Thursday, June 24, 2021

Adam & Eve & Pinch Me

This year marks the centenary of A E Coppard’s Adam & Eve & Pinch Me, his first book, published when he was 43. As I note in my essay on this author in A Wild Tumultory Library, ‘Many major publishers turned this first collection down, but in 1921 the book was accepted as the first title for the fledgling Golden Cockerel Press at Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire. This somewhat idealistic set-up was the brainchild of Harold Midgley Taylor . . .  In accordance with Taylor’s ideals, the author even took a part in the making of the book, setting a line of type, and doing some of the printing, folding, pasting, binding and labelling of some of the copies.’

The edition was of 500 copies and in theory there were 160 copies in white buckram and 340 copies in orange, or salmon, boards (the colour varies slightly). However, in practice, Coppard recalled that Taylor kept the sheets unbound and simply filled orders as they were called for, so there were probably fewer of either state. Some unbound sheets were later sold to Cape, who issued them under their own imprint. It was also included in Cape’s pocket-book Traveller’s Library and published as a Penguin paperback.

Coppard grew up in poverty and hardship, had started work at age 12 and had done a range of jobs on his way to becoming an author. He was also a professional athlete, competing for bets, and a staunch supporter of working-class activities, from sport to adult education to political campaigning to pub games such as darts and skittles. He was acerbic about the prices asked for copies of his rarer books in the sale-rooms, noting: ‘It is evident that my signature, inscription, information or opinion, has been a profit to anyone except myself…’

E F Bleiler, in his Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983), writes: ‘This first volume shows Coppard at his best, with original themes, remarkable renderings of the speech and thought of rural England, and a bizarre humor.’ He notices in particular the title piece, ‘A dream-like story of a strange state of consciousness’; ‘Piffingcap’, in which ‘the lead shaving-mug has strange properties and is surely associated with evil’; ‘The King of the World’, about a fleeing Assyrian soldier who enters the temple of a god who petrifies his worshippers; and ‘Marching to Zion’, which he finds ‘strangely disturbing’. He thought that Coppard was ‘undeservedly forgotten’.

This and subsequent volumes soon established Coppard as a highly-regarded master of the short story form, praised by Walter de la Mare, Elizabeth Bowen, L.P. Hartley, Rebecca West and many others. Coppard was adamant that the short story is not a cut-down version of the novel but an art in itself, in fact an older one, with its origins in the folk tale, the fairy story, the fireside yarn, the pub anecdote. His own stories often have the timeless, mythic, uncanny qualities of these inspirations.

(Mark Valentine)

Image: The Davidson College Archives.



  1. Thank you for a timely reminder of a singular author. The Golden Cockerel publication of Adam and Eve seems to have sold quite swiftly for a first book: a second edition of 500 copies followed close on the heels of the first, and the sheets sold to Jonathan Cape were from a third edition of more than a thousand sets. My own copy is from the second edition, in a frail salmon-pink paper binding resembling the image.

    I hesitated for some time before acquiring the Ulysses Bookshop's 1931 Coppard bibliography, but would recommend it, even to readers whose bibliographic interest is mild, for Coppard's generous scattering of anecdotes, digressions and comments on reviews favourable and otherwise.

  2. Earlier this spring, Ecco Press in the U.S. published a selection of A.E. Coppard stories, chosen by the novelist Russell Banks. I initially planned to use "The Hurly Burly and Other Stories" as a peg for a piece, but as I scanned its contents page, I realized that Banks hadn't chosen a single story that might be regarded as "fantasy." This annoyed me enough that I dropped the idea of writing about Coppard. Perhaps some other time. --md

  3. Just bought an interesting Knopf edition from 1922 of "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me ", after reading another of his sets of tales called "The Fish Mongers Fiddle", which I absolutely loved. The binding on these Knopf editions is actually superb, I was very pleasantly surprised .