Friday, January 29, 2010

A Read Letter Day For Dickens

Mr. Charles Dickens's Last Reading.
(George C. Leighton for The Illustrated London News, Vol.56, 1870.)

Of the greatest writer of the Elizabethan age, William Shakespeare, so little is known that many doubt him to be the true author of his incomparable plays. At the other end of the biographical spectrum is the greatest writer of the Victorian age, Charles Dickens. As British writer Simon Callow put it: "Of Shakespeare, we know next to nothing; of Dickens we know next to everything." The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. added a little more to that knowledge on January 27, 2010 when they announced the acquisition of 35 letters written by Dickens, 27 of which have never been published.

The Huntington already had roughly 1,000 Dickens letters in its collection, which is about 1/15 of the writer's surviving correspondence. Yes, you read that right: approximately 15,000 letters written by Charles Dickens are known to survive today. And as astonishingly large as that number is, it pales in comparison to what he actually wrote. In 1860 Dickens made a bonfire out of a large portion of his correspondence, sparing only letters which were strictly business. His mistress, Ellen Ternan, did the same with the love letters Dickens sent to her. And all of the letters he wrote to his daughter Kate were also lost to fire in 1873.

The most comprehensive published collection of Dickens letters is a massive 12 volumes of at least 600 pages each. Which begs the question, how did he find the time to write 14 complete novels and half of a 15th, 5 Christmas-themed novellas, 4 collections of short stories, 5 non-fiction works, a collection of plays, and innumerable poems, speeches, articles, and short stories for magazines? (And, in case you're wondering, he died at age 58!)

Dickens In A (Very) Rare Moment of Repose.
(Sketch by Alfred Bryan for the 1893 Entr'acte Annual.)

Charles Dickens seems to have been a true human dynamo. He routinely walked 10 to 15 miles a day, and enjoyed a dizzying social life including dancing, horseback riding, putting on magic shows, and throwing lavish parties. Somehow he found the time to marry, father ten children, and take on at least one mistress. On top of all that, he managed the editing and publishing of journals, and mounted numerous public crusades for social justice. He traveled widely in Europe and the Americas, and performed countless public readings from his works. As Dickens biographer Edgar Johnson said: "It was more than a reading; it was an extraordinary exhibition of acting ...without a single prop or bit of costume, by changes of voice, by gesture, by vocal expression, Dickens peopled his stage with a throng of characters." By the end of one American reading tour Dickens was too exhausted to eat, and was living on raw eggs, champagne and sherry.

Despite all of the demands on his time, Dickens never let his writing take a backseat. He told a friend nothing could stop his "invincible determination to work, and...profound conviction that nothing of worth is done without work." He even went so far as to credit hard work over talent in accounting for his success: "My own invention or imagination, such as it is . . . would never have served me as it has but for the habit of commonplace, humble, patient, daily, toiling, drudging attention." Dickens's unique combination of incredible energy and dogged determination somehow combined to create an astoundingly prolific and accomplished body of work.

An 1853 Daguerreotype Of A Decidedly Weary Dickens.
(John Jabez Edwin Mayall.)

The Huntington Library's latest piece of the monumental output of Charles Dickens will eventually go on display in their main exhibition hall, according to Sara S. "Sue" Hodson, curator of manuscripts. Hodson herself is "not a huge fan" of Dickens, finding "some of his characters...a little cardboard." Perhaps she should forgive the man a few less-than-well-rounded creations considering his inexhaustible productivity. According to John R. Greenfield, in his Dictionary of British Literary Characters, Dickens created 989 named characters during his career.

Charles Dickens finally worked himself to death, insisting on giving yet another public reading at a Royal Academy banquet attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales. This despite having collapsed and suffered a stroke at a similar event the previous year. He died in June of 1870, less than a month after taking that final bow. Perhaps he knew he'd eventually burn himself out, in one of those 15,000+ letters he told a friend: "As to repose, for some men there's no such thing in this life."

Rare Bamboo-Strip Books Discovered in Chinese Tomb

Archaeologists in China have discovered a trove of rare bamboo-strip books uncovered within an excavated tomb in Yancang, a village near Jingmen in Hubei province.

Experts believe the site dates back to the Warring States Period (475 BC to 221 BC) and hope that the books will reveal the name of the entombed owner; it is possible that the strips contain a written introduction by the owner of the tomb, "like a letter of recommendation the deceased would carry with them to the underworld to give Yanluo, the god of death," Shen Haining, director of the provincial cultural heritage bureau, told China Daily.

"We cannot tell how many we've got and we have no idea what's written on them, but the discovery of bamboo strips itself is exciting," he continued.
Excavation of the tomb will be completed next week before any attempt is made to read the bamboo strips. "Sorting out those bamboo strips is like sorting out well-cooked noodles, you have to be really careful so as not to damage them."
The ancient Chinese believed Yanluo was not only the ruler but also the judge of the underworld; the deceased would bury with them an introduction letter detailing their good deeds and achievements during their life to guarantee a better afterlife.

Bamboo-strip books are the best materials to study the earliest Chinese manuscripts because the emperor, Qin Shihuang, ordered most documents to be destroyed after he united China in 221 BC.
The emperor ordered all books except those about the Qin dynasty's history and culture, divination and medicines to be burned.
"As the historical documents about the early part of China's history that have been passed down are very rare, bamboo strips today are very valuable," Shen said.
The discovery in 1993 of almost 800 bamboo strips dating back to the Warring States Period in a tomb in Hubei was a major find and international sensation: They contained the complete pre-Qin transcription of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, founder of the Taoist school of thought.

Full story at China Daily.
Bamboo-strip book images courtesy of Beijing Review.

J.D. Salinger Files Lawsuit From Grave


Reclusive and litigious author J.D. Salinger, just hours after having been reported dead by the New York Times, appeared in ethereal form in New York Superior Court to file suit against the Times and a number of other major media outlets for the unauthorized reporting of his demise. Cornered in a men's room stall shortly thereafter, Mr. Salinger responded by sliding a written mimeographed statement under the door to waiting reporters, in which he stated:

"Reports of my death are MINE and MINE ALONE, and any unauthorized reporting of this alleged event will be considered an invasion of my privacy and a violation of my copyright, and will be subject to vigorous prosecution."

News of Mr. Salinger's written statement sent a tsunami of excitement through the literary world, representing as it does the author's first published work since 1965.

- By Howard Prouty at ReadInk, with our thanks for the heads-up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Angels And Demons Reunited At Morgan Library

Hours of Catherine of Cleves, in Latin
Illuminated by the Master of Catherine of Cleves
The Netherlands, Utrecht, ca. 1440
(Images courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern.)

The first page of Catherine's prayer book foreshadows her troubled marriage. Her coat of arms as the Duchess of Guelder is centered beneath the Virgin Mary. Traditionally, her husband's crest would be illustrated atop her coat of arms. But Catherine defiantly places an Ox-- the symbol of The House of Cleves--above the emblem. Catherine is pictured praying from her Book of Hours at lower left. Her ancestors' coats of arms decorate the corners of the pages.

It's every book lovers nightmare. In the 1850's, an unscrupulous book dealer, Jacques Techener, gets his hands on the most precious illuminated manuscript ever created in the Netherlands. A masterpiece among prayer books, labored over for countless hours 400 years before, is now in the possession of a greedy Frenchman without a conscience. He cold-bloodedly rips apart the volume's calfskin binding, shuffles the 738 pages, and puts 11 of the most beautiful leaves aside. (These are still lost to this day.) The rest he arbitrarily divides into two piles and sloppily rebinds. Then, most probably, he twirls his moustache like a melodrama villain, and pops out the celebratory champagne. Now he's got two manuscripts to sell instead of one. And sell them he did, one to the Belgian Duke of Arenberg, and the other to Adolphe de Rothschild. Apparently neither buyer noticed that Techener's vandalism had turned the manuscript's prayers into out-of-sequence gibberish--both were convinced they had purchased one-of-a-kind masterworks.

At right, St. Cornelius holds a horn--cornus in Latin--a pun on his name. St. Cyprian, holds the sword of his martyrdom. The border's birdcages may allude to Cornelius as patron saint of pets.

Fast forward to 1957, when the Duke's copy of what passes for The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is sold to a New York book dealer, who in turn sells it to a private collector. Then in 1963, the Rothschild copy of what they claim is The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is puchased by the Morgan Library. Morgan curator John Plummer finally uncovers Techener's century-old ruse: examining the Morgan's manuscript and the volume on loan from the private collector, he concludes they are two halves of the same book. Finally in 1970, the Morgan purchases the copy in private hands. Now both halves of the masterpiece could be reunited. But the only way to restore the proper order of the pages was to cut apart Techener's amateurish rebindings--which by this time were causing actual damage to the pages--and painstakingly determine the correct sequence. This the Morgan Library has done, and the result is an exhibit of the unbound pages, Demons And Devotions: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, first shown in a Dutch museum, and now on display at the Morgan's New York City home.

At left is a full-page miniature of the Creation of Eve. In a fecund Garden of Eden--with the apple tree at center atop a hill--God pulls Eve from the ribs of Adam. Eve's sinfulness will be cleansed through the purity of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ the Savior. These three are depicted at right.

The back-story of the book itself is matched by the intriguing story of its original owner. Catherine of Cleves (1417-1476) married Arnold, Duke of Egmond (1410-1473) in 1430. To say the marriage was unhappy would be a massive understatement. In a real-life version of The War of The Roses, the Duke grew so disenchanted with the Duchess that he disinherited her, along with their six children. (According to the royal rumor mill, the couple's only son, Adolf, had discovered his father was homosexual.) Catherine became determined to make her son the Duke of Egmond, and a six-year-long civil war erupted. Catherine and son Adolf imprisoned Arnold and forced his abdication in 1465. But Arnold's supporters freed him in 1471, and the tables were turned: the father imprisoned his son, and exiled his wife. In 1473 Arnold died, but still left his son languishing in prison. Arnold had illegally sold his Dukedom to his ally, Charles The Bold of Burgundy, thus ensuring Catherine and her children were left with nothing. Catherine herself died in exile in 1476 before she could see her son set free. Finally freed in 1477, Adolf died within the year.

St. Lawrence holds a gridiron, the instrument upon which he was fried to death. The border of eels and fishes is a sly reference to foods routinely prepared in the same manner.

The Mouth of Hell (manuscript detail)
The entrance to hell is depicted as a lion's mouth rimmed with claw-like teeth. Inside is a red hot furnace. Demons wheel the souls of the damned to this terrifying portal, and joyfully cast them into the realm of eternal torment. Above is the castle of death decorated with skulls. Its burning turrets are topped with heated cauldrons to boil unfortunate souls. Another hell mouth forms the domed roof.

Catherine of Cleves' legacy--her magnificent Book of Hours, daily prayers to the Virgin Mary --was created by an artist whose name is lost to the ages. He is known only as "The Master of Catherine of Cleves." Whoever he was, this writer-illustrator was far ahead of his time. He created 168 incredibly detailed miniatures--93 of which are on view at the Morgan--and a facing page of text for each. The miniatures are enhanced by elaborate borders which amount to still-lifes in their own right. No two are alike, and many contain visual references to the scenes depicted in the main illustrations. The borders' contents thus becomes an inside joke for savvy viewers. The Morgan has mounted a wonderful online exhibit which includes a digital facsimile of every page on display, with the ability to zoom in on the amazing details. What's more, many of the pages have annotations explaining their symbolism and significance. While not a substitute for seeing the actual pages, it certainly is the next best thing.

At left is St. Ambrose, famous for sermons that reconciled the most bitter enemies. The border depicts two natural enemies— the mussel and the crab—living in harmony. At right, St. Augustine holds a heart pierced by two arrows, a symbol of remorse for a dissipated youth. The border is formed of larger pierced hearts suspended on chains and held by angels and demons.

Demons And Devotions: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves opened on January 22, 2010 and continues through May 2 at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Also on display is a new, leather bound facsimile of the manuscript which is available for purchase from German publisher Faksimile Verlag for a cool $15,000. A more reasonably priced softcover catalog is available from the Morgan for $85. A concurrent exhibit of 18 Flemish Books Of Hours will also be on view in the Morgan's Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery. These 18 volumes are intact, having thankfully been spared the avaricious desecration that befell Catherine of Cleves splendid volume. After May 2, 2010, the Morgan's conservators will determine how best to reassemble and rebind into one volume the shamefully separated halves of The Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

What Did Noah's Ark Really Look Like?

When I have trouble falling asleep, I count animals marching into Noah’s ark. After three hours, I still have beasts to account for, long after sheep have schelepped into the cargo hold.

I have no idea what Athanasius Kircher, the 17th century polymath, did when he needed to inspire the sandman; it appears that he was kept up all night speculating about everything concerning Noah.

The procession of life into the Ark.
He published the results of his obsession with Noah in 1675. Arca Noe was and remains the most detailed account of Noah and his ark from that period in scientific inquiry, an era when rationalism was struggling to assert itself over superstition, the illogical, and incredible.

Men like Kircher, a Jesuit who was the webmaster for Europe’s network of scientific scholars, collecting and disseminating their work, endeavored to bring order, clarity and discipline to the study of the natural world. But they remained tied to the world they were born into and, particularly if you were a Jesuit priest, tried vainly to square religious belief with what they were observing in the natural world.

Steerage accommodations on the Deluge Hotel for the four-legged set.

The story of Noah and the ark provided Kircher with a huge framework within which he could study nature, its creatures and flora, as well as engineering. The pursuit of science in this manner endowed it with “sacred purpose.” The ark had been designed by God; a perfect, then, design. Kircher was also an obsessive collector of natural world curiosities, establishing a celebrated museum for such in Rome; Noah’s ark held the ultimate collection, and Kircher made it his mission to recover the lost “divine” science of Noah and display it in his museum.

Birds and humans travel First-Class.

“For Kircher the authority of the Ark as a blueprint derives from its divine origin: unlike other memorable creations of the ancient world... the Ark was designed by God. Since God was the architect, the design embodies the divine laws of symmetry and proportion, qualities the Ark shares with the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. But God also made man, and in his own image. Thus the proportions of man are reflected in the Ark. The length of 300 cubits to the width of 50, for example, is in the same proportion as the height of a well-proportioned man to his width...

Fowl play in the dormitories.
“Kircher comes into his own when enumerating, describing and illustrating the animals. Just as Noah had learnt the science of geometrical proportion from God, so had he also learnt the divine science of animals. Organization and taxonomy were critical to the management of a successful Ark, which had to be divided up into quarters proper for all the animals and their provisions. This Kircher does with obsessive thoroughness and loving detail. Birds and humans were on the top story, quadrupeds on the bottom, and food and water stored in the middle. Serpents were left to languish in the bilge, while there was no need to provide space for creatures that generated spontaneously, such as the insects and frogs” (Bennett and Mandelbrote).

The beginning of the Flood.

Note that scientific inquiry at this time still embraced spontaneous generation as a viable theory of reproduction, as well as other strange (to the modern mind) ideas. Kircher, trying so hard to be precise in his observations and rational in his conclusions, still thought certain stones held power.

The drowning of all life in the Great Deluge, everything underwater, including mortgages.
For those who don’t read Latin, or don’t read it fluently enough to be able to fully comprehend Kircher’s text, the enduring fascination of Arca Noe lies with its elaborate and detailed engraved plates depicting the design of the ark, and the consequences of the flood. They are magnificent.


BENNETT, Jim and Scott Mandelbrote. The Garden, The Ark, The Tower, The Temple. Bodleian Library, 1998.

FINDLEN, Paula. The Last Man Who Knew Everything (Routledge, 2004).

MERRILL, Brian L. Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), Jesuit Scholar. Brigham Young University Library, 1989.


KIRCHER, Athanasius. Arca Noë, In Tres Libros Digesta, Quorum I. De rebus quae ante Diluvium, II. De iis, quae ipso Diluvio eiusque duratione, III. De iis, quae post Diluvium a Noemo gesta sunt, Quae omnia nova Methodo, Nec Non Summa Argumentorum varietate, explicantur, & demonstrantur. Amsterdam: Johannes Janssonius van Waesberge, 1675.

First and only edition. Folio (14 x 9 1/8 in; 355 x 232 mm). *, **, A4 - Z4, Aa4 - Gg4, Hh4 - Ii4 (Index + list of Kircher's Works); [16], 240, [14]. [2]pp. Engraved title-page, engraved portrait of the dedicatee Charles ll, 2 maps (1 double-page), topographic plan (double-page), large folding plate of the ark, 10 double-page plates, 4 full-page plates, 2 small plates, 9 engraved text cuts, & 102 text woodcuts. 5 tables, tailpieces, decorated initials. Complete.

STCN 167502. Dunnhaupt 2346:29. Merrill 26. Adelung III, 379. Caillet, ll, 360.5768. Graesse IV,20. Nissen, Z 2195. De Backer I, 430.26. Sommervogel, IV, 1068-69.33. BMCC CXXIII,711. Bennett /Mandelbrote 37. Mustain/Hinman 157. Brunet, lll, 666.


Images courtesy of David Brass.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Ballad of No Book Stores on the Streets of Laredo

Moonrise over Laredo, Texas as the sun sets over its book trade.
Recent events in Laredo, Texas have compelled Tex Rex, King of the Singing Cowboys, to step out of retirement from his home on the range and croon the ballad of sad book-café about a big American city now scandalously - incredibly - without a single book shop; unbelievable but true.

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo
As I walked out on Laredo one day
I spied an old book shop all shuttered and closed down
Shuttered and closed down all night and all day.

I see by this closing that books have lost out here
That Barnes and pal Noble were the last to shut down
A sad state here that folks here now have a new dark fear
That books old and new have vamoosed from this town.

The 2-50-times-thousand who call this place our land
Are concerned that they’ll all look like dumb ignorant hicks
Thought just poor, Mex'can migrants, who crossed the Rio, hope grand,
To find better life in the hot Texas sticks.

That's not true, says the city's chief spokeswoman,
Xochitl Mora, who spearheads a "Laredo Reads" scheme
The people who breed here do read here, says the comely folks-yeoman,
But big business suits who sell books just don’t get what I mean.

The ol’ H.E.B. Grocery is what passes for book mart
(Is it possible, dare I ask it, that the owner is Heeb?)
Book signings occur near the Fritos and cook's cart
Right next to the produce and fine fresh-kill grebe.

Border town without Borders needs a bookslinger in saddle
Some dude (or dude-ess) who has books on the brain
Someone with moxie (from Biloxi?) who does not easily rattle
To start indie shop, own the book trade, and make it domain.

Fat chance, say the wise-men who know all the skinny
You’ll never compete with Net prices, oh no
Start this biz up, it dies, and you’re really a ninny
There’ll be a chorus of many to say, told you so.

But this burg in a county with mere 48% base lit skill
Still has 52% on the rolls who can and do read
They want culture that books bring to pedigree-need ville
They’re tired of cracks re: hayseed who can live sans book-feed.

They fear kids here with no books dear will not reach the mind's frontier
They'll soon lack the gumption to git up and go
So, desperate and anxious, they yearn for some book cheer
A hard-covered savior, tomes in large portmanteau.

Saddle up! Saddle up! And beat the drum slowly

As you dare the trade in this book-forlorn town
Play the dead march as you sell used books so lowly
Yet welcome here whether up or downtown.

And they beat, and they beat, and they beat the drums slowly, situation unholy
Events have conspired through no fault of their own
Beyond comprehension big-town papes nary mention

A big city without book stores is a city alone.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Famous Authors Drawn Not Quartered

Martin Droeshout's 1623 Engraving Of William Shakespeare.

The purpose of any portrait is to capture the essence of the subject. To somehow convey in a single image not just the outward appearance of the sitter, but his soul. But if the subject is a great writer, does that task become impossible? Poet Ben Jonson thought so, and maybe the curators at Princeton University's Firestone Library do, too.

Those curators have just opened a new exhibit of 100
paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, marble sculptures, and plaster death masks, depicting literary giants. The title of the gallery show is: The Author's Portrait. But the subtitle, O, could he but have drawne his Wit, is loaded with irony. Those words are from a 1623 lament by poet Ben Jonson, published in the First Folio of the works of William Shakespeare. Jonson bemoans the fact that the engraver, Martin Droeshout, cannot possibly capture the genius of Shakespeare in a portrait. He ends with these lines: "Reader, looke, Not on his Picture but his Booke." But the Princeton curators do want viewers to look at the images of authors collected from their Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. So here's a sampling of the exhibit, and readers are invited to decide for themselves if the souls of the writers have been well depicted by the artists.

William Marshall's 1645 Engraving Of John Milton.

This portrait, produced for John Milton's first published book of verse, includes the writer's opinion of his likeness in the caption. Written in ancient Greek--which the artist could not understand--Milton invited the reader to "laugh at the artist's botched attempt" at portraiture.

Martin Droeshout's 1633 Line Engraving of John Donne.

Think this portrait of John Donne looks a bit funereal? The author--perhaps knowing the bell was about to toll for him--showed up wrapped in a burial shroud for the sitting. What's an artist to do but oblige the subject by creating a memento mori?

William Blake's 1803 Engraving Of Author William Cowper. Based On A Pastel Portrait By George Romney.

Today, the artist-poet who made the engraving is by far more well known than the subject. But at the time, William Blake was a hired gun, employed by his patron,William Hayley, to create a frontispiece for his book "The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper." A relative of Cowper's found the Blake's initial attempt at the portrait so poor she begged Hayley never to allow it to be shown in public. Apparently this version passed muster, but Hayley and Blake eventually had such a bitter falling out over paid commissions that Hayley wrote: "Blake appeared to me on the verge of insanity."

William Finden's 1839 Engraving Of Charles Dickens, Based On A Painting by Daniel Maclise, And Published In The Life and Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby.

Charles Dickens was a notoriously difficult portrait subject, and literally tore apart Finden's work time after time until he was satisfied. The author was later quoted as saying: "There are only two styles of portrait painting, the serious and the smirk." It is unknown into which category Dickens placed this particular image.

Rackell's 1938 Pastel Of George Bernard Shaw.

This last one is a real head scratcher. Not only do the Firestone Library's curators not know what playwright George Bernard Shaw thought of the caricature, as of August 2009 they hadn't identified the artist. On August 17, 2009 the following query was posted on the University's Graphic Arts Blog: "Coming up this winter is an exhibition of author portraits. Included will be this pastel caricature of the Irish playwright G. B. Shaw, created in 1938 by an artist using the pseudonym Rackell. Who is Rackell? This name does not turn up in any of the standard art history sources, or in Shaw biographies. Surely someone out there knows someone who can give us some information on this artist or the making of this drawing?" No comments were left on the blog entry, and since the checklist for this exhibit isn't available online, there's no way of knowing if the curators got an answer without shelling out $17.50 (including shipping and handling) for the printed catalog. If anybody reading this has the information, I'd be grateful if you'd post a comment here and save this curious Book Patrol writer a few bucks.

The Firestone Library's exhibit,The Author's Portrait: O, Could He But Have Drawne His Wit opened on January 22, 2010 and continues through July 5, 2010.

Skirts In Dust Jackets: Indie Women, Wayward Wives, Soiled Damsels, Sassy Lassies, and Hard-Boiled Dames

Meherin, Elenore. "Sandy." Gosset & Dunlap, 1926.
"She defied life's Conventions in her search for THRILLS!"
Photoplay edition.

Women on the move, on the make, on the day shift, on the night shift, on their feet, on their backs, on the go, on their way, onward and upward.
Sometimes a rare book catalog is organized like a library exhibition, the dealer/cataloger as curator to a wide variety of books that when grouped together tell a compelling story.

West, Mae. The Constant Sinner (Babe Gordon). Macaulay, 1931.
4th printing, first with ths title and dust jacket.
The story of a dope-dealing prostitute who has an
affair with a black pimp/bootlegger. A novel reportedly
with many autobiographical elements.

Walton, Francis. Women in the Wind. A Novel of the Women's National
Air Derby
.Farrar & Rinehart, 1935. Novelization of the actual 1929
race from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH, a watershed event
in women's aviation. Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes were
among the twenty competitors; Earhart placed third.
Reality punched-up with "dogfights in the air
and catfights on the ground," plus a love story.

The themed rare book catalog is nothing new but it is exciting when a dealer, pursuing his own, sometimes quirky, book interests puts one together based upon volumes that have been long forgotten or dismissed as unworthy of attention.

Sharpe, May Churchill. Chicago May: Her Story. Macaulay, 1928.
Such is the case with Catalog Number 2 from ReadInk Books, Skirts, In Jackets: a couple of hundred books By - About - For (and sometimes Against) WOMEN!

Fabian, Warner (pseud. of Samuel Hopkins Adams). Unforbidden Fruit.
Boni and Liveright, 1928. "A Story of Life in Women's Colleges."
In 1933, Adams' short story, Night Bus, was adapted for the
screen and won 1934's Best-Picture Oscar®
under the title, It Happened One Night.

Devanny, Jean. The Butcher Shop. Macaulay, 1926.
"The sacrifice of Womanhood in the marriage marts."

Clayton, Joan. One Girl's Morals: The Romance of a Dime-a-Dance Girl.
Grosset & Dunlap, 1932.

Keller, H.A. Yesterday's Sin. Macaulay, 1934.
"What would be the fate of a young and beautiful woman,
brought up among Nudists all her life, in a world
of conventional dress and exclusive society?"

ReadInk’s proprietor, Howard Prouty, modestly asserts that he had no grand scheme in mind when putting the catalog together, declaring within that “there’s no message here that’s any more profound than ‘hey...look at this! Cool, huh?’”

Columbus, Bradford. Terrania; or, The Feminization of the World.
Christopher Publishing, 1930. A dissenting view on the emergence
of women and their power into a man's world.

Devanny, Jean. Out of Such Fires. Macaulay, 1934.
"The vilest woman character that any author has yet conceived
- a walking exhibition of neurotic bestiality."

What you begin to realize after scanning its pages is that Prouty is either being faux-naive or very canny. He, like so many current rare book dealers trying to make a full-time go of it, has a day job. He is an archivist at an institutional library.

Sherman, Jaon. Harlot's Return. Godwin, 1937.

Trent, Sarah. Women Over Forty. Macaulay, 1934.
Discusses "the appalling number of women over forty.
Some are simply at a loss what to do with themselves
when children need them no longer. Others are
distraught, panicky, morbid and desperate."
Sample chapter title: "Modern Nerves."

And so, we are presented with Flappermania!; Notorious Ladies; Glamour Girls; Girls at School; Women at Work; Bad Girls and Wild Women; Grand Dames of Mystery; WWII - Women on the Home Front; ...and in Uniform; Ladies of the Big Apple; Marriage: the Solution or the Problem; How to Be an Even Better Woman; What Mad Pursuits, Indeed? Adventuresses; Women Gettin’ It Done!; Fascinating and Formidable Females; etc.

McGill, Mary E. Into a Man's World: Talks with Business Girls. Our Sunday
Visitor, 1938. Advice to a young lady in the workplace on how to
be "mindful of her dignity, of her good name, of her self-respect,
of her obligations to God, to her own soul and to her fellows."
The authoress scorns married women who work: "These
become defrauders of husbands' and children's right and
thieves of the jobs of single women who have no
one to give them economic support."

Stark, Mabel, with Gertrude Orr. Hold That Tiger. Caxton Printers, 1938.
One of the world's most famous Big Cat trainers (along with May Kovar),
Stark began her circus career in 1912. Quite attractive, she was mauled
many times during her lifetime by animals, sometimes by her cats.

Jordan, Gail (pseud. of Peggy Gaddis). Part Time Passion. Phoenix Press,
1940. "Karen Montgomery believed in equal rights
for women - and that meant not only competing
with men on an equal footing but also taking her
loves as they came and throwing them off as lightly.

The overwhelming number of the volumes described and offered were published c. 1911-1950. What is revealed through these 212 books is the emergence onto the American stage - sometimes with sharp elbows to reach the footlights - of the modern woman, her hopes, frustrations, dreams, fantasies, and aims toward self-realization and independence, written, for the most part, by women for women.

As a collection, these books trace the evolution of American feminism in the first half of the 20th century through popular literature, a period that sometimes gets lost between the women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th century and the Women’s Lib movement of the late 1960s. The story of women struggling toward equality during this period is rich and colorful, culminating with the entry of women into the armed services and workforce during World War II. Then, after the war, it ground to a halt, the movement going into hibernation as women returned to traditional roles, often reluctantly, in the post-war years of the 1950s. It then screamed to reawakening in the Sixties.

ReadInk Books, now celebrating its twelfth year in business, has carved out a cozy niche in the rare book universe, one that I believe has upside potential going into an uncertain rare book future. Billing itself on its website as Books for the Obsessive or Merely Curious - a compelling tease - in this catalog Prouty keeps it simple: Forgotten Books, Remembered.

ReadInk is - and this is no small thing - developing itself into a brand with an engaging, individualistic personality. This is otherwise known as Marketing 101. With an interesting website to back it up (including an Oddities and Obsessions page reflecting Prouty’s personal book-related interests), ReadInk Books with this, its second print catalog, nicely produced, is an up-and-comer long in the making worth keeping an eye on.

Dunton, James G. A Maid and a Million Men. Grosset & Dunlap, c. 1940.
Originally published c. 1928, the story of a girl who substitutes herself
for her WWI Yank brother so he can go AWOL to tryst
with his fiancee. But "unexpected sailing orders were received
and away she went with his regiment to France."
It is unclear
whether she's taking her uniform off or putting it on.

A million men want to know.

Crawford, Phyllis. Second Shift. Henry Holt. 1943.
No swingin' on this wartime shift, "anyone who has wondered
what it means to do 'unskilled repetitive labor,'
to give up movies, dances, and everything once
considered the joy of life, will find a true
and moving answer in this book."

Jacobs, Helen Hull. By Your Leave, Sir. The Story of a Wave.
Dodd, Mead, 1943.
Jacobs was a major tennis star, winning
many U.S. championships. She was ranked #1 in the world in 1936.

Gerken, Mable R. Ladies in Pants. Exposistion Press, 1949.
The title refers to working women, not the sapphic set.
One thing that distinguishes and sets ReadInk apart from the crowd and into the hands of budding collectors is that it has decided, by choice or accident, that first editions are not necessarily the best editions to collect. This, too, is nothing new - knowledgeable dealers have been trying to drill this reality into collectors ever since books have been collected; first edition, first issue freakdom has, to a large degree, run amok. ReadInk chooses editions that have the better dust jacket design, and/or editions that are often rarer than the first edition and/or possess a worthwhile quirk. With compelling and informative descriptions that include gently entertaining commentary, these dead “who cares?” books are reanimated, providing a “we should” answer to the question.

Harrison, Marguerite. There's Always Tomorrow: The Story of a Checkered Life.
Farrar & Rinehart, 1935. Fascinating womanhood! Harrison, a widow
and single mother at age 36, was compelled to embark on a career
as a journalist. Beginning with society news, she soon rose to cover
hard news, was a spy for U.S. Military intelligence during WWI, and
subsequently spied for the U.S. in Russia and Japan.

Savage, Kim. Hellion. Vixen Press, 1951.

More to the point, the books are not expensive to collect. Most are priced below $250, many under $100. Books priced under $500 is the area that I believe holds the greatest potential for the rare book trade as elite collectors of “big books” continue to dwindle to a few while average, working-stiff, budding collectors look for an entryway into a hobby too often perceived as too rich for their blood. I have a very strong belief that populism will be ascendant, in collectors, the volumes they collect, and cost; there is a large number of people with a latent or active desire to collect but have been shy due to the expense.

Good, fascinating rare books at an affordable price. What a concept.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cowgirl Round-Up At Cowboy Library

Bulldogging Cowgirl Fox Hastings.

In an 1851 Indiana newspaper editorial, John B.L. Soule famously advised: "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." Apparently, young women were either better off back East, or didn't need to grow up. In any case, a lot of young women did go West, and many of them found the freedom of the frontier allowed them to escape their traditional Victorian roles as wives and mothers. Oklahoma's The Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center at The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has organized an exhibit that highlights the women who took advantage of Manifest Destiny to forge a freer future for themselves.

The exhibit, Not Just A Housewife: The Changing Roles Of Women In The West, highlights 13 women whose boots were made for walking miles away from home and hearth. Some of their names are well known, such as Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. But others are unsung heroines of the Wild West. Their stories may be unfamiliar, but their refusal to be fenced in by stereotypes made them true female mavericks. The life and career of one of these women, rodeo star Fox Hastings, proves that the "weaker sex" was often anything but.

Fox Busts A Bronco.
(Photo Courtesy of Homer Venters.)

Eloise Fox (1898? -1948) caught frontier fever early. She ran away from a convent school at age 16 with her steer-wrestling beau, Mike Hastings, and joined him on the rodeo circuit. When they married, she shed her feminine first name for the more marquee-friendly moniker "Fox Hastings." The newly-minted Mrs. Hastings didn't let marriage slow her down. She became a rodeo star herself as a trick rider and bucking bronco buster, known for a daring ability to perform on the fastest horses in the Irwin Brothers' Wild West Show.

A true adrenaline junkie, fearless Fox soon tired of horsewoman-ship, and decided, literally, to tackle the cows. In 1924 she made her debut as a bulldogger at the Fort Worth, Texas Rodeo. Her soon-to-be manager and publicist, Fred M. "Foghorn" Clancy, recalled the arena that day was "as muddy as a hog wallow," but that didn't stop Fox, "the nerviest cowgirl [he] ever saw," from wrestling her steer to the ground in 17 seconds flat, a record time. A newspaper account at the time indicated the confusion the "Red-Headed Feminine Daredevil Of The Arena" inspired among those used to more traditional womenfolk: "To the rodeo crowd she is Fox Hastings, cowgirl extraordinary. To neighbors, she is Mrs. Mike Hastings, a good cook and tidy housekeeper." There's little doubt which way the balance tipped on that see-saw.

Fox's Trademark Camera- Ready Smile.

Continuing to bulldog on the rodeo circuit, Fox Hastings became as renowned for her toughness as her skill. A newspaper write-up of her arena exploits recounts a near superhuman bravura: "Notable among the special attractions was Fox Hastings who, though she had suffered a broken rib the day before the show opened, bulldogged her steer each of the three days of the rodeo proper. She had a contract to fulfill and she couldn't let the management down..." Fox herself summed up her steer wrestling style this way: "If I can just get my fanny out of the saddle and my feet planted, there’s not a steer that can last against me."

Foghorn Clancy's P.R. flair and Fox's moxie combined to make her one of the most celebrated and photographed cowgirls in rodeo history. Fox was not only an ace athlete, she was a shrewd show-woman. When trick riding and bronco busting she sported spectacular scarlet costumes. Enormous red bows replaced a cowboy hat, the better to show off her ginger hair. When bulldogging, however, she boldly went butch: knee-high boots, knickers, a turtleneck sweater, and sometimes even a football helmet, showed she was ready to get down and dirty. Still, Fox never forgot to play to the crowd; she was known for flashing a camera-ready smile even while lying covered in muck, still gripping a newly-thrown steer.

Fox Bulldogging In Her Famous Football Helmet.
(Photo Courtesy of Homer Venters.)

By 1929, Fox had divorced Mike Hastings, the stress of the rodeo circuit proving too much for the marriage. Her second marriage, to Arizona cattle rancher Chuck Wilson, was by all accounts a happy one. Finally ready to settle down, Fox retired from the arena after 5 bone-breaking years on the road. But another occupational hazard was waiting in the wings: in the early 1940's Fox developed tuberculosis, a common ailment among rodeo riders and ranchers of the era, caused by contact with contaminated cattle.

Her second husband stuck by her through several years of extreme illness, and the disease was in remission by 1946. Sadly, after years of nursing his wife, Chuck Wilson's own health gave out. He died of a massive heart attack on July 30, 1948, shortly before his 49th birthday. Fox, despite all of her cowgirl courage, found his death more than she could bear. A mere two weeks later, on August 16, she checked into the Adams Hotel in Phoenix and shot herself in the stomach and head. Eloise Fox Hastings Wilson died instantly.

Fox Hastings Wilson, Cowgirl Extraordinaire.

For more stories of Wild West women, check out the virtual online exhibit created by The Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center. Or visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in City, where the exhibit continues through March 2011. It may be the cowboy's museum, but for now the cowgirls are getting the final close-up before riding off into the sunset.
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