Monday, July 18, 2016

The Miracle of Man...

 I couldn't resist this rather battered copy of The Miracle of Man from the 1940s in a charity shop the other day. The impressive illustration on the jacket (above) reproduced again in fuller form on the endpapers (below) give an idea of the tone of this book. Optimism. This is a book about how wonderful humanity is and about its achievements are amazing. It would be hard to imagine a book being published with such a message today of course, but is it not equally remarkable that this book contains plenty of references to the Nazi Party "setting Europe alight" and yet still, promulgates that upbeat, optimistic, progress-is-everything view of the world that we have come to love from the the 1920s and 30s?

The last scan below is from a chapter titled, "Science - Miracle of Menace?" (the answer to which not being that much in question), and the caption that went with it captures the tone nicely "The ugliness associated with factories is gradually disappearing. Serious attempts are made not only to erect places entirely convenient for their main purpose - 'Functionalism' is the word coined for this - but to render them attractive to the operatives. The above representation of Power, in stainless steel, is on the building of an electric light company, and typifies the function of the structure. Art has found its way into the modern factory"

Needless to say, if anyone can supply a photograph of that statue and/or a location, it would be gratefully received.

Monday, July 11, 2016

ONE Magazine Covers

ONE was a gay campaigning organisation in the US that grew from The Mattachine Society in the 1950s. The archives of ONE are being digitised and fun things from within have been featured here on FFEP before. The digital home of the archive is now at The University of Southern California and you can browse through yourself of course. ONE also produced a magazine throughout the 50s and 60s, the first gay-positive magazine in the US. The covers displayed various styles during that time but there was a strong trend towards the very graphic, mirroring the best in design of the era. So here are a handful that caught my eye in particular.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Bibliographical Gold for James Stephens

James Stephens is one of a group of Irish poets/novelists/playwrights at the turn of the 19th century and into the 20th who wrote somewhat fey, mystically aware work. Or, as a young chap I was talking to about them in a bookshop the other day said; "weird vision shit". Head and shoulders above the rest in my view is George Russell, writing as A.E. and no one would claim greatness for James Stephens (I don't think, perhaps I wrong) but he is good to thumb through for nuggets. So the upshot is that I always tend to pick up his books if I find one. And this one had a nugget of a different kind: bibliographical gold.

Now I do understand that the people who will find this exciting are few and far between but also, I hope, some of those who will are likely to be reading this blog. So tucked inside this copy are a couple of typed sheets from the publishers, Macmillan, obviously responding to an enquiry, and on which they list all the substantial differences between the first and second edition of the book. This is the kind of thing serious bibliographers spend hours and hours doing, and the kind of thing publishers don't do anymore! Not only do they list the change in the running order of the poems from first to second edition but also list the revisions to the poems themselves which, to anyone seriously interested in the poet would be fascinating.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Albert Wainwright illustrates Wilfred Rowland Childe

In the first two or three decades of the Twentieth Century, there was a genre in literature, a minor one to be sure, that we don't see so much if at all now: the 'prose sketch'. Not an essay, perhaps only a couple or three hundred words long, a description of a place, a person or an event. It was a minor piece of writing about a minor subject but done with care and love. In the realm of gay literature we might look to Leonard Green and his 'prose fancies' describing the fleeting beauty of a lad on the train, or perhaps a stunning Gloucestershire landscape and the handsome shepherd who walked through it.

Wilfred Rowland Childe was a poet, an editor and critic, a minor writer who rejoiced in a Harrow and Oxford education and in the friendship of Tolkien. He fought in the First World War and is therefore sometimes counted among the 'war poets'. He was born in Wakefield and lived in Leeds for much of his life and so his literary and artistic circles were northern to a large extent. This is surely how he came to be occasionally published by The Swan Press, an independent concern run by fellow Leeds-man Sydney Matthewman. The Swan Press was also where Front Free Endpaper favourite Albert Wainwright found an outlet for his writing and book illustrating. And this is how I came to receive the book above in the post today: a collection of prose fancies illustrated, and decorated by Albert Wainwright and published by Matthewman. The fancies in this book are Roman Catholic in tone but of a particular kind and of that particular age where the native paganism of Britain still infused them: an elegy to Bacchus in a British Yew wood sits next to a description of the sensuous darkness of the sanctuary at High Mass. It is a delightful book and ensures that I shall be looking out for more of Childe in the future.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell : Berwick Church

Duncan Grant along with Vanessa Bell and others are well known for their artistic decoration of walls and furnishings at Charleston, their Sussex retreat from Bloomsbury. It's not quite so well-known that those skills were also put to use in a number of ecclesiastical commissions. Seven years ago on this blog, I posted some images of the remarkable Russell Chantry in Lincoln Cathedral, completely covered in mural work (some of it rather homoerotic) by Grant. These images today are from the church of St Michael and All Angels in Berwick, Sussex. The two above by Duncan Grant, "The Victory of Calvary" and "Christ in Glory": the two below by Vanessa Bell "The Nativity" and "The Annunciation". They were painted onto board at Charleston and then transported to the church and fitted onto the walls. They were erected in the early 1940s and I love the inclusion of figures in contemporary dress around the nativity stall. The church is decorated in a complete scheme including work by Clive Bell as well but these, I think, are the most significant works.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Swimming Dummy

I've been admiring these two vintage press photos online for a while now. Obviously just intended as a piece of reportage about life-saving practice but taking on a macabre and almost abstract quality as well.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Go-Between. A Musical in the West End not a West-End Musical

I was lucky on Saturday to see the current West End Production of 'The Go-Between', a musical adaptation of L. P. Hartley's 1950s multi-layered masterpiece. Yes, I said a musical version. I confess to a slight trepidation at the idea of a musical as a way to adapt such a melancholy and quiet book. In fact, the musical form made for an astonishing afternoon of theatre. The entire accompaniment is from a concert-level pianist playing nearly two hours non-stop on a grand piano at the rear of the stage and he has, at his command enough musical breadth that one doesn't miss an orchestra in the pit in the slightest.

The story is, of course, an old man, recounting what should have been the 'glorious summer' when he was 12. Hartley, writing in the 1950s has the elderly Leo thinking back to his Edwardian childhood. The child of a bank manager sent to a public school, Leo is invited to spend the summer at the big country house of his old-money best friend from. Desperately trying to fit in, Leo's inexperience and vulnerability are exploited by the daughter of the house, Marian who is engaged to be married to a veteran Viscount, but has been carrying on an affair with a local tenant farmer. Leo is besotted by Marian and all she represents, and she uses this to her advantage and soon has Leo delivering messages to and from Ted, the young farmer.

In the book Leo believes in magic and he performs his boyish spells with varying results. Hartley himself was well known for his supernatural tales but save for Leo's attempts at magic The Go-Between doesn't have a supernatural element. The musical bends this around slightly and has the whole cast of the Edwardian story appear to the older Leo (Michael Crawford) as ghosts, or at least shades, urging him to 'remember' and to 'read what you wrote' in his diary of that summer. Along with the musical references to the beginning of the twentieth century and the central theme of innocence corrupted this gives the production the same kind of sinister atmosphere as Britten's 'Turn of the Screw'.

Hartley was gay and the book is sometimes cited as having homoerotic elements. I have always found this difficult to see given Leo's infatuation with Marian. However, this production shows us a young Leo who is romantically and dreamily drawn to Marian whilst at the same time beginning to realise that he may share some of the masculine sexuality represented by Ted, though he doesn't understand what that really is. Many times he begs Ted to explain. He knows that 'spooning' is a man and a woman cuddling and kissing, "but there is something more" and "you know what it is!" Ted won't tell him. Finding all Leo's questions uncomfortable Ted distracts him by teaching him how to hold and aim a shotgun; the scene is almost shocking for the way that it unifies the boy and the man, locked together, singing with passion, both with their hands on the gun. It is, of course, also a presentiment of how things are about to go horribly wrong in this affair in which Leo is embroiled.

Two songs in the musical explore the idea of Leo first as a butterfly, newly emerged, presumably from the dull and pedestrian life of a bank manager's son, and then another song explores the idea of Leo as Mercury, the messenger of the Gods. It turns out that both of these images are forms that Leo tries on, exalts in for a while, but then cannot sustain. As the older Leo says, he 'flew too close to the sun'.

The point of the book is how the events of this summer scarred Leo for life. The conceit on the stage is that the older Leo (Crawford) is reading his diary of the event and that, as at the end of the book, he will go back to find the elderly Marian and talk with her. He tells her that those events made him turn in on himself, they prevented him from being the person he was meant to be. In the most powerful scene in the show older and younger Leo confront each other and interact directly for the first time. It is powerful because who wouldn't be scared to confront their 12 year old self, who wouldn't fear that they would be angry and accuse us of making a mess of it all? Casting Crawford was something of a masterstroke, this is not mere 'big name' casting, at 74, of course the top of his range has changed and its fragility is the perfect mirror to the pure treble and the promise it contains, mirroring musically the tension of the story. The middle of Crawford's range is still as mellow and full as the pouring out of wine but his strength never overpowers, it is a beautifully calibrated performance and a humble one too, which allows the boy Leo all the room he needs for the telling of the story.

In the end how you feel about the story depends on how you react to the older Leo's very last word: "content". After a huge musical conflagration where he argues fiercely with his younger self, "You flew too close to the sun," no, says boy-Leo you ruined all the promise I had: older Leo counters, "I was proud" to have been a part of something as pure and passionate as Marian's love for Ted. It is the tragedy of the whole story that when he ends the entire show with "I am content", we do not believe him: it is the triumph of the production that amid all that subtle but powerful emotion, we know we are not supposed to.

 The Go-Between is on at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue in London

"Where the Bee sucks..."

Reader of 'Front Free Endpaper', Jeremy, has very kindly agreed to sharing this very pretty and fun illustrated text of "Where the bee sucks..." This kind of illumination was a quite popular hobby in the 1860s-80s and often such pages are found in meticulously bound albums. This one is mounted and framed in a rather fine Oxford frame. Almost certainly by a talented amateur and with a name as unremarkable as "A. Millar" it seems unlikely we shall ever know any more about this man or woman. But if the Internet ever performs one of its strange acts of synchronicity and draws to this page someone who knows more... do please share...

Who links to my website?