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Last month, we began a journey into the much respected and revered literature of the First World War. Whether it was written during the war, directly after its ending, or twenty years later, literature of this time holds a universality that makes it applicable to our lives even almost a hundred years later. In our newsletter last month, we got ready for the 100 year anniversary of the war’s end by examining the role literature played for soldiers in the trenches as well as some of the most popular novelists and poets of the time. We saw the differences between Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway, who both wrote on anti-war themes by focusing on the personal, the beautiful and the sad.
Other authors, such as Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon got behind a more personal, anti-war message in their writings – avoiding the sentimentality often seen by young writers of their generation and focusing more on the sheer brutality and horror of the war. Both writers were catapulted to fame, showing how popular all kinds of writing on the war could be – readers wanted the sentimentality – the love story of Hemingway, but also the truth from Robert Graves.
As we see, literature of the First World War ranges vastly in different forms, different styles, and different themes. However, throughout it all we can see the absolute change war made on the idealistic young writers of the day. In fact, the difference in writing between the works of the First World War and the Second is clear – at the onset of the Second World War people were not so innocent anymore, they were attuned to the destructiveness of war and were far more realistic from the beginning. At this upcoming 100 year anniversary of the war, we remember the young men who fought for their countries and wrote vociferously on their experiences – experiences not so different from what young men and women experienced in the Second World War, in Vietnam, in Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere war has affected the lives of all.
In one year the world will mark its 100 year anniversary from the end of The Great War. The First World War captivated the attention of people all over the world for many reasons, as did the literature which sprang from the experiences of the War. The reasons for the literature of the time being so varied, so popular and so well-written are numerous, but let us focus on the main reasons why it remains, to this day, so prominent in literary minds.
At the onset of the Great War, there was still a certain amount of naivety and ignorance regarding what would happen. Only after the fighting began and the death toll rose rapidly did the innocence wear off and people quickly understood exactly what crushing desperation and grief felt like. The level of despair felt by not only the soldiers enduring long months cramped in underground bunkers and watching those around them become ill or die in battle but also by the family and friends at home waiting for their return (and waiting what was seeming like an unending amount of time) was constructive to writers’ creativity, no matter how destructive it was to their lives.
Throughout the Great War, it was commonplace to find reading the main activity at the front lines. Often in the trenches classics were read, as it was sometimes difficult to get your hands on contemporary literature, and the soldiers – some of whom would go on to write their own memoirs or stories – paid close attention to detail, both on the page and in battle. Both during the Great War and shortly thereafter, literature presented itself with a subtle alertness and sadness that either directly or indirectly commented on the timelessness of the agony of war. Perhaps this is why these works are still popular today – they speak to any generation that goes through the kind of despair that only war can imprint on people’s hearts.
A few of the heavy hitters of the time were books like All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque and published in 1929. The novel about a young German soldier is a captivating look inside the war, from a very different perspective than the many English accounts of the war. Author Ernest Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms that same year, and despite half of the book being a love story, Hemingway is able to create the shadow of war hanging over Frederic and Catherine that many of the time knew all too well. Poetry was a very proliferate genre in the period as well, many poets being soldiers on the front lines – and often writing from the trenches. Poets such as Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg never made it past the age of 30, being killed in battle, but nevertheless their poems made a deep and lasting impact on poetry of the first half of the century – and no doubt had they lived the impression would have been even greater. Researcher Catherine W. Reilly counted 2,225 English poets alone during the first World War – of whom over 1,800 were civilians – some soldiers, and some those on the sidelines, watching the horror unfold.
Continued in the upcoming newsletter…
The name Eric Gill can be a controversial subject for bibliophiles and artists to speak on. Certainly Gill’s life is something of the extraordinary – an intense study of multiple art forms, excelling at each, a full workload and recognized talent in his day, and even heavy religious beliefs contradicting the expressiveness of an almost insatiable sexuality… all go into the beautiful work that came from a unique mind.
The English typeface designer, printer and sculptor was born on the 22nd of February, 1882 in Brighton. He grew up in a large family – one of twelve children. When Gill was 15 years old he and his family moved to Chichester, a city in Southeast England. He was able to spend some of his teenage years studying at the Chichester Technical and Art School where he first gained interest in the arts. In 1900 he moved to bustling London, and began an apprenticeship with W. D. Caroe, a specialist architect who worked in ecclesiastical architecture. He enrolled in stonemasonry night classes at the Westminster Technical Institute to gain skills in sculpting with stone, and took calligraphy courses at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Undaunted by the many different artistic arenas before him, Gill excelled in his work in all – calligraphy, masonry and as a letter-cutter alike.
In the early 1900s, Gill married the daughter of the Chichester Cathedral sacristan and moved back to the county of Sussex, to a small town called Ditchling. He worked tirelessly, producing sculptures that were a curious mixture of domesticity and eroticism. Some of his work included producing sculptures for the BBC London building and Westminster Cathedral, and then creating new typefaces and illustrations while working for the Golden Cockerel Press in Capel-y-ffin. Much later on he would found his own hand-press with his son-in-law and print out Fine Press bibliophile dreams, like the ones we have here at Swan’s Fine Books. As Fiona MacCarthy, a Gill biographer states, “The striking thing about Gill’s work, whether carving, letter-cutting or typography, is his mastery of linear expression.” This seems absolutely true, as when looking at all of his work one cannot help but notice the artistry in the lines of text or stone.
During his life, Gill was awarded several honors, including being named the Royal Designer for Industry in Britain. He was indeed eccentric, and though recent studies have shed new light on Gill’s personal and private life that one might find objectionable, we are awed by the true beauty of his art – especially his bibliographic works. We look at his book work with an open eye and are easily able to see the absolute craftsmanship that goes into each of his pieces. Don’t believe us? Come and see one for yourself at Swan’s Fine Books!
Though Shakespeare’s works are notoriously difficult to date, scholarly studies show that his works Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona were works of Shakespeare’s earliest portfolio and possibly influenced by numerous playwrights, including Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. His first true recorded works are Richard III and the Henry VI plays, written and performed in the early 1590s, histories and dramas that were easily influenced by historical records and known facts about previous Kings of England. Shakespeare’s middle period is marked by his comedies – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night. After these plays, Shakespeare introduces some comedic scenes into what are otherwise known as his tragedies… Richard II, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Ceasar. In his final writings, Shakespeare wrote romances and combinations of tragedies and comedies… the likes of which had not been seen in Elizabethan England as of yet. He produced the plays The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, among others – tragedies in theory, but they end with reconciliation and forgiveness, rather than mistakes and death.
One interesting thing to note about this master of the English language is that for decades there has been some controversy over whether or not the man named William Shakespeare actually penned all the work attributed to him. If so, he was a very busy writer and a very clever person! If not, it means that work belonging to his contemporaries has been shuffled into the mix and he was given credit for things he did not create. Much of the controversy stems from a lack of personal documents that might (if they existed) remain today. Some Anti-Stratfordians (the term for those who believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon is not the author of the works attributed to his name) believe that the Shakespeare household was an illiterate one, as both his parents and daughters’ surviving signatures are simply marks, a common signature for the uneducated. Other supporters believe that there are codes to be found in some of his and the works of his contemporaries to suggest that Shakespeare did not even exist. Even we admit that it is quite strange that his will makes no mention of any documents, papers or unpublished plays (of which there were over a dozen). The only theatrical reference in the will is for some of the theater contemporaries to be gifted mourning rings – a line that seems to be added after the other mundane writing in the will, and therefore highly suspicious to Anti-Stratfordians. However, though the issue of authorship has become a popular topic in academia, the group of those who believe Shakespeare’s work to be that of a group of others is extraordinarily small in comparison to those who support Shakespeare’s authorship.
It is commonly acknowledged that Shakespeare died on the 23rd of April (a date that is in contention with scholars as it coincides with the annual recognition of his birthday), 1616, at the age of 52. The only note that speaks to his death is a notebook written by the vicar of the small town of Stratford, noted down almost 50 years later, that “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” His death was indeed sudden, as its suddenness was mentioned in tributes from his contemporary authors. He was buried in the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. His epitaph carries a warning to those wishing to steal his bones… “Good frend for lesus sake forbeare. To digg the dvst encloased heare. Bleste be man spares thes stones, And cvrst be he [the] moves my bones.” A clever and carefully worded epitaph indeed, but not one we might expect from someone that is commonly regarded as one of the fathers of English Literature!
Shakespeare is a household name in almost every country around the world. Why? His work is some of the best examples of Elizabethan writing that have been preserved through the years. However, his life has become something of a myth. Too often we hear stories of Shakespeare’s life that we think cannot possibly be true! How can one man have written so many delightful plays, poems, sonnets… that have lived on for over the last 400 years and are still taught and analyzed?
According to records, William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26th, 1564. We can, of course, assume that he was born a week or so prior, in the small town (that now owes much of its success due to his tourist following) of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Much of his early life (and later life, come to think of it) is based on what scholars agree must have happened. However, we do know that he was the eldest surviving son of eight children. When Shakespeare turned 18, we know that he married the 26 year old Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway from a village neighboring Stratford. It is interesting to note that Hathaway was already six months pregnant with their first daughter, Susanna, at the time of the wedding. The couple gave birth to twins two years later, Hamnet and Judith in 1585.
Almost 10 years after the birth of his twins, in 1592, William Shakespeare is mentioned as part of the theatrical scene in London in 1592. Scholars usually refer to the decade of his life not recorded as his “lost years”, but they are correct in the fact that very little is known about Shakespeare’s life during the first eight years of his children’s lives… some argue that he was a local schoolmaster, some that he lived in London for those many years to avoid being prosecuted for deer poaching on a neighboring estate. In any case, most scholars agree that these years in Shakespeare’s life is when he must have begun writing for the stage, as the next knowledge of him that we have he is already a well-known playwright.
By 1592 it is mentioned that several of Shakespeare’s plays were being put on in London. Only a couple of years later the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (which became the “King’s Men” after they were awarded a royal patent by King James I) were performing each of Shakespeare’s plays. In 1599, a few of the members of the ‘King’s Men’ went in on a purchase of land on the Thames and turned it into a circular theater (common for the times), naming it “The Globe”. Here, many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed surrounded by an audience almost the opposite of what you see in a theater today. The cheapest tickets were in the orchestra, standing up next to the actors, and the higher paying seats were located up in mezzanines above the stage.
By 1598, Shakespeare was a prominent and very well-known figure in the theater scene, and his name began to be published on the front page of local papers. Though an owner of the Globe, Shakespeare continued to act in his own productions, his name appearing in newsprint up until 1623 as either producer or actor in his productions. Throughout his time as actor and playwright, Shakespeare continued to visit home in Stratford-upon-Avon (and after his family began moving to St. Helen’s, Southwark and to an area north of St. Paul’s Cathedral) and see his wife and children.
More on Shakespeare’s life, writing and controversy around his work coming up next time! Stay tuned…
As countless collectors know, there are many different kinds of bindings in the book world. At times, the sheer number of binding styles and types can be almost overwhelming… is it leather, or some other kind of animal skin? Was type of cloth is that? Being able to decipher exactly what it is is just one of the many talents a bookseller or bibliophile must have in order to run their business.
One of the fantastic things about bookbinding is its permuting nature throughout time. Today, the verb “bookbinding” consists of many different kinds of work – often time restoration and book repairs, creating special housings for items of great significance or a fragile nature, and constructing unique forms of boards or wrappers for certain items. Today, we would like to shine some light on this last aspect of bookbinding… an artistic, one-of-a-kind specialty that many know as “Designer Bindings.” Designer Bookbinders use all kinds of book-arts (printing, paper making and decorating, hand-drawn illustrations, calligraphy, and hand-binding) to create a book as a work of art. These books and art pieces are widely collected and held in high-esteem, as no two are exactly alike – they are unique as they have been designed particularly for that one book.
One slightly problematic aspect of designer bindings is that there is not necessarily one true definition of a designer binding. Since the bindings can be done in a variety of ways using a significant variety of techniques, there cannot be a limiting definition to the art. However, one could argue that a definition would entail certain broad specifications, such as being hand-made and unique to other copies in some way. Designer bookbinders produce their own artistic books, and then do all the work themselves – the sewing, the paper placement, the boards, the arrangement of images and illustrations – all of these artistic interpretations are the designers’ own, though they often reflect (sometimes however abstractly) the content of the book itself.
Though there are not a great many bookbinders in the world, often those that pursue the craft professionally are quite talented. They are able to find jobs in libraries or other government institutions, private workshops or bookshops – though the great binders seem to work for themselves alone! Some of the most talented in this day and age are binders Susan Allix, Paul Delrue and Julie Stackpole. London designer Allix uses the book “as a creative medium,” the limited editions from her private press are made with “original prints, letterpress printing and hand binding to achieve a harmonious artwork.” Most of her limited edition runs come in at under 50 copies – all of which are entirely handmade. Paul Delrue lives and works in Ruthin, Wales where while working on many designer bindings each year, he also supports and mentors numerous binders in traditional book bindings techniques. Julie Stackpole is an American bookbinder who specializes in creative fine binding using “centuries-old traditional techniques, but with a design suited to each book, [she] creates a one-of-a-kind find binding that expresses the book’s subject, graphics, time period and illustrations, thus making it… a 4-D art form.” One of the more important book binders in history was a French man by the name of Leon Gruel who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Sarah Prideaux’s book “Bookbinders and their Craft”, the expert states that the Gruel bookbinding business has always been known to be the best “for initiative in artistic matters, as well as for irreproachable execution in the detail of its many-sided achievements.”
Many bookbinders make a point of stating how their works are made to reflect the content of the book they are binding. In their own style, of course (one that could be very abstract), but still there is the single factor in a myriad of definitions for designer binding that the binding must be stylistic, unique and, most-likely, reflective of the work itself. In any case, Designer Bindings are at one time a book, a work of art, and a unique collector’s item… all rolled into one! During the holiday season be on the lookout for our next Catalogue – offering many beautifully created Designer Bindings!
Many of us know so little about this very complicated man. For most of us, all we know is what was presented to us in the four-hour cinematic epic that hit the big screen in 1962, starring Peter O’Toole. The dashing, handsome, and driven character portrayed by O’Toole was larger than life, believing in the rights of the people of the land, with a mission that compelled others by its moral stance.
But was that the true Lawrence?
Some quick biographical info: Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales on August 16th in 1888, and as a young boy loved history and travel. As an Oxford student he took a trip to Syria for study, and walked over a thousand miles to study remote Crusader castles; upon graduation (with first-class honors) he decided to become an archaeologist.
Those plans were sidetracked with the start of The Great War, in which he was assigned to the British Army in Cairo. He did indeed assist in the Great Arab Revolt, let by Prince Feisal; and did indeed attack and take Aqaba. And he did indeed witness the decision that France should be “given” Syria during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, a bitter blow.
He retired from the military and wrote his war memoirs, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which has been called “novel traveling under the cover of autobiography,” capturing Lawrence’s highly personal version of the historical events described in the book. Almost reaching the status of a cult classic, Lawrence re-wrote the book three times – including once “blind” (from memory), after he lost the then-current version of the manuscript while changing trains. First published privately in 1926, it has become a classic and copies of the scarce “Subscriber’s Edition” can command up to $100,000.
So who was the “real” T.E. Lawrence? Archaeologist, soldier, politician, author? We may never fully know, but getting your hands on a copy of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom would be a great place to begin to find out.
(N.B., above info from the Wiki and PBS web sites)
The term Artist Book is indeed a controversial one when it comes to defining what exactly falls into this strange space between a book and a work of art. All over the internet you will different definitions. They all skirt around the same ideas, the same subjects, but no one is exactly the same… a bit like artist books themselves!
No matter which definition you choose – that an art book distinguishes itself from other art forms because they are “usually intended to be portable… are mixed-media…combine many processes” (Angela Lorenz, an artist) or that it “refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right” (Printed Matter, Inc.) – we all refer to the same pieces. In our minds, a simple definition of “Artist Books” could refer to when a book becomes more art than book. Not, of course, in a way that a picture book is more art than “book”, but in the way that the book is less something to be handled and read, and more something to be admired – in the way that art on the wall is looked at and admired.
So what types of components automatically alert the reader (or in this case, looker-on) that what they are looking at is, in fact, part of the gap between art and book? Well, there are many different options (ones that, if I’m honest, even we don’t know about), but some of the most obvious ones we can mention here. As WalkerArt.org states, “While literature is often a point of departure, artists’ books often bear little resemblance to conventional volumes. Many are sculptural, multidimensional, or made of material other than paper—some have no pages at all.” And there they are spot on – artist books can be made of anything at all. In fact, we at Swan’s Fine Books have a couple with string running through them or even twigs bound into them. The bindings can be so unconventional that they can not have spines at all! Perhaps they are accordion bound, or housed inside a special case made solely to display the item. The use of cutwork is often used, allowing numerous illustrations to be viewed at once or perhaps to simply make opening the work a work of art in and of itself. In any case, the motivating force behind artist books is to allow creativity and freedom of expression to reign!
So why should one bother with such an item? It is neither book nor art, and can be a confusing thing to behold. Looking at one displayed one can wonder how to handle it, whether it is even meant to be handled (some are, some aren’t!). So why should we concern ourselves with such items? Well, it may confuse, but Artist Books are meant to be eye-opening items. They are meant to be enjoyed as both art AND book, and, in our opinion, only serves to highlight one of the things we love most about books in general – their creativity and the passion in a book for sharing both words and illustrations or artwork. Creativity & imagination are keywords in both worlds!
Current Artist Book creator Charles Hobson hits the nail on the head when he describes why he works with these types of creations: “Artists’ books are anatural meeting place for image and word. Because of this, I work with books, particularly accordion and other sculptural forms of books, which allow both an intimate viewing experience and a group viewing experience to take place.” Artist Books allow for a different experience (in participation & observation from the viewer) from regularly-bound books, and perhaps that is a great part of their charm!
We recently were fortunate to acquire a large collection of fine press books, and in talking with some of our customers about them, I realized how few people are aware of these lovely books living in our midst. Therefore, we’d like to take this opportunity in our newsletter to share a bit about the Fine Press movement with our followers.
The Fine Press movement began in the late 19th century, when a brave intellectual named William Morris decided to print books the way they had been before the advent of the printing press for mass publication. Everything (and we mean everything) by hand – type set by hand, woodblocks cut and paper cut by himself. His efforts eventually led to the opening of his “Kelmscott Press” in London – named after his country home in Oxfordshire. Over a century later, the Fine Press movement begun by Morris is still thriving and is a very collectible and desirable genre of book collecting.
Fine Press Books were often published at Private Presses, like the Kelmscott Press mentioned above. According to the very often referenced ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter and Nicholas Barker, Private Press should only be applied to “a shop where the work was hand-set and hand-printed” and includes a printer who prints what he likes exactly how he likes it. The Fine Press movement contained books made with high-quality materials (such as handmade paper, traditional inks or even specially composed typefaces), and were, most often, bound by hand. As it was entirely designed by hand, painstaking concern was given to format, design, illustration and binding, many of which seemed to tend (at the beginning of the movement) toward the classical.
As mentioned earlier, the Kelmscott Press is one of the best known (if not the most well-known) of the Fine Presses throughout the history of the movement. However, as most “movements” go, the Kelmscott Press only sparked a trend followed by the masses. Soon, Fine Presses were opening up around the world. Some of the most renowned early presses include the Doves Press (founded in 1900 in Hammersmith, London by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson and most celebrated for the beautifully printed Doves Bible, a 5 volume set printed between 1902 and 1904), the Eragny Press (founded by Lucien Pissarro, son of the famous Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, and operated between 1895 and 1914), the Cresset Press, and the Shakespeare Head Press (founded by Arthur Henry Bullen, an expert on 16th and 17th century literature). A bit later on, Presses like the Gregynog Press (founded in 1922 by the two Davies sisters in Wales) were established and kept up the tradition of fine printing. California is a notorious place for the Fine Press movement, with illustrious printers like John Henry Nash (who went into business himself in 1916) and brothers Edwin and Robert Grabhorn keeping fine printing popular well into the later 1900s. These presses are just a few of the most acclaimed companies specializing in the Fine Press movement, but many others contributed to the popularity of the genre.
In the book world, some seem to be under the impression that Fine Printing is a thing of the past – that soon it will all be housed under the larger “antiquarian books” umbrella. We would argue the opposite. Fine Presses are still very much alive, as is evidenced by printers like Peter Koch of Editions Koch in Berkeley, the Janus Press (founded in San Diego in 1955 by Claire Van Vliet), the Sutton Hoo Press (founded in 1989 by C. Mikal Oness) and further substantiated by the immensely popular Codex Book Fair and Symposium held every other year in the Bay Area.
We are so immersed in the history of Fine Press and the beginnings of the movement – we’d like you to be too! Come visit Swan’s Fine Books to see some of our recent acquisitions of Fine Press items… we promise you you’ll fall in love, just like we did!
It has been 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was introduced to the world
An immediate success upon publication in November of 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, remain enduring favourites today.
Why do the Alice stories continue to fascinate, generation after generation? I think we can look to several factors that contribute to its timelessness.
We all loved fairy tales and myths as children, and many of us retain that love through adulthood; hence the popularity of the modern fantasy genre which is rooted in fairy tales and mythology. When Lewis Carroll was deciding whether to publish Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he was encouraged to so do by George MacDonald – a Scottish author and minister who wrote fairy tales himself, among many other works. Both MacDonald and Lewis Carroll had a deep effect on later authors such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeline L’Engle, all writers of fantasy.
In addition, some speculate that a reason many of us continue to read the Alice stories as adults is the logic that hides behind the seeming nonsense. Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in real life) was a mathematician and logician, and many believe he worked into the Alice book attacks on abstract mathematical concepts, as he was a proponent of the more established, and traditional, Euclidean math.
Finally, I believe the Alice stories are a wonderful example of the marriage of a delightful text with the perfect illustrations. The original Alice books were illustrated by John Tenniel, and his illustrations are so wedded to the text that, while many illustrators have turned their attention to Alice over many years (including one of my personal favourites, the great Arthur Rackham), the images many of us see in our minds are those of Tenniel.
So in this, the 150th year of publication, pick up a copy of Alice and re-read her wonderful Adventures, and smile at her madcap adventures; after all, we all need to fall down a rabbit hole occasionally.