I'm completely charmed by this little piece of ephemera. From 1911, this is the programme for "The Arabian Nights Ball" hosted at the Royal Opera House by the Foreign Ambassadors to the Court of St James. Die cut in the shape of a fan it it stitched together and as well as providing a list of the public dances there were also, it appears, a number of stories from The Arabian Nights re-enacted in pageant form. What a night it must have been. My Edwaridan heart skips a beat to think of it.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
One of the few things I still collect for myself are book catalogues, auction catalogues and bibliographies that deal with gay literature. So I was delighted to buy this recently and it arrived during our little sojourn in East Anglia this week. Lambda Rising in Washington, and then in Baltimore as well was, until it closed in 2010, one of only a handful of dedicated gay bookstores in the world. That may sound like an overstatement and I am aware, of course, that there have been many others and still are a few remaining (including the UK's own Gays The Word of course). But relative to the populations they serve, dedicated gay bookshops have been a rare breed. The Wiki article on Lambda Rising is very good and tells the story succinctly whilst still giving an idea of the importance of the place in gay history.
Now I know I do realise how this next statement is going to make me sound but: I will thoroughly enjoy reading this catalogue. In particular, this catalogue has a paragraph about each of the books giving some idea of what it's about, something that secondhand sellers like myself often don't bother with although we should, and there are plenty of titles here, even from just 1984, which I have never heard of and a list like this always gives me the sense that I might just be about to discover a hidden classic...
Peter Robinsons was "the best equipped Drapery House in Great Britain" according to the blurb inside these unpromising buff card covers. The building it occupied by 1924 took up the whole of the plot bounded by Regent Street, Oxford Street, Great Portland Street and Great Castle Street, and is still there today although split into smaller units for brands such as Nike, Miss Selfridge and Topshop. But in its day... oh what glamour. Most of the booklet is taken up with reproductions of the artwork on the ceiling of the West Room of the restaurant but there are also these scrummy pictures of the West and North rooms of the restaurant: the fact that its rooms were named for points of the compass perhaps gives an idea of the scale of the whole thing.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
This real photographic postcard that I picked up in my travels this week is, I thought, in need of The Dead Poets Society treatment, that is, where you cast an eye over an old group photograph and don't allow the eye to be lazy but instead spend time examining some of the individual faces: hence, a couple of enlargements below...
...and how sweet they have their initials embroidered in the jumpers!
When it wasn't in danger of inundation, we were able to spend some time wandering on the amazing beach at Aldeburgh. It's a bleak and beautiful place in winter and, at the north end has this amazing sculptural tribute to Benjamin Britten by Maggi Hamblin. The sculpture has words from Britten's opera Peter Grimes pierced into its loosely scallop-shaped structure. It has been remarkably controversial for such a beautiful and well executed piece and was last vandalised in 2011 with the words 'its just a tin can. Move it!' painted onto it. If that kind of person hates it, all the more reason to love it I think.
Friday, December 06, 2013
As those of you who follow me on Twitter (@CallumJBooks) will already know, R and I have had a few days away this week in the tranquil Suffolk town of Aldeburgh. A small but beautifully renovated fisherman's cottage was the perfect base for a few days of culture and antique shops in the quiet lanes and towns of East Anglia. Until last night... when it transpired that the cottage in which we were staying was one of the properties within the Environment Agency's predicted area of high risk in the town which not only has the sea to contend with on one side but also a large tidal river on another side which doesn't top out on its high tide until two hours after the sea. Now, Aldeburgh in December, I wouldn't want to mislead you, isn't really throbbing with either visitors or activity but last night, walking the High Street in the dark a few hours before the Storm Surge was about to reach us was very eerie indeed, just us and some police officers knocking on the doors of largely empty properties trying to find anyone stilled holed up in the at risk buildings to get them to evacuate. We considered simply driving home that night but soon discovered that the A12 had been closed by falling trees or somesuch. So, we spent most of last night in the church hall of St Peter's Aldeburgh being fed enough tea to create our own storm surge. The sea and the river finally admitted defeat at the hands of the town's flood defences at about 3a.m. and the police allowed us to return to the cottage for a few hours kip before driving home today. By all reports the sea came very, very close to inundating the town and perhaps only failed because of a sudden change of wind direction at the moment the high tide and the storm surge coincided. An interesting, if exhausting, end to an otherwise pleasantly uneventful break.
So, to get us back in the swing of things here on Front Free Endpaper, let me introduce you to the latest in my Penguin Poets collection, no. D68, with a cover pattern designed by Stephen Russ (as so many of the best ones were!)
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
by L. P. Hartley
Hamish Hamilton, London: 1953
The story is prompted by an old man discovering in his possessions a box of 'treasures' from his boyhood which include a diary. The diary is filled assiduously up until a particular date and from then on it is blank. The events of the blank pages are ones that the narrator, Leo Colston has put from his mind for decades and yet, they are events that he feels have made his life what it is, at this end of his life, prompted by the diary he comes to remember them again. We are transported with him back to the glorious summer of 1900 when Leo was only twelve going on thirteen and is invited to stay at the home of a school friend. In a social milieu well-above anything he is used to Leo struggles to fit in but is taken under the wing of the young daughter of the house and he is soon engaged ferrying secret letters back and forth between Marian (with whom he is besotted) and Ted, a local tennant farmer.
To the reader, it is clear almost from the start what is going on but Leo is blissfully in innocence of the peril that he is in as the faciliator of a dangerous and forbidden relationship. One of the great charms and successes of the book is that Hartley finds just the right voice for a sixty-something year old speaking as his thirteen year old self. For all the Victorian schoolboy language and upper class bluster there is, at the centre of this story, a completely believable boy whose inner life is utterly true, even to a reader in the twenty-first century. Through the course of the novel Leo's innocence is gradually eroded. He becomes aware, for the first time of the subtle transactions of power between people in the adult world, contrasted so well with the black and white nature of power in a school situation. He is opened up to the idea of mixed-motives, he sees a real passion at work for the first time, he becomes aware of the fact that he is being used and slowly the truth dawns on him.
From about half-way through the book the reader is sure that disaster is around the corner and the building tension simply goes on and on until both reader and Leo are wound almost too tightly to continue. Of course there is a denouement, and the unwinding of the spring is explosive.
At the far end of the book we return to Leo as an old man. He is sure that it is these events which have contributed to his living a life alone, a chaste life, a life in which he has buried himself in facts and not emotions, where his passion has been for information and not for a person. It is this which leads some people to characterise this book as sad. There is sadness, certainly, but for me the tone is more wry and resigned... almost, but not quite, content.
The book is a modern classic. Much more and much better has been written about it than I could hope to get down here. Nonetheless, if like me you have had it in a pile of books to read for many years I can heartily recommend that it move to the top right away.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
I have a confession to make. I have read the Gormenghast books of Mervyn Peake: I wasn't blown away by them. This is almost a heresy in some quarters I know, and on the whole they are quarters where normally I have found myself welcome. So, mea maxima culpa. That said, I have been finding myself of late very drawn to his drawings. A while ago he was being feted across London with something like three or four simultaneous exhibitions but things seem to have quietened a little now. Like all good fantasy, the reason Gormenghast works so well is in it's overarching creation of a world, a world that is believable, comprehensive and coherent in its own terms (I think my problem was that I didn't read them when I was fifteen). Those same qualities are, however, I think apparent in all Peake's artwork. He has a vision of the world and it is populated with contorted grown-ups and gawky adolescents. It is a world-view simply made for use in illustrating Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: which indeed Peake did in 1949. Among many influences was Goya, an influence very clearly at work in the illustrations of this book. The intensely detailed crosshatching and line-work enabled Peake, who had just as good a grasp of the importance of space in illustration as those illustrators before him using solid black and white to demonstrate the same command of it but with more sutblety and luminosity (nowhere better demonstrated than in the image below of sailors watching the sun set). Who better to portray the twisted interiors of Pirates and the scarred innocence of Jack Hawkins?
Monday, December 02, 2013
C. F. Tunnicliffe is not, perhaps, known for his depictions of human beings. He is the artist of heavy horses, fat bulls, sheep and other bucolic subjects: at least, those are the images most readily conjured. So I was quite charmed to come across these in a copy of The Lone Swallows and Other Essays of Boyhood and Youth by Henry Wililamson in a shop today. Originally it was published in 1922 but this is a late 1930s reprint. Tunnicliffe provided woodcuts for a number of Williamson's books including, most famously perhaps, Tarka the Otter.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
John C Tarr wrote and edited books on calligraphy, printing, illustration and handwriting. Those publications span the 1940s o the 70s but apart from that there is little online to tell me much about him. For the last little while I've been working on putting together a collection of "Unique Books", that is, books that are written by hand, or assembled in some way. One of the problems of such books sometimes, is that handwriting can be a little impenetrable. Not, of course in this instance. An 'Anthology in Prose and Verse' by John C Tarr, "For Paul" and dated 1961. It's a great selection which includes everything from aphorisms and quotes by Wilde, Norman Douglas, D. H. Lawrence and Gaugin to ribald doggerel by Tarr himself, all beautifully written over 71 pages of a card covered book of blank paper.