. Published 16 November 1939.  It was retitled This is Past the End of the Pavement for the December 1942 reprinting, with a newly designed dust-wrapper.  This novel, though nonfantastic, is perhaps Finney’s best work. 

The 2014 reissue
Windless Cabins, by Mark Van Doren.  Published 20 February 1940.  Also a non-fantasy.

The Survivor, by Dennis Parry.  Published on 21 May 1940. First published in London on 17 April 1940. A supernatural novel, reissued in 2014 by Valancourt with anew introduction by Mark Valentine.

Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 24 February 1941.

The Incomplete Enchanter, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 25 September 1941.

Land of Unreason, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 15 June 1942. 

The December 1942 reissue

Monday, March 13, 2017

Borges and a Forgotten Book

As a long-time reader of forgotten books, I should know better than to let myself get my hopes up.  Many obscure books are forgotten for one of a great variety of reasons—it’s not that they are irredeemably bad books, or that they aren’t worth reading for some qualities, but they are often flawed in some ways. 

Yet when I read a review written by Jorge Luis Borges of Of Course, Vitelli! (1938) by Alan Griffiths (1899-1950), I did get my hopes up. Of Course, Vitelli! was the fourth and final novel by Griffiths, the first three of which are Thorne Smith-type books, comedic farces of a type which has never interested me. 

Here’s what Borges wrote, as a contemporary review of the book:

The plot of this novel is not entirely original (it was anticipated by Jules Romains and more than once by reality), but it is extremely entertaining. The protagonist, Roger Diss, invents an anecdote. He tells it to a few friends, who don’t believe him. To persuade them, he claims that the event took place around 1850 in the south of England, and he attributes the story to the “famous cellist Vitelli.”  Everyone, of course, recognizes this invented name. Encouraged by his success, Diss publishes an article on Vitelli in a local magazine. Various strangers miraculously appear who point out mistake in the article, and a polemic ensues. Diss, victorious, publishes a full-length biography of Vitelli, “with portraits, sketches, and manuscripts.”

A movie company acquires the rights to the book and makes a technicolor film. The critics declare that the film has distorted the facts of Vitelli’s life. … [sic]  Diss becomes embroiled in another polemic, and they demolish him. Furious, he decides to reveal the hoax. No one believes him, and people hint that he has gone mad. The collective myth is stronger than he is. A Mr. Clutterbuck Vitelli defends the affronted memory of his late uncle, A spiritualist center in Tunbridge Wells receives direct messages from the deceased. If this were a book by Pirandello, Diss would end up believing in Vitelli,  (El Hogar, 18 November 1938)

The sad truth is that Borges has simplified and altered the details of the plot. Diss’s anecdote involves the imaginary Vitelli, whom no-one recognizes initially. Diss doesn’t write an article in a magazine, but publishes a letter in a local newspaper requesting further information on Vitelli. It’s only in a weak moment that Diss considers revealing the hoax, but he is dissuaded by one friend who is also a participant in the hoax. In fact Diss ends up being put on trial for perpetrating the hoax. There is no nephew of Vitelli, and there is no character named Clutterbuck Vitelli. Whether Borges kept bad notes or deliberately altered the details is anyone’s guess. 

Of Course, Vitelli! is basically just like Griffith’s three previous novels. It is an extended farce—a farce of the local Suffolk gentry, of spiritualism, of tabloid newspapers, of publishing, and of modern film making. Diss’s biography, Vitelli, the Magyar, tells of Michel Vitelli, castrated as a young boy in an attempt to stop his voice from falling, and his ill-fated love for Miss Amy Folkard. Diss’s book is being made (quite appropriately for a farce) into a modern musical film starring current celebrities as The Loves of Vitelli, which plays as loose with the book’s facts as Diss played loose with his own imagination.  Production on the film is halted when Diss is put on trial “for conduct subversive to the public interest,” and the trial ends after Mr. Raffelo Vitelli shows up and claims that Vitelli was his mother!   

Of Course, Vitelli! is not, as Borges said, “extremely entertaining.”  It is an improbable farce that is carried on long beyond the reader’s threshold for boredom. Perhaps it was Borges's joke to make it sound more interesting than it is.