Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In for a Penny, In for a Powell

I know very little about Anthony Powell.  Although, I do believe he was rather tall and possibly forbidding.  Well, I guess I am being disingenuous for I do know a bit more about him than that.  I know he was fond of figs.  No, I am just making that up.  From his pictures he doesn't look like a fig fancier.  More a Banbury cake fancier I think. Although he may not have wanted anyone to know of his predilection for pastry.  

I am sorry, I must be in a whimsical mood, or perhaps merely hungry, or both. I am sure I know what anyone can know about Anthony Powell by looking up his information on wikipedia, reading an obituary or two, a few critical works and essays.  Or best of all, perhaps, by reading his Memoirs (4 vols.), his Journals (3 vols.) and his Novels (20 vols.) and miscellaneous plays and essays. I am not, however, a Powellite or whatever the followers and devotees of the man and his work call themselves, but I have read a few of his novels. 

Faced with the stack of Anthony Powell's  Dance to the Music of Time does seem a rather forbidding reading task (although, perhaps not as forbidding as the seemingly forgotten ten volumes of Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe.)  All that clever wit and subtle satire in volume after volume after volume. To be a reader in 1951, and pick up the first novel in the sequence, A Question of Upbringing, would be the easier task. To read one Anthony Powell book every odd year or so, and enjoy the anticipation and uncertainty of when the next one would arrive in the bookshops, would be the ideal reading pattern.  I imagine even the author himself would find the complete sequence to be a daunting challenge to read all at one go. To see and hear through the eyes of Nicholas Jenkins for so many pages would likely drive one to read a Ross Macdonald hard-boiled mystery, an Alice Munro short story collection or a Samuel Beckett novel (in French) for a change of style and subject matter. Reading one a month would be more feasible. Such a schedule would likely save one's sanity and would limit the influence of his style--enjoyable though it is--from seeping too deeply into one's conversation and letter writing.

The different cover art for his novels over the years can be a source of interest. The original illustrator for his twelve volume sequence published by William Heinemann was James Broom-Lynne, who was certainly a talented and prolific (a word that is beginning to loose its power, shall we say, fecund, creative, cornucopian, yes cornucopian seems apt for his dustjackets, illustrations, novels and plays) artist and writer.  His covers are heraldic in design with the use of a rather dour grey punctuated by various bright colours with the details hinting at, in a general way, the content. The size of the books, crown octavo, small by today's standards, make them easy to read and the original red cloth bindings and gilt titles make them handsome enough books. It is an achievement in design continuity since the first book was published in 1951, and the last in the series, in 1975.  Broom-Lynne also designed the four volume set by Heinemann using the lower portion of the painting by Poussin and overlaying vertical colour strips, a design which was then modified by the American edition published by Little, Brown and Co., and more recently by the University of Chicago Press.

The Penguin Books paperback editions which came out in the 1960s sported cover art by Osbert Lancaster and they were a mix of finely detailed exterior architecture, like Casanova's Chinese Restaurant, and finely detailed interiors, such as A Question of Upbringing. Some of the covers featured interiors or exteriors with groups of people but without a defining representation of any one character. There is a lightness that reflects Lancaster's style and to a certain extent, the satire and situations within the novels.

Berkley Books issued a series of paperbacks with odd covers which were still-lifes with objects that reflected the content, including a small pocket watch being one object that appeared in each design.

Fontana Books first issued a series in the late 1960s with rather stilted paintings of characters from the novel.  The effect is weak.  They followed this up in the early 1970s with richly defined photographs of still-lifes reflecting the subject matter within.  Then in the late 1970s they brought out a new series with cover art by Mark Boxer.  These depicted characters from the novels in a more idiosyncratic manner, being essentially caricatures. Boxer's black ink sketches with a colour wash to various details are certainly interesting, and although they represent specific characters in the books, they don't subvert the reader's own imagination of what the characters may look like.  The caricatures evoke character rather than define their appearance. (Although I have to admit that the caricature for Temporary Kings makes me think of Martin Amis in his mod, long-hair years--the image on the back of his novel The Rachel Papers for instance. Martin Amis was friends with Boxer and their lifestyles did have a certain resonance with the books. It is just that the caricature on this book is of a woman, Pamela Widmerpool. My perception only I am sure.)

The paperback covers, in tending to represent the time of the novels, also reflect their own time in their style of illustration or design. If someone were to redesign the covers for the 21st Century, I wonder what they would come up with.  There is a modern tendency to have the art work span all the spines in a multi-volume work to create one visual image. That could be one possibility. Using the painting by Poussin seems too easy. Something fresh would be needed.  I wonder what.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sham on You: Reflections on Dummy Book Titles

There is the occasional pastime on Twitter where twitterites participate in making up humorous book titles based on existing book titles. One I recall was under the hashtag 'Junk Food Novels.' My wife came up with quite a few such as The Spoils of Poutine, The End of the Eclair, and The Hors d'oeuvres of Gilbert Pinfold among many others. Such a pastime can find its roots not only in basic word play, but in sham book titles created for dummy books for library doors in English historic country house libraries. Doors that would be camouflaged in bibliographic detail in order to hide a main entrance, a passage to another room, a hidden staircase, or merely a closet where the owner might keep the cigars. Booksellers were often requested to provide interesting titles for these curiosities, perhaps even changing them from time to time when the titles became rather, old.

I can imagine that the bookbinders would enjoy arriving at humorous titles and plying the gold leaf on to these more than decorative bindings. The library doors of Chatsworth and Gad's Hill have some interesting examples. (The picture is of Oxburgh Hall.)

Lamb on the Death of Wolfe.
Cursory Remarks on Swearing.
John Knox on Death's Door.
Boyle on Steam.
Lever on Lifts.
The Scottish Boccaccio by D. Cameron.
Dr. Kitchener's Life of Captain Cook.
Mr. J. Horner on Poet's Corner.

On Sore Throat and the Migration of the Swallow.
The Corn Question by John Bunyan.
The Art of Turning by Handle.
Bleak Houses.
The Male Coach.
Lochs and Quays of England.
Plurality of Living With Regard to the Common Cat.
Nine Tails by a Cat.
On Cutting off Heirs with a Shilling.

For additional titles, my old blog Postman's Horn has a letter by Thomas Hood which provides a few.

In Aldous Huxley's early novel, Crome Yellow (1921) there is a scene in a country house library which I shall leave off with a quote:

For their after-luncheon coffee the party generally adjourned to the library. Its windows looked east, and at this hour of the day it was the coolest place in the whole house. It was a large room, fitted, during the eighteenth century, with white painted shelves of an elegant design. In the middle of one wall a door, ingeniously upholstered with rows of dummy books, gave access to a deep cupboard, where among a pile of letter-files and old newspapers, the mummy-case of an Egyptian lady, brought back by the second Sir Fernando on his return from the Grand Tour, mouldered in the darkness. From ten yards away and at a first glance, one might almost have mistaken this secret door for a section of shelving filled with genuine books. Coffee-cup in hand, Mr. Scogan was standing in front of the dummy book-shelf. Between the sips he discoursed.

"The bottom shelf," he was saying, "is taken up by an Encyclopaedia in fourteen volumes. Useful, but a little dull, as is also 'Caprimulge's Dictionary of the Finnish Language.' The 'Biograhical Dictionary' looks more promising. 'Biography of Men who were Born Great,' 'Biography of Men who Achieved Greatness,' 'Biography of Men who had Greatness Thrust Upon Them,' and 'Biography of Men who were Never Great at All.' Then there are ten volumes of 'Thom's Works and Wanderings,' while the 'Wild Goose Chase, A Novel,' by an anonymous author, fills no less than six. But what's this, what's this?" Mr. Scogan stood on tiptoe and peered up. "Seven volumes of the 'Tales of Knockespotch.' The 'Tales of Knockespotch,' he repeated. "Ah, my dear Henry," he said, turning round, "these are your best books. I would willingly give all the rest of your library for them."

The happy possessor of a multitude of first editions, Mr. Wimbush could afford to smile indulgently.

"Is it possible," Mr. Scogan went on, "that they possess nothing more than a back and a title?" He opened the cupboard door and peeped inside, as though he hoped to find the rest of the books behin
d it. "Phooh!" he said, and shut the door again. "It smells of dust and mildew. How symbolical! One comes to the great masterpieces of the past, expecting some miraculous illumination, and one finds, on opening them, only darkness and dust and a faint smell of decay. After all, what is reading but a vice, like drink or venery or any other form of excessive self-indulgence? One reads to tickle and amuse one's mind; one reads above all, to prevent oneself thinking. Still--the 'Tales of Knockespotch'...."

He paused, and thoughtfully drummed with his fingers on the backs of the non-existent, unattainable books.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Second Thought

The bookseller smiled, or so Cinnabar thought as he paused while cleaning himself.

Through the window of the bookshop, another day's uncertainty passed with growing agitation, casting bright reflections or dark shadows within. Cinnabar sighed. He was rather tired of being the emotional draw for customers. Tired of being ogled and talked to in a baby voice. Tired of customers touching him while he was in deep meditation. Humans, he wondered, did they ever wash? How greasy and oily were their fingers. How unfortunate their habits. Nicotine, perfumes, hand lotions, food, all combined with the dust from all these old books was, at times, trying.

Cinnabar looked up at the bookseller whose glasses reflected the day. He sniffed. Things could be worse. Those cat shelters for instance. The utter horrors of the shared litter box. Those imbeciles putting their paws in his water dish as if they saw another cat reflected there. Idiots.
Cinnabar scratched his side with his right foot. It could be worse. Like being a stray on the street, hungry, cold and vulnerable. There were stories of large-eyed bird creatures who could swoop down and carry you off. Or vicious humans who would toss you to see how you would land on your feet. Barbarians. It is a forest of fears out there.

He stretched ever so gently, extending his arms out before him in the sun's warmth. Or he could be suffering from ill-health. That's no catnip. The stories of kidney problems,pink eye, and worms were common around the cat shelter dinner dishes. Cinnabar sighed again. The bookseller looked down at him and winked
with his right eye and after a pause, Cinnabar reciprocated with a calm slow movement of his eyelids. He remembered Jasper. Jasper, what a stupid name for a cat he thought. Really! Humans, what are they thinking? The bookseller had been buying books at a rich country house when the owners offered him Jasper. For free. Really, what was he thinking? Well, Jasper wasn't all he appeared to be. A slinky pure-bred who turned out to be so sickly that it cost the bookseller any profit he might have managed at that sale. Honestly.

He heard his mother's voice, "Cinnabar" she would say, "high or low, your health is all you have." Cinnabar raised himself and stretched deliciously, and as he sat looking up at the bookseller, he made a vow to
rub up against a prospective customer at least once a week. After all, things weren't that bad. Hundreds of cats would give up their first mouse for such a position, and with that he wandered into the back room for his morning siesta.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Group Pose Tilting into the Future: Musings on Old Family Photographs

This is a family photograph from 1952. (I seem to be revisiting the 1950s of late.) My maternal grandfather on the right with a jacket over his arm, his younger brother Ivan beside him, my great-uncle's son beside him on holiday from Cambridge, and then two older ladies unknown to me, possibly sisters of my great-aunt on the extreme left. This photograph seems to evoke an Agatha Christie group of characters to me. Miss Marple is there I am sure. They are on an outing in the Peak District not far from their origins of Macclesfield. They have obviously stopped at The Marquis of Granby Hotel for refreshment before continuing on their sightseeing venture with a stop at Chatsworth. Who was behind the camera I wondered.

The name of the Hotel derives from General John Manners, Marquess of Granby, who had many, many pubs and hotels named after him in the late 18th Century. This particular one, however, evolved out of an old farm and later public house or coaching inn and was renamed the Marquis of Granby in 1880 or 1881, a name which may seem like a nostalgic choice, or perhaps one that would provide a certain veiled historic patina. Something like a mantle to bolster its prestige.

Looking at the photograph, all my relatives now long deceased, I began to wonder if at least the Hotel still existed. A quick search and I discovered that the answer was yes, and no. It seems after many years of operation, and latterly as a meeting place for two Masonic Lodges in the area, it closed and became derelict, no doubt a sad sight to all who had memories of having visited the establishment. A Google street view revealed an even sadder sight, as most of the Hotel has been torn down, leaving the original building bereft of its details:

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There does seem to be some recent development and a new Marquis of Granby brought to life. Perhaps it has been completed. And life goes on.

My relatives did get to visit Chatsworth on what looks like a lovely day. Mygrandfather must be the photographer of this one as my other great-uncle, Sydney, stands to the right, the group pose tilting into the future.

Chatsworth of course has stood the test of time. Presently there is a retrospective exhibitionof sculptures by Anthony Caro on the grounds of Chatsworth, sculpture that would have left my relatives in 1952 with looks of disbelief and possible dismay, but life moves along as it does. It is interesting to think that while my relatives were basking in the glorious sun while viewing the grounds and classical sculptures of Chatsworth, Anthony Caro was working as a part-time assistant to Henry Moore in the village of Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. Old and new ever in juxtaposition.