Saturday, April 30, 2016
Three vintage postcards picked up today. The first, (above), because it just makes you smile. The second, (below) because of the delightful message on the back in which Grace tells Ciss all about her fancy dress costume. Real-photographic postcards like this one were produced by photographers who simply printed a photograph directly onto a stock postcard and so very often the one in your hand today might be one of only a handful ever produced and, one has to imagine, often the only one surviving.
"My Dear Ciss, Here I am in my fancy dress. The walking stick is the prize I won, second prize. We both did enjoy ourselves. All the beads are real amber, dad's gold silk curtains are around me, the scarf on my head is the blue one you bought at Mr Privett's sale. Don't you think I make a good East Indian Princess?"
The third postcard (below), has a slightly darker edge to it. It is written in pencil now too faint to decipher even for a German-reader, which I am not, for that is the language it is written in. The presence of the ink stamps saying "Abraham" all over it is horribly reminiscent of Jews in Nazi Germany having a "J" stamped on their passports, and having to change their names to either Israel or Sarah, though the postcard predates the Nazi era. It could simply be a child called Abraham with a home printing kit having fun. Any insight from FFEP readers is, of course, always appreciated.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
A Game of Dark
by William Mayne
(Hamish Hamilton, London: 1971)
I have been reading quite a lot of what used to be called children's books, more usually labelled 'young adult fiction' these days. Some of it has been modern and some 'vintage'. William Mayne has been a significant discovery in the vintage category. It has been claimed that he was one of the greatest writers of children's books in the twentieth century and, equally fairly probably, he has a reputation as one of those children's writers as much, if not more read by adults than children. Certainly, I had never read any of his books as a child despite being of the right vintage myself. Nonetheless, I have read a number now and, given that I have chosen this book among them, you might be right in assuming this is going to be more of a recommendation than a review!
The title is not misleading, this is a dark tale. In the first scene Donald Jackson, our boy-protagonist, is 'coming to' in his classroom from a fugue-like state. He has little memory of where he has been or what he has seen but as the book progresses these switches back and forth between his here-and-now reality and "another place" become more and more vivid until it is difficult for Donald to tell which 'reality' he prefers. We see him go to a fantasy world more and more often as problems in his home life get worse. His father is physically and emotionally crippled, his mother is hard pressed to find enough compassion for her husband to have any to spare for Donald. As the book unfolds we learn more about a family tragedy that connects all these things and we see a father who is using his religion as an excuse to punish himself for undeserved gilt.
The device of having a child character live half in the real world and half in fantasy is by no means unique to this book but I have never seen it done so brilliantly. The fantasy world in which Donald finds himself is indeed one which has many of the tropes of the fantasy genre: knights, beasts, dark-ages style towns and culture. But Mayne's is full of stench and cowardice, ignobility and fear. There is also no direct analogue, there is no talking down to the child reader saying: his fantasy is this because it corresponds to that in the real world. Instead the two worlds are separate and unrelated in many ways and they really only share one thing, a choice that has to be made. The easy thing to do is to make the two worlds relate, to show how the character is running from an unhappy situation in the here-and-now into a place where he has control or where he can find respite from his worries. Mayne is so much cleverer than that.
Where Mayne truly excels though, and this is a paean I could sing of all his novels I have read so far, is in his observation. I have rarely read a book, let alone a supposed children's book, where the characters have felt so real and so full of their own life and history. Not just Donald, who is brilliantly portrayed with all the qualities of adolescence from the adorable to the disgusting, but also the adults in the book, his parents and the somewhat overly chipper Vicar in the here-and-now, and the pragmatic knight in the other place, every character is beautifully observed, sparingly recreated and in the end sympathetically shown to us with a great love, no matter how awful they might at first appear.
Mayne wrote over a hundred books, of the four or five I have now read this was the darkest and the best and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. But I am looking forward to diving into some of the remaining 95+
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Completely by accident I came across a great cover on a Spanish edition of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray online. One thing led to another and soon I am digging through auction and sale sites across Europe to find any others. There are hundreds of editions of the book, of course, in French, Italian, Spanish and many other languages but I tried to confine my little collection here to those I found which had a 'vintage' vibe to them. Not a comprehensive overview, just a bit of fun. Obviously most of them are typical 'pulp' stuff but I rather liked the very simple black, white and red offering below using both a dagger and an artist's palette.
The second of these "Adventures in Reading" booklets for today. The colours in this one are much bolder whilst still retaining the same limited palette and the same style of work as the others.
To my delight I discovered a small pile of these "Adventures in Reading" booklets in my local charity shop. You might remember I found and blogged one a week or so ago called Cloudy Cove. Of course, it's the illustrations that makes these so appealing now, so completely of their period. Carolin Jackson remains a little opaque to me at the moment. She is not in my dictionary of 20th century book illustrators, nor can I find anything on the Internet except to say that is seems she illustrated quite a lot for the OUP and also worked for Puffin. I've scanned some illustrations from another of these and they are up next...
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Christian William [Bill] Miller has featured here before. He was a 'bright young thing' transposed from 1920s England to 1940s and 50s America. These photographs are among those that are in the Glenway Wescott papers at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscripts Library at Yale and they have done a fine job digitising those papers and photographs. How own papers and photographs are at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives and they have done the internet a service by providing some accurate and basic information about Miller:
"Christian William Miller was born William Henry Miller on August 7, 1921, in Newark, New Jersey. Miller attended the Franklin School of Professional Arts in New York City from 1938-1941, majoring in advertising design. From 1939-1941 he began his career in design with stints at Datzenbach & Warren, Brunschwig & Fils, and Lord & Taylor. During the years 1942-1946, Miller was enlisted in the United States Maritime Service Coast Guard Reserve. He was assigned to a research project in 1942 by the Air-Sea Agency, helping to design a device to make sea water drinkable. Miller also designed an inflatable chair that is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In May 1951, Miller officially changed his name to Christian William Miller. As an avid photographer and model, Miller moved through the New York gay social scene of the 1940s and 1950s, interacting with noted gay artists."
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Although I am obviously an extremely wealthy man (!), sometimes the things that I want in life do slip through my fingers. This is a small selection of items which won't be joining my collection of vintage photographs but which I had hopes for. A couple of these I simply failed to bid high enough on Ebay, a couple are from other sites (yes, I buy things away from Ebay too!), where I just dallied too long with them on my watching list and someone else snapped them up. Ah well, I may not have the physical thing but I why not share my failures here too as well as the successes.