Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mr Norris and the Hogarth Press

Mr Norris Changes Trains
by Christopher Isherwood
The Hogarth Press, London, 1947 (fourth impression)

I bought this copy of Mr Norris Changes Trains the other day because I saw it for just a few pounds, it has a reasonable jacket and my interest in Isherwood's first editions has just been rekindled a little by the appearance in my life of one or two of them at reasonable prices. If I wanted the first edition of this title though I'd be lucky to get any change out of £3,000. Of course, this is largely because in 1935 when the first impression was created, Leonard and Virginia Woolf were still setting the type and operating the presses - admittedly not in their own home any longer - but it was still a very hands-on operation. By the time this fourth impression was issued, Virginia Woolf was gone, John Lehmann who replaced her as a manager of the company had also come and gone and Leonard Woolf had done a deal to become a subsidiary of Chatto & Windus.

That said, this is marked as a fourth impression not edition. This ought to mean that the same type was used as for the first impression and therefore it would have been the type owned by the more 'cottage industry' incarnation of the Press and would quite possibly have been set by Leonard himself.

This shows. Although the printing is now done by Lowe and Brydone, you can see damage to the type in the 'by the same author' list: there is too large a gap between the R and W in Isherwood on the title page: there is a lumpiness to the distribution of ink on the type probably cause by an uneven surface and damage on the type: and the bold effect on the title and author's name on the title page is uneven (compare the weight of the C and the H at the beginning of Christopher).

None of this is real criticism, in fact I abhor that kind of anally-retentive bibliography (or perhaps bookmanship would be better) that picks constant and niggardy holes in things like that. I think that rather, this makes the book feel much more hand-made, it is charming, it is as though there is some artisanship showing between the pages.

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