THIS IS WHAT WE’LL DO:
TALK ABOUT BOOKS, OBJECTS, AUTHORS, ARTISTS, TRAVELS AND EVENTS.
WE ARE LUCKY TO DO WHAT WE DO AND FIND SOME ASTONISHING THINGS ALONG THE WAY.
COMMENTS ARE INVITED AND APPRECIATED.
THIS IS WHAT WE’LL DO:
TALK ABOUT BOOKS, OBJECTS, AUTHORS, ARTISTS, TRAVELS AND EVENTS.
WE ARE LUCKY TO DO WHAT WE DO AND FIND SOME ASTONISHING THINGS ALONG THE WAY.
COMMENTS ARE INVITED AND APPRECIATED.
Painter and illustrator Millicent Sowerby was born in 1878 in Gateshead to a wealthy glass-making family. Her father, John G. Sowerby, as well as acting as director of the glass-making factory, also enjoyed recognition as a painter and illustrator. Millicent was one of the first women to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and she also illustrated children’s books by her sister Githa.
Millicent moved to London with Githa in the early 1900s, and the pair began work on their books, Githa writing them and Millicent illustrating them. We at Lucius Books are fortunate enough to have acquired seven beautiful, original illustrations for one such book, Childhood, the sisters’ second book, a collection of children’s verse published in 1907.
Githa also wrote plays, and her most famous, the deeply political play Rutherford & Son (written under the deliberately genderless name of K. G. Sowerby) became a critically acclaimed sensation in London and was subsequently performed in New York. The eventual discovery that the play was written by a woman was met with shock and disbelief, and even withdrawals of praise by some critics. Sadly, the play eventually fell into obscurity before its slow but steady revival in the 1980s, and there is now a growing interest in Githa’s life and work as northern-born, political, feminist thinker and writer.
Millicent’s style was strongly influenced by Kate Greenaway, and her idyllic scenes of sweetly dressed children and tranquil domestic life fitted perfectly into the popular genre of Edwardian children’s gift books. The illustrations for Childhood are highly worked with a very fine attention to detail and an accomplished command of colour. Millicent is adept at creating smoothly blended planes of colour on a dress or a face that contrast against more textured areas built up with tiny brushstrokes to indicate hair, grass, or rough wood. A favourite of mine shows a domestic scene in which a mother works on embroidery whilst glancing affectionately at her child who is writing with a quill. The skilful diagonally trailing composition which flows from the child’s feet up to the top of the mother’s head and the subtle use of muted colours create a harmonious, tranquil picture.
Find our Sowerby illustrations here.
Over the last few days I have had the pleasure of researching and cataloguing a collection of decorated letters, calendars, and bookmarks created by the “Glasgow Girl” and contemporary of Jessie M. King, Annie French, which has been a lovely task while working from home! Annie French (born 1872) is something of an elusive figure and little is recorded of her life, which makes these letters and keepsakes that she made for a close friend very special.
The calendars and letters are decorated with tiny detailed borders and flowers which have a certain looseness of style that lends them a frothy romanticism. French also often adds profuse collections of her favourite quotations in beautiful lettering. The colourful bookmarks are covered in colourful flowers, and one of them bears the image of an enchanting young woman with long hair and a flowing green gown.
The letters and gifts date between 1939 and 1954, each sent as “New Year Greetings”. The recipient is Violet Neith (née Anderson) of the artistic Anderson family. Violet’s mother and father, Daisy Agnes McGlashan and William Smith Anderson, met at the Glasgow School of Art, and attended the school at the same time as Annie French, which is likely to be how the families became friends. Violet and her sister Daisy (in the letters French affectionately enquires after “the Daisies”, clearly referring to Violet’s mother and sister) also attended the school in the 1920s. French also mentions handmade art and gifts that she had received herself from Violet, Violet’s artist husband John Neith, as well as more of their friends and family; you really get a sense of the creative energy in the social and family groups that were affiliated with the “Glasgow School”, even decades after the movement’s greatest peak in fame and success.
It is difficult to build a complete picture of French’s life. Much of what is known is owed to the research of the art dealer Una Rota, who was unfortunately unable to complete her planned biography of French due to ill health in her later years. Much of Rota’s research consists of correspondence with people who knew French, leading more to a picture of her as a person rather than the historical structure of her life events. One lovely quote from a friend of French describes her as “like thistle down, she was small, dainty and merry”. It is believed that French, in something of an artistic tradition, destroyed many of her own papers at the end of her life (in one of the letters, French describes returning gifts given to her by her friends to them, for fear of their artwork being snatched into the unknown in the event of her own death), so it is wonderful to see these letters which have clearly been carefully cherished for many years by Violet Neith. The letters mostly detail small comments on and descriptions of everyday life, but French’s creative and adept use of language make them a compelling read, with metaphors like “butterfly” people, and not caring for a life that is a “stream that tumbled along among boulders”.
After her studies, French returned to The Glasgow School of Art as a teacher, before marrying a fellow artist, George Woolliscroft Rhead, with whom she moved to London in 1914. Some time after George’s death in 1920 French moved to “1 Oaklands” in Kenley, Surrey, where she lived, seemingly across two flats, with two of her sisters, Agnes and Margaret, and this is where this collection was created. Agnes died in 1952, and Margaret suffered an unnamed accident from which she unfortunately never recovered, dying in 1954. There are various points in the letters in which French describes finding life difficult, and it is surely these events to which she refers. It has previously been suggested that French then moved to Jersey to live near to relatives as a reaction to both sisters’ deaths, but these letters reveal that Annie and Margaret were both planning on the move: French describes trying to get her affairs and belongings in order, and says that Margaret will need to recover before the move.
French did eventually move to Jersey to be close to her sister-in-law and beloved nephew Eric, who enjoyed painting with his aunt, and whose recollections of her form some of the most intimate components of Rota’s research. French died in Jersey in 1965 at the grand age of 92. These beautiful gifts and letters offer a remarkable and truly unique look into the work and life of a private, and in my opinion unfortunately overlooked, artist, as well as a small snippet of the wider, vibrant world of the Glasgow School, which so influentially shaped British decorative arts at the birth of the 20th century.
“Girls! Girls everywhere! Girls in the passages, girls in the hall, racing upstairs and scurrying downstairs, diving into dormitories and running into classrooms, overflowing on to the landing and hustling along the corridor — everywhere, girls! There were tall and short, and fat and thin, and all degrees from pretty to plain; girls with fair hair and girls with dark hair, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, and grey-eyed girls; demure girls, romping girls, clever girls, stupid girls — but never a silent girl.”
(Angela Brazil, The School by the Sea)
The genre and formula of the girls’ school story is a familiar, well loved one, still read by all ages and exerting a strong influence on modern writing today. Its history can be traced all the way back to the 1700s and Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, or The Little Female Academy, which is not only credited as the first school story, but also as the first full length novel for children. This is particularly remarkable as books aimed at girls were especially unusual at the time. The Governess sees its school’s nine pupils tell their own life stories, read together, and learn moral lessons and good behaviour, which is the ultimate theme and aim of the book.
This emphasis on instructive, moralistic, often religious tales in girls’ school stories (which surged in popularity in the late 1800s) was de rigueur until the early 20th century when Angela Brazil, the original pioneer of the modern incarnation of boarding school fiction, arrived on the scene. While Brazil’s work may seem tame or stuffy or simply a jolly-hockeysticks cliché to today’s average reader, in her time it was somewhat groundbreaking and even rebellious. Some people of a more conservative leaning even condemned them as dangerously subversive, and there are accounts of headmistresses banning the books outright. The stories served primarily as entertainment rather than as moral instruction, and the multifaceted, sporty young female characters (usually aged around 14 to 15) weren’t unfamiliar with a bit of trouble, pranks, and flouting of authority; even their vocabulary, which seems quaint today, was full of contemporary, indecorous, youth-led slang.
Following closely after Brazil were Dorita Fairlie Bruce, famous for her Dimsie series; Elinor Brent-Dyer with the hugely popular Chalet School series; and Elsie J. Oxenham with her slightly more Christianity-influenced The Abbey Girls series; with Enid Blyton carrying the popularity of the school story into and past the mid-20th century with Mallory Towers and St. Clare’s. All of these authors use the school setting (the schools and lessons themselves hold varying levels of importance from series to series) as a way of giving the young female characters stardom and autonomy within the novels. They create an almost mythical world, largely free from adults and populated and driven by girls; their structured, insular societies within a society held together by female friendships and relationships simultaneously provide freedom and adventure and safety and security.
For these reasons the boarding school setting has appealed even to authors that write outside of the classic school story formula, particularly as a way to frame and facilitate the trials of adolescence and the hypnagogia of emergent adulthood. An early example is Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s A Little Princess, in which Sarah Crewe and her friends experience upheavals and hardships but ultimately emerge as improved and well-adjusted individuals together within the community of a girls’ school. The otherworldly, isolated image of the boarding school has also lent itself to surreal, supernatural additions in later decades, such as Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes, a dreamy time travel novel that sees a 1970s schoolgirl swap places back and forth overnight with a former pupil whom her bed belonged to in 1918, or the gothic The Moth Diaries published in 2002 which, although thematically the near antithesis of the earliest school stories, uses the same boarding school world-structure of insular adolescent female freedom to deal with obsession and sexuality along with implied vampirism.
As each wave of boarding school books influences the following generation of writers, the genre adapts and continues: the most notable modern jump-starter of course being J. K. Rowling with the co-educational magical boarding school Hogwarts, but the setting has also attracted authors like Jacqueline Wilson and John Green, showing that the near-imaginary, child-ruled world provides the perfect backdrop for stories that are funny or serious, sexy or staid, realistic or fantastical, and captures readers with a nostalgic but ever-adapting, enduring appeal.
At times like these when the world can seem like a dark, confusing place, it becomes important to find a little joy here and there so that we can keep on going. Something that has personally lifted my spirits recently is a little gem of a book that my colleague Sky brought back from the California Book Fair shortly before book fairs started to get cancelled. It is a “Chap Record”, a form of journal designed specially for a lady to keep organised notes on all of the men she meets; a concept summarised wonderfully by the snappy verse printed on its opening pages:
“Behold herein, all nice and neat,
A record of the men I meet.
Among them all perhaps, there be –
Who knows? – the ‘not impossible’ He.”
Each entry has space for the man’s name, the date and place, and the lady’s opinion on him. This particular Chap Record belonged to Gertrude L. Beebe (born in 1893 in Brooklyn) who started writing in it in 1910 when she was around 17 and kept doing so until 1917 when she was around 24. Gertrude rather prolifically filled in 55 single sided pages and recorded a whopping 162 men, many of whom she met at a huge variety of parties and holidays (such as a “Japanese Party at Helen Francis’” and “Addis Wilmot’s Halloween Party”) across Brooklyn, Newark, and Baltimore to name just a few.
It soon becomes clear which particular attributes Gertrude was paying attention to in a man, with her always commenting on their height; almost always noting whether they were dark or fair; and often noting if they were ‘jolly’, ‘good fun’, ‘quiet’, or ‘lively’; as well as commenting on their dancing and piano playing prowess. She seemed to have a particular soft spot for a handsome pair of eyes and an attractive voice, with those that she found pleasing earning the description of ‘dandy’. She didn’t tend to dwell too long on the men she she didn’t like, instead signing their entries off with the almost quality-control-style repetition of “nothing to rave about”, though she clearly took a particular dislike to a man known only as “-?” who Gertrude states was:
“Short – not very good looking – horrid. Only saw him for five minutes.”
It seems that she marked her favorite men with a little “C” symbol in the corner of their entries, as with Carl Smith’s entry, which reads:
“Perfectly stunning chap. Tall and very dark with beautiful eyes. Rather quiet and dances dandy. Quite an independent chap.”
In 1916-17, though, she dropped this method, and instead took to the after-note: “I am terribly fond of… [lucky man’s name here]”. One of the last few entries, one Fred Fraser, is even lauded as “a peach of a fellow”. The volume is a truly wonderful record of a wealthy young woman’s social life in early 20th century New York and beyond, and is an absorbing read in itself, the short notes revealing much more about its unexpectedly relatable writer than its subjects. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh as I made my way through the 162 entries, transported for a few moments to another time and another world.
The journal is happily accompanied by two photographs of the society beauty, which seem to radiate with happiness and vitality. One is a glamorous headshot, the other a photograph of Gertrude in a surprisingly fashionable fancy dress owl costume, possibly at Addis Wilmot’s aforementioned Halloween party.
This fascinating journal is, considering its age and how long Gertrude kept it for, in excellent condition, and provides an incredible historical glance atromance and dating, as well as being a very welcome, uplifting, and resoundingly humorous diversion. Unfortunately we have not been able to find out what happened to Gertrude or if she ever married, but I like to imagine that the reason she stopped writing in 1917 is that she did eventually find her “‘not impossible’ He”.
The upper and lower boards of Something Leather.
Lanark, title page and frontispiece.
1982, Janine (1984), his second (and the author’s own favourite) novel, was recently described by an admirer (the critic, Sarah Ditum) as ‘unambiguous filth, chronicling the compulsive, unruly fantasies of a middle-aged man called Jock’; in the same article she refers to Something Leather (1990), the fifth novel, as ‘straight-up lechery’. Those books are clearly much else besides, but as Ditum is quick to point out, ‘Gray’s writing is not the tyrannical kind that can only be enjoyed if you agree with him. He makes easy company with disagreement’. A lifelong socialist and Scottish nationalist, the salient quality of the work, however dark and angry (and, of course, funny), is that of generosity.
Janine, jacket and binding.
One of the many things that set Lanark apart from anything else being done at the time was the author’s control of every aspect of the book’s design and production. A feat (a feast) of graphic and typographic invention, everything from the elaborately illustrated jacket to the choice of font-type(s), expresses a singular vision.
When, in 1888, William Morris set up his Kelmscott Press, it was a response to the poor quality of mass-produced books, and of their drab, ugly appearance. Morris aimed to produce books at once beautiful, functional and affordable. It was a laudable ideal, and the books that emerged were indeed beautiful and finely crafted but – perhaps inevitably – turned out to be expensive and limited. A century later, with mass-produced, disposable publishing as pervasive as ever, an equally idealistic Alasdair Gray was able to carve an unexpected niche within the publishing world. Working closely with Canongate in Edinburgh and (through Liz Calder) Jonathan Cape and Bloomsbury (his books were published more or less alternately in Edinburgh and London) Gray was given relatively free rein, not only over content, but also the look, feel and weight of the books: their presence as objects/artefacts. It was an idealism redolent of Blake and Morris, but the books were affordable. This was partly owing to the publishers passing some of the cost of such idealism to the author himself. Gray was never financially secure, describing himself as ‘a well-known writer who cannot make a living from his writing’.
Unlikely Stories, Mostly, jacket and binding.
As with all the paratextual elements of Gray’s books, the text printed to boards and dustwrappers is treated with the same care as words on the page. The jacket copy of 1982, Janine, tells us that ‘This already dated novel is set inside the head of an ageing, divorced, alcoholic, insomniac supervisor of security installations […] Every stylistic excess and moral defect which critics conspired to ignore in the author’s first books is to be found here in concentrated form’; the magisterial Book of Prefaces (2000) prints blurbs ‘by’, among others, Samuel Johnson – ‘never has penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment been so happily disguised’ – and Mark Twain; while the front flap of A Life in Pictures cites one Sidney Workman of the Times Literary Implement , who informs us that ‘in Glasgow pubs it is now common gossip that bibliophiles will esteem it as highly as Hypnoerotomachia Poliphili and similar incunabula’.
Gray’s concern with the technology (the medium) of the book is of a piece with his work as a visual artist, whether on paper, canvas, or in the magnificent series of murals scattered around Glasgow. He saw little distinction between his work across these various media (describing each as a holiday from the other): a platform at Hillhead underground station or the ceiling of the auditorium at the Oran Moor centre are treated with the same imaginative energy as the books.
Motifs, verbal and visual, reappear across the books, murals, paintings: whether of particular faces (James Kelman makes regular cameo appearances), decorative patterns, the figure of Prometheus, self-portraits, or phrases like the one from Dennis Lee (which was carved into the front of the Scottish Parliament building in 2004), not forgetting the myriad roundels, manicules, thistles and gremlins that pop up everywhere. It is a generous and labyrinthine universe of emblems that clearly calls for a scholarly concordance of some kind.
Collecting first editions published over the last few decades is a mixed blessing. A first printing of a Hilary Mantel or J. K. Rowling novel may be the relic of a moment, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that most hardback fiction these days is printed, bound and designed with little more care (or concern for durability) than the paperback edition that follows a few months later, and at half the price. Gray’s first editions, however, were always (and remain) desirable and special: the paperback editions really do entail a diminishment of the many pleasures that these works offer the reader – the holder – when in their original, their intended, form.
Lucius Books has recently acquired a once-in-a-lifetime collection of Gray’s work; everything from exhibition catalogues, pamphlets, poetry, drama, and, of course, the novels and stories. Mostly immaculate, nearly everything is signed/inscribed in Gray’s inimitable hand.
“The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make”
J.R.R. Tolkien is undoubtedly amongst the most popular authors of the last hundred years, with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings never failing to find a new, captive audience in every emerging generation of readers. Furthermore, the literary and increasingly multimedia genre of modern fantasy that he unwittingly created continues to flourish, only becoming more intricately woven into our cultural landscape as time goes on.
But why is this? To some, the key to the singular appeal of his writing lies in his primary passion for philology: the study, particularly through literary texts, of the history and creation of language and how words relate to history and culture. This passion became an unprecedentedly deep grounding and framework for the stories he created. To Tolkien, he was revealing the mythology that the roots and paths of the words of real, modern languages imply once existed, if only in the collective imagination. Simultaneously, he was creating a world and a history for the languages that he loved to create to inhabit (exemplified particularly in The Silmarillion); a necessity, since it was the relationship between culture and language, rather than language in isolation, which so enthralled him.
This foundation, so complex, rooted in reality, and essentially unreliant on plot, surely serves as one of the most unusual and painstakingly detailed bases for an imaginary world that is rarely seen elsewhere, and must surely contributes to Tolkien’s success. After all, as Tolkien said himself in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, “The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make”.
In some ways, Tolkien did not create a genre (fantasy, or, more specifically, heroic or high fantasy), he opened the door to a world – one that was not limited to the pages of his own books. Though they vary in tone, innovation, and quality, the myriad books (as well as films and television series) published every year that owe even the smallest debt to Tolkien invite the reader into a world that she or he already knows the lay of – one of dragons, watchful trees, heroic underdogs, and relics of ancient power. And if Tolkien is to be believed, it is the hidden mythology that can be read between the lines of our own language that makes this world so irresistibly familiar to us, even before we open The Hobbit for the very first time.
To me, the appeal of Tolkien also lies in the purity of fantasy and moral clarity in his world building and writing. This is something Tolkien touches on himself, again in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, arguing that, since fantasy lies separately from the ‘primary world’ and must be entirely created, it is “a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent”. He goes on to describe the heroic overcoming of evils and hardships in fantasy as moments of “joy” and “consolation”, which offer comfort and escape amidst the realities of the primary world. Indeed, many scholars have proposed that Tolkien’s work reveals the processing of his experiences in WWI, and he himself argued against the derision of escapism, asking “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”.
And so, in the extraordinarily well developed and language-anchored world of Arda and the land of Middle-Earth, readers may find both an example of a Very Bad Situation which is eventually, through the hard work of good people, solved logically and fairly; and a much needed escape from reality. It is no wonder then, that every generation, each facing its own Very Bad Situation (be it the wars Tolkien lived through or the political upheaval and instability of the present day), keeps reaching, again and again, for that solution and escape.
We are lucky enough at Lucius Books to currently be in possession of a handful of books once belonging to Nancy Cunard, a rebellious poet, socialite, publisher, and political activist who worked hard to promote pacifism while fighting fascism and prejudice, though she is now mostly remembered, perhaps unfairly, for becoming muse and lover to a host of early 20th century writers and artists. None of the books are in exceptional condition and most have been annotated and personalised by Cunard, which only serves to render them somehow closer to her – she was certainly not the sort to carefully collect and preserve objects, but rather to thoroughly and blithely immerse herself in them in a bid to extract the messages and sentiments held within.
Three of the books belonging to Cunard are by George Moore, and their publication and inscription dates range from 1917 to 1955. Moore had a very close, almost certainly romantic and sexual relationship with Cunard’s mother, Lady Maud Cunard, who remained his idealised muse until the end of his life, her likeness finding its way into many of his novels. It was rumoured during Cunard’s lifetime that Moore, rather than Maud’s husband, Sir Bache Cunard, heir to a profitable shipping business, was Cunard’s father. Cunard never discovered whether the rumour was true, and her parentage is still disputed to this day. Her father or not, Moore was a permanent fixture throughout Cunard’s life, and she often spoke of him with more affection than her generally absent or disinterested mother and father. Referencing her visit with Moore at age four, she describes him as her “first friend”.
Many found Cunard’s eccentric, energetic personality enchanting and magnetic, earning her a wide and dynamic social life; she had links, whether as acquaintances, friends, or lovers, with a staggering amount of famous artists, writers, and other creative or bohemian figures. Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Louis Aragon, Aldous Huxley (who was so taken with Cunard he wrote her into his novels), Wyndham Lewis, John Strachey, and Jean Cocteau are just a few of those we know for certain were her lovers, while among her friends (a few of whom may also have been her lovers) were Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Virginia Woolf, Josephine Baker, and Iris Tree, as well as many more.
Cunard’s drive to fight prejudice and injustice was shared by one of her lifelong friends, the American writer Kay Boyle, who wrote another of our books belonging to Cunard. ‘His Human Majesty’ is inscribed by Boyle to Cunard, dated 1949. Boyle’s poignant and insightful 1937 poem about the Scottsboro case (Cunard had passionately put great effort into petitioning for the boys’ release in 1931) is titled ‘A Communication to Nancy Cunard’.
Our final book of Cunard’s is Stephen Vincent Benet’s 1928 ‘John Brown’s Body’, which contains a number of Cunard’s inscriptions: her pencilled reading notes on the front free endpaper state that she read the book three times, the second reading dated Summer 1953, the third reading in August 1964, just six months before her death. Her final years were sadly marred by poor physical and mental health, poverty, and addiction, and it can be noted that her handwriting in the 1964 inscription is markedly stiff and shaky. At the top of the page she boldy states that “this is one of the finest poems ever written”, with further notes highlighting favourite passages. It is certainly humbling to handle a book that such a vibrant woman held so dearly!
On the prelims, marked “today, the 16th of June 1953” (during her second reading of the poem) Cunard tipped in French newspaper clippings covering and denouncing Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s imminent execution for espionage, next to which she writes that “the issue is still uncertain”. Many Europeans, including Albert Einstiein and Pablo Picasso, publicly called for mercy and compassion regarding the Rosenberg Case. The execution went ahead three days later. This clearly beloved book along with our other books belonging to Cunard create a small but wonderful window into the life of one of the early 20th century’s most unusual and fascinating women, as well as into the political and social world of early and mid-century left-leaning minds.
“I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.”
– Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination
The season for scaring ourselves is almost upon us, and as much as everybody loves to watch horror films at Halloween, I believe there’s nothing as scary as a good old fashioned horror story straight from a book’s pages or read aloud. Because your imagination must do all the work you end up picturing the worst version possible of what is being described; the monsters and ghosts becomes more terrifying than any amount of CGI or puppetry could ever communicate. The more you read the more your mind plays tricks with shadows and sounds, blurring the thin line between fiction and reality that an image on a screen can never truly cross. And what better format than the short story? The simplest ideas are often the purest and most atmospheric, the lack of wider detail and context intensifying the creepiness of the story, as wonderfully demonstrated in Edgar Allen Poe’s stories. Moreover, you can snuggle down with one on a cold, dark evening (preferably with some hot cocoa for comfort) and be safely out the other side by bed time, with only a whisper of the tale’s horrors still playing on your mind.
Daphne du Maurier is the 20th century’s queen of gothic fiction, thanks to her often bleak and imposing depiction of the Cornish landscape and her tendency to show reality and sanity as somewhat malleable and unreliable. This gorgeous copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Classics of Macabre, illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully bound in burgundy with gilt edges and signed by both Maurier and Foreman, brings together Maurier’s most chilling tales, two of which have adapted into films. The Birds inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film of the same name, while Nicolas Roeg adapted Don’t Look Now into a film in 1973.
From a Cornish farmer who is inexplicably and viciously attacked by hordes of birds, to a woman whose eye surgery comes with grotesque consequences, a man who is convinced his dead wife is haunting a tree in his garden, and a couple who encounter a doppelgänger of their recently deceased daughter; Maurier’s quietly creepy stories steer clear of garish thrills or overt horror motifs. Instead they center on ordinary people in ordinary settings in which something is simply not quite right, creating a strong sense of the uncanny and suggesting that something deeply unsettling is waiting to happen to someone normal and every day; to someone just like you…
Poe has often been named the “arch-priest” of the gothic horror tale,and looking at the intensity of the dark atmosphere and style of his work and the hugely wide reach of his influence, it isn’t hard to see why. He took the beginnings of existing gothic literary tropes and solidified them into what was to become a fully-fledged, modern genre (see doppelgängers in Poe’s William Wilson du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now), with a few of his own additions thrown in along the way.
This copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination brings together Poe’s horror, suspense, and detective stories, their grim mood reflected brilliantly in Rackham’s murky, haunting illustrations for the first time. The most disturbing of the tales tend to employ an unnamed narrator, often in a circumstance the reader is never given the full details of; this has a disorientating, surreal effect, and guides the reader directly into the narrator’s shoes, focusing their attention on the horrors unfurling before them with no distraction from a wider plot or character details, such as the razor sharp pendulum that slowly descends upon the incapacitated narrator in The Pit and the Pendulum, or the burgeoning madness the narrator experiences in The Fall of the House of Usher.
Poe’s tales have inspired many film, television, and screen adaptations, but perhaps more notably have irrevocably altered and entered the general landscape of horror and gothic culture, to the point that almost every modern gothic horror pays its respects to Poe in some way or other.
While best known for his Edwardian-set drama novel The Go Between, L. P. Hartley was also a prolific writer of short macabre stories. The Travelling Grave (with a striking illustrated dustwrapper from Arkham House regular, Frank Utpatel), was his first collection published in the US, and draws from his previous gothic collections published in the UK, comprising of ghost stories and tales of murder. The stories, often set in grand houses or exotic destinations where the protagonist is a guest or outsider of some sort, give the unsettling feeling of being an eternal stranger; a concept distilled further in A Change of Ownership and The Island, where the protagonists are pushed out of their homes and rendered strangers in their own lives.
Podolo and Three, or Four, for Dinner, like du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, join their British protagonists on their holidays in Venice, proving that the historic city with its dream-like structure and architecture is the perfect setting for strange goings-on. The Travelling Grave and The Killing Bottle lend a touch of black comedy to their macabre subjects, while Night Fears explores a very dark, psychological variety of horror.
I hope you find something here to frighten and delight you on a dark and stormy night. Have a scary (and literary) Halloween!
While scholars and critics have long discussed and disputed the actual definition of science fiction as a genre, it is undeniable that if someone says that they read a sci-fi book or watched a sci-fi film, the average person will have a good idea as to what they are talking about. Familiar science fiction tropes, concepts, and story lines have been explored and refined time and time again to the point that they are instantly recognisable, yet their popularity never seems to wane. Each new iteration brings a new perspective to the sci-fi framework, and each generation finds fresh metaphors for contemporary issues within its themes and devices.
It could easily be argued that science fiction’s history goes back hundreds, even thousands of years, a whisper of its conception to be found in the work of Ancient Greek cosmologists and philosophers, but, spurred on by the industrial revolution, science fiction as we recognise it today was largely formed in the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The term science fiction itself, though first appearing in William Wilson’s A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject in 1951, was not widely used until its popularisation in the 1920s by the hugely influential publisher Hugo Gernsback, when it became firmly recognized as its own genre.
I’d like to share with you today some of our early sci-fi titles. As a fan of the genre I find it fascinating to witness its birth through these novels, and to see just how similar some of the storylines are to those in sci-fi that is being created today. Furthermore, our separation from them in time makes it is easy to see how the political, social, and technological landscape of the period influenced these novelists, which in turn helps us to more easily see how our own lives and times influence the content of contemporary science fiction, even without the clear lens of hindsight.
Edward Page Mitchell, edited and introduced by Sam Moskowitz, 1973 [1874-1886]
This is an anthology collection of early science fiction short stories by Edward Page Mitchell originally published in newspapers in the 1870s and 1880s. Mitchell’s stories explored human invisibility and time travel before H.G. Wells’ (undisputedly one of the most influential early sci-fi writers) The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, and it has been postulated by a number of scholars that Mitchell could have been an influence on the legendary author. Also in this collection are extremely early, formative examples of other now-popular science fiction themes such as faster-than-light travel, teleportation, mind transfer, and superhuman mutants. It would be difficult to find a modern sci-fi narrative that didn’t include a concept Mitchell touched on! After his death in 1927 he was largely forgotten until being rediscovered by leading science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz, who collected and published his work together for the first time in this volume, along with his own long and informative introduction which details Mitchell’s personal life and work.
Edmund Boisgilbert, pseudonym of Ignatius Donnelly, 1890
Ceasar’s Column is one of the earliest works of dystopian science fiction in the English language. Compared to Mitchell’s work, Donnelly’s novel revolves less around the futuristic and fantastic technologies and occurrences of science fiction themselves, and instead focuses on the political and social struggles of the world they exist in. That’s not to say it isn’t rich in imagined technology – Donnelly’s portrayal of 1980s New York is filled with advanced tech, much of which, such as television, radio, aeroplanes capable of transatlantic flight, and poison gas really did come to exist, though not quite in the way he imagined them! The plot centres on the city’s ruthless financial oligarchy that rules over a vast, abject working class, and the secret resistance organization that opposes it.
The resemblance to modern works, particularly those created during the dramatic increase in the popularity of dystopian narratives in the late 2000s and early 2010s, is notable. When compared with one of the most popular dystopian novels of recent decades, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, it can be seen that both novels create worlds where the brutality of an oppressive state is matched in barbarity by the violence of the revolutionary resistance, with neither truly earning the moral high ground. The similarity of the climax of both novels, in which the struggle between both sides comes to a less-than-clean-cut conclusion, is particularly staggering.
Olaf W. Stapledon, 1930
As science fiction matured throughout the early 20th century, more ponderous, philosophical, and cosmically-scaled narratives appeared, including the works of Katherine Burdekin that I discussed in my previous blog post, and exemplified by the groundbreaking works of Olaf Stapledon, all of which helped to form a strain of the genre that still exists today (a favorite example of mine being the 2009 film Mr Nobody, or, more recently, 2016’s Arrival). The recent and anticipated advancements in astronomy and cosmology, which Stapledon followed closely, encouraged a ‘zoomed-out’ view of humanity, and even of the very solar system in which we reside. The First and Last Men, about which Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001: A Space Odyssey acclaim) stated ‘no book before or since has ever had such an impact on my imagination’, takes on the incredible task of imagining the story of the human race all the way up to its demise billions of years in the future. Humanity makes its way through eighteen different forms or species, some of which occur through natural selection, others by human intervention, offering an early example of genetic engineering in science fiction. The narrator, a ‘last man’ residing on Neptune in the last remaining human stronghold, psychically holds the consciousness of a ‘first man’, a stroke of cyclical symmetry which is reminiscent of contemporary and later cosmological and philosophical theories such as the cyclical model, loop quantum cosmology and eternalism. The Last and First Men preceded Star Maker, in which Stapledon took his ideas a step further and traced the birth and death of an entire universe.
Look out for these early works of science fiction among many more like them (so many it was hard for me to choose which to include in this blog post!) in our upcoming catalogue of the legendary Martin Stone’s collection, which is rich in speculative and weird fiction.
Adam Roberts: The History of Science Fiction. Springer, 4 Aug 2016
H.G. Wells: The Invisible Man. Broadview Press, 30 Jun 2018
Ignatius Donnelly: Caesar’s Column, A Story of the Twentieth Century. Wesleyan University Press, 4 Dec 2003
Olaf Stapledon: Last And First Men. Hachette UK, 19 Mar 2012
Robert Crossley: An Olaf Stapledon Reader. Syracuse University Press, 1 Mar 1997
www.scififilmhistory.com: Karina Wilson, accessed 2 September 2019
www.sf-encyclopedia.com: Gollancz, SFE Ltd., accessed 2 September 2019
While gender inequality still remains in the publishing world today, the challenges that female writers faced in the past, including society’s attitude towards them, were even more severe and impenetrable. Today the majority of classic writers who have become household names are male, but that’s not to say that women weren’t writing in the early 20th century and earlier – we just don’t know about them! That’s why it has been so exciting that while we have been cataloguing the collection of the legendary Martin Stone we have come across quite a few interesting books by female writers, many of which are new to me. I’d like to share a few of their stories, which I have personally found extremely humbling and inspiring.
When I picked up a copy of Dreams and Dream Stories, a beautiful little book (black cloth decorated with silver stars and lettering) containing a collection of Anna Kingsford’s dream diaries, musings, poems, and prose, I was immediately fascinated by her writing and by her story. She was a passionate animal rights activist, anti-vivisectionist, vegetarian, spiritualist, and one of the first women to gain a medical degree (as well as being the only medical student at the time to graduate without experimenting on an animal).
Kingsford had a desire to study medicine in order to give herself more authority in her pursuit of the furthering of the animal welfare-based causes that were so close to her heart. British medical schools did not allow women entry, and so in 1874, aged 27, Kingsford began studying medicine in Paris. Although she was allowed to study, it was not easy: Kingsford recounts in a letter to her husband an incident when, in group of around a hundred students (Kingsford being the only woman), a professor refused to speak or even write her name during a roll call, claiming that she was neither a woman nor a man.
Paris was at the time the epicenter of vivisection-based physiology, and Kingsford had to endure the sights and sounds of live animals being subject to horrific experiments. However, despite the distress this caused her, her refusal to conduct any animal experiments, and her writing her thesis on the medical benefits of vegetarianism (which was initially objected to by multiple professors), she graduated with a Doctorate of Medicine in 1880, going on the give prominent lectures and demonstrations promoting vegetarianism (which was controversial even amongst her fellow anti-vivisectionists) and condemning vivisection, just as she had wished.
What she achieved and withstood in her short lifetime is testament to her incredible strength and determination in the face of a society that was pitted strongly against her beliefs and her sex.
Katharine Burdekin was a truly remarkable writer of speculative fiction with an emphasis on the exploration of incredibly advanced and complex feminist and gender-critical concepts, marking her out as undeniably far ahead of her time. Born into an educated, upper-middle-class family, she was highly intelligent and well-read. She wished to attend Oxford like her brothers, but unfortunately her parents forbade it.
Ten of her novels were published during her lifetime, but fell into obscurity until the 1980s when Daphne Patai, a Professor of Women’s Studies, discovered the true identity of “Murray Constantine”, Burdekin’s pseudonym. Many of her novels were subsequently published by The City University of New York’s Feminist Press and are now of great scholarly interest.
We are lucky enough to have on our shelves two Burdekin first editions. The first, Proud Man, is signed and inscribed by Burdekin. In the novel a completely biologically androgynous human from a peaceful, genderless, vegetarian future society travels back in time to 1930s England, and then gives a critique of this comparatively primitive, “sub-human” society. Through this future human’s eyes, Burdekin dissects our adherence to gender roles and the societal and cultural creation of the masculine identity, theorizing that the male sex assumes that all children are inherently effeminate – that girls naturally become women, while boys must be carefully supervised, taught, and tested into becoming men, and that this is borne out of “a great fear of the suppressed power of the female sex”.
Our second Burdekin, The Rebel Passion, is an early work that the author considered to be her first as a mature writer. It is another time travel-based novel, telling the story of a 12th century male monk who is “born with the soul of a woman” and does not fit into society’s ideas of masculinity. In a series of visions shown to him by a spirit, he witnesses events spanning millions of years from the dawn of life to the creation of a utopian, neo-medieval 21st century society where men and women have achieved complete equality.
Scottish writer Catherine Carswell’s life was lived among artistic and literary circles, and, having little care for playing things safely or for giving up in the face of adversity, was often dogged by drama and controversy. In 1908 she won a historic court case, making her the first woman to have her marriage annulled by proving the insanity of her husband at the time of their marriage. Some years later she moved from Glasgow to London, where she hoped to further her budding career as a journalist and critic. However, after publishing a glowing review of The Rainbow, a novel by her close friend D.H. Lawrence (who was then a contentious figure at best) she lost her job.
Carswell and Lawrence’s friendship is notable for the affection shown on both sides, and for the fact that Carswell, unlike many of his friends, was never the subject or recipient of the criticism for which Lawrence was known. The pair exchanged a huge quantity of letters and frequently and actively encouraged and advised one another on their writing, with Carswell having particular involvement in Women in Love. The two novels that Carswell wrote during this period were eventually forgotten, much like Burdekin’s, until their eventual rediscovery and publication by the feminist publisher Virago, and she is now considered a crucial figure in 20th century Scottish women’s writing.
Deciding to turn her hand to biography, Carswell penned an honest yet sympathetic biography of Robert Burns, who had to many become a legendary, untouchable figure. The book was met with uproar, moving one individual to send a bullet to Carswell in the post and advise her to end her life in order to “make the world a cleaner place”.
The Carswell title that we have to offer is a first edition of The Savage Pilgrimage, a fascinating, intimate biography of Lawrence, written soon after his death. It was withdrawn by Chatto and Windus amid fierce accusations of libel from another friend and biographer of Lawrence, John Middleton Murry. Carswell and Murry had developed a strained relationship prior to Lawrence’s death which only intensified in its aftermath, when their biographies conveyed very different ideas about Lawrence’s character and motivations, as well as about each other.
As a final thought, I believe it is worth noting that these women all come from comparatively privileged backgrounds, yet their paths through writing and publication were clearly not easy, not to mention the fact that they were never able to reach the prominence of some of the most acclaimed – overwhelmingly male – writers. It is sobering to imagine how difficult and practically impossible the act and idea of writing would have been for women from less wealthy, more diverse backgrounds – something that we have undoubtedly not yet entirely overcome.
This is only a very small selection of the many amazing lesser-known women writers I’ve recently come across on our shelves, and I am certain there are so many more out there left for me to discover, which is a very exciting thought! I hope you have enjoyed reading about their lives and works as much as I have.
The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The Conflict Between Animal Research and Animal Protection, Deborah Rudacille, University of California Press. (2001)
Proud Man, Katharine Burdekin, Feminist Press at CUNY (1993)
Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work, Edward Maitland Cambridge University Press. (2011)
The End of this Day’s Business, Katharine Burdekin, Feminist Press at CUNY. (1989)
Open the Door!, Catherine Carswell, Canongate Books. New Ed edition (2010)
Lying Awake, Catherine Carswell, Canongate Books. 2nd edition (1997)