Friday, January 31, 2014

What Shakespeare Ate On Menu At 47th California Rare Book Fair

by Stephen J. Gertz

The California International Antiquarian Book Fair returns to the Pasadena Convention Center next weekend, February 7-9, 2014. Now in its 47th year, the Fair will celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth.

The bi-annual Southern California rare book extravaganza brings together the world’s foremost dealers, collectors and scholars; it is now the largest such book fair in the world. This year the Book Fair will present special exhibits featuring some of the finest expressions of Shakespeare through the centuries, and a mouth-watering panel discussion on What Shakespeare Ate: Dining in the Elizabethan Age.

The Huntington Library, which holds a world-class collection of early editions of Shakespeare's works, will offer an enlightening display on Shakespeare scholarship throughout the 90-plus years of its history. On view will be highlights of scholarly work researched, written, and published at the Huntington, as well as facsimiles based on Huntington holdings and items that illustrate the institution's focus on all facets of the history and culture of Renaissance England.

Fine press and artists’ books from the Ella Strong Denison Library at Scripps College will show how Shakespeare has inspired the art of the book.  Highlights include:

• Early 20th Century “Hamlet” from Doves Press, the British private press that was one of the exemplars of the Arts and Crafts movement.

• “The Tragedie of King Lear,” illustrated with spectacular woodcut prints by American artist Claire Van Vliet that eloquently convey the pain and drama of the play; printed in limited edition in 1986.

• “R&J: The Txt Msg Edition,” this limited edition, contemporary artists’ book created by Elizabeth Pendergrass and John Hastings in 2008 presents Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene in the form of text messages printed on accordion folded pages fitted into a retro cell phone cover that is cradled in a miniature leopard-print, high-heeled shoe.

Poster images from the collections of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will spotlight memorable film adaptations of Shakespeare from around the world.  

The Honnold/Mudd Library at the Claremont Colleges Library will offer insights into stage productions with items that include:

• Photos of renowned Victorian actors Ellen Terry and Henry Irving in some of their most famous Shakespeare roles.

• Original 20th century costume studies.

• Prompt books with actors’ handwritten notes.

• “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke” (Weimar, Cranach Press, 1930) with illustrations by Edward Gordon Craig.

Rare books on food and cookery in Elizabethan times from the University of California San Diego Library will also be exhibited.  Highlights include:

• Ann Clutterbuck, “Her Book.” A English family manuscript book containing recipes for foods and for medicinal needs from 1693.

• Gervase Markham, “The English House-Wife” dated 1675.

• Bartolomeo Scappi, “Opera…dell’ Arte del Cucinare” from 1660 which includes fabulous woodcuts of the Renaissance kitchen and all its gadgets; first time knife, fork, and spoon shown together.

A related special panel on Saturday, February 8 at 1 p.m. entitled "What Shakespeare Ate: Dining in the Elizabethan Age" will further immerse Book Fair visitors into the world of the Bard.  Panelists include the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic for the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Gold; noted food historian Charles Perry; cookbook author and founder of the Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne Anne Willan; and bookseller Ben Kinmont who specializes in antiquarian books on gastronomy. Two-time co-Pulitzer Prize winner, Los Angeles Times columnist, and NPR correspondent Patt Morrison will moderate.

To be or not to be at the Fair? That is the question. But if you love books there is no question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - fugetaboutit! Just go. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Leonard Cohen: You Do Not Have To Love Me At Auction (Or Anywhere Else)

by Stephen J. Gertz

A copy of Canadian poet and songwriter-singer Leonard Cohen's poem, You Do Not Have To Love Me is being offered by PBA Galleries in its Beats, Counterculture & the Avant Garde, Richard Synchef Collection Part II sale tomorrow, January 30, 2014. It is estimated to sell for $400 - $600.

In letterpress designed and printed by Bill Roberts (of Bottle of Smoke Press) and tipped-in to black paper card, it is copy "N" of 26 lettered copies signed by Cohen of a total edition of 126. Originally published in 1968, it is here issued as Sore Dove Press Broadside Series Number 33, published in 2008. It has already become quite collectible.

Facing the poem is an original oil painting by artist-poet Soheyl Dahl.

Included in the lot are seven Sore Dove Press postcards celebrating Cohen, two duplicated with black lettering.

As part of the lot, a copy of singer-songwriter (and Leonard Cohen collaborator) Anjani Thomas' poem, Holy Ground, is being offered. No. 31 of 100 signed copies, it, too, is in letterpress designed and printed by Bill Roberts. It was published by Sore Dove Press in 2009.

"Sore Dove Press is edited and published by Soheyl Dahi, an artist and poet living in San Francisco. It is a progressive press that publishes poetry chapbooks and broadsides by established poets ranging from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, and Jack Hirschman to newcomers like the talented actress and poet Amber Tamblyn. The press also actively looks for and publishes poets to make their debut in print. The chapbooks and broadsides are printed in small editions. A limited number are signed by the poets and when possible a lettered edition with an original painting by the poets is included" (website).

Images courtesy of PBA Galleries, with our thanks.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Take My Wife, Please! The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills Slain In This 19th C. British Satire

by Stephen J. Gertz

The following was anonymously written by Percival Leigh in 1840 and is extracted from The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book. It is, in essence, a c. 1960 comedy routine in deadly wry 19th century prose - Please take my wife, Sir! For maximum effect readers are advised to imagine Jack Carter, Alan King, Shecky Greene, Morty Gunty, Corbett Monica, Pat Cooper, Buddy Hackett, or yes, Henny Youngman reciting the text. Ladies are beseeched to holster their sidearms for the duration of the post - the author is  throwing popcorn, not grenades. - SJG

The Duties of a Wife

It is our decided opinion that a wife ought by no means to flirt in society in so open a manner as to attract the attention of beholders.

Nevertheless, we esteem it expedient that every married lady of ton should be provided with a crowd of admirers sufficiently numerous to prove to her husband what a treasure he has got; and also to keep him on his best behavior.

She should never pry into her husband's affairs; resting always on the confident belief that he is the best judge of them himself; and therewith should spend as much money as she can persuade him to let her.

Ever anxious to augment the honor and renown of her lord and master, she should be careful never to show herself in public except dressed in the first style of fashion, totally regardless of expense.

Her domestic affairs must be left entirely to the superintendence of her housekeeper; whom, however, (to conduct herself as a good manager), she should occasionally accuse of peculation.

From breakfast to the proper hour for the drive, or promenade, her time should be occupied in sitting in the drawing-room, and receiving visitors; to whom, for the credit of her husband, she is to display herself to the greatest possible advantage.

She should be possessed with the eccentricity of desiring to nurse her own children, she must drink, under pretense of being delicate, much more bottle porter than, strictly speaking, is fit for her; and must obviate the ill effects thereof by taking medicine.

Duly impressed with an awful sense of her responsibility for the education of her family, she should confide it implicitly to the care of a governess. She should however, take good heed that her little girls are imbued, from their earliest years, with a laudable and beneficial love of finery.

To set a good example to those beneath her, she should be unremitting in her attendance at church; and the more strikingly to show her respect for religion, should always go there, if possible, in her carriage. The footmen and coachman are to be strictly charged to remain, meanwhile, absorbed in devout meditation, and on no account whatever to go to a public house.

As she is precluded from practicing that sort of economy who consists in denying herself anything, (to conduct which would be derogatory to her husband's dignity, and painful to his feelings), she must diligently avoid all unnecessary expenditure on others. For example, she must give her servants the very smallest wages which they will take; and be as cautious in the indulgence of her charitable feelings, as the opinion of the world will allow her to be. In particular, let her shun the unprincipled extravagance of throwing away money on poor people and beggars, most of whom are very improper characters, while all of them, as everybody well knows, are amply provided for by a compassionate and Christian legislature.

Our concluding piece of advice may seem impertinent, but our sincerity must be the excuse of our rudeness. She must assiduously cultivate the most rigid morality, that is to say, the study of preserving the purity of her reputation with the world, and the elegance of her personal appearance.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Meet The Flamboyant Lady-Like Gentlemen of 1840

by Stephen J. Gertz

It's a scarce little sucker, a rarely seen Leech.

It's The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book and Beau Monde à La Française, Enriched with Numerous Highly Colored Figures of Lady-Like Gentlemen. Published in London, 1840 by Chapman and Hall, the quarto features four hand-colored lithographed plates, each with multiple figures, by the great caricaturist, John Leech, accompanied by twelve pages of text by Percival Leigh (1813-1889), who often partnered with Leech, a close friend. The two were among the original contributors to Punch, which was established in 1841.

One of the rarest of all suites by Leech, OCLC notes only eight copies in institutional holdings worldwide, with ABPC recording only one copy at auction within the last sixty-five years, in 1949.

Here Leech skewers foppery, dandyism, and the eccentricities of "fashionable boobies" that are feminizing men in London and Paris, while Leigh takes comic aim at contemporary literary absurdities "consisting mainly of a thrilling story of brigand life, the blood-curdling tenor of which may be imagined from the title, Grabalotti the Bandit; or, The Emerald Monster of the Deep Dell" (Frith);  a parody of the popular novels of fashionable life,  and more. 

"It was one of Leech's special delights to caricature the absurd fashions of the day in dress, language, manners and literature" (Field). 

The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book was very well received upon publication.

"To use the words of the lively and gossiping Pepys, the sight of this jeu d'esprit delighted us mightily; it being a very clever satire on those contemptible fashionable boobies; who, with their frightful display of hairy protuberances, crawl like ursine sloths along the public streets of London and Paris, to the disgust of all rational and well-organized minds. It is to hold them up to the public contempt that the colored plates of the work are devoted, and however unearthly these exquisites may appear to a stranger, they must not be viewed as caricatures, for it is

'From real life these characters are drawn,'

and which may be evidenced wheresoever they are hourly met, many of them inhaling the blasting influence of the poisonous cigar, rendering their faces more like a mattery pustule than the frontispiece of a human being; but it is very doubtful whether creatures so constituted as to fall into such glaring inconsistencies are capable of feeling the bitter shaft of satire. However, the artist, author, and publisher, have done their part well, in thus bringing the subject before the public eye. The work is edited by the author of the 'Comic Latin Grammar,' and contains many witty burlesques on the announcements of some of our most prominent quacks and advertisers, with a pleasing variety of other reading...

"We must not omit to bear testimony to the rising genius of Mr. Leech. We have watched the progress of this gentleman, and we feel assured if he do but study from life, - persevere, - and work hard, he will very soon become one of our most talented artists. We wish him every success" (The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, No. 1033, November 21, 1840).

As I've earlier written:

The clothes-obsessed dandy and dandyism phenomenon first appeared in the 1790s, both in London and Paris. In period vernacular, a dandy was differentiated from a fop in that the dandy's dress was more refined and sober. But not for long.

During the Regency period in London, dandyism was a revolt against  the extravagance and ostentation of the previous generation, and of sympathy with the new mood of democracy. It became, however, a competitive sport  and this revolt against prior tradition became a revolting development.

Immaculate personal cleanliness, crisp and clean linen shirts with high collars, perfectly tied cravats, and exquisitely tailored plain dark coats (similar in many respects to the "macaroni" of the earlier eighteenth century) became the fashion, epitomized by George Bryan "Beau" Brummel (1778-1840). Imitators  followed  but  few possessed  Brummel's sense of panache. Many, if not most,  over-reached.

The style soon went over the top. What flowed naturally and unselfconsciously from Beau Brummel all too often became affectation and pretension in others and it was this class of dandies that became the subject of caricature and ridicule. 

George and Robert Cruikshank had a field day with the subject. But their caricatures of fops and dandies, as usual for the Cruikshanks, ridiculed with grotesquery. Leech, in contrast, caricatured them with a delicate refinement that took the phenomenon to its logical, absurd conclusion, men as women in male-drag. Think Georges Sand with a paste-on moustache. Indeed, the year The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book was published was the year that Beau Brummel died. His taste dying with him, foppery became a parody of itself and just plain silly.

It would be a mistake to associate this manner of male fashion with homosexuality. While the behavior certainly existed and had descriptive nouns for acts and practitioners, the concept had not yet evolved to require a word to describe a separate class of person and distinct culture. The word was coined and first used in 1869 by Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882), an Austro-Hungarian novelist, translator, and journalist in Das Gemeinschädliche des & 143 des preussischen Strafgesetzbuches vom 14. April 1851 und daher seine nothwendige Tilgung als [section sign]152 im Entwurfe eines Strafgesetzbuches für den Norddeutschen Bund, a seventy-five page pamphlet protesting against anti-sodomy laws in Prussia.

No, only their clothes were gay. Silly gay,  not gay gay.

[LEECH, John, illustrator]. [LEIGH, Percival, text].  The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book, And Beau Monde à La Française enriched with Numerous Highly Colored Figures of Lady-Like Gentlemen. Edited by The Author of The Comic Latin Grammar. The Costumes and Other Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

First edition. Quarto (11 3/8 x 8 5/8 in; 290 mm). 12 pp. Four hand-colored lithographs imprinted 12 November 1840.

Field, p. 40.

Of Related Interest:

Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies.

The Mother of Political Satire, or Why Did Yankee Doodle Call His Hat Macaroni.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Johathan Swift Asks For a Job

by Stephen J. Gertz

A two-page signed autograph letter by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) dated April 15, 1735 to an unidentified Lord (i.e. Lionel Cranfield Sackville, the 1st Duke of Dorset and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1731-1737) is being offered by Nate D. Sanders Auctions in its sale ending January 30, 2014 at 5PM Pacific. The opening bid is $5,000.

With customary wit, sarcasm, irony, and playfulness, Swift, at the time Dean of St. Patrick's Church in Dublin and a political exile, asks the Duke to appoint the son of a local Alderman to Mastership of a barrack at Kinsale, a post that had recently become vacant.

Politics is never far from Swift's mind. A Tory propagandist, he pokes fun at the Whigs

The Alderman, "is as high a Whig and more at your devotion than I could perhaps wish him to be." Swift refers to "a Doctor who kills or cures half the city, of two Parsons my subjects as [illegible] who rule the other half, and of a vagrant Brother who governs the North." He also mock-demands of the Duke that he order Lady Elizabeth "Betty" Germain (1680-1769), a friend and close correspondent of both and a very wealthy woman who "uses me very ill in her Letters," to give him a present "worth forty shillings at least."

The letter, here broken-up into paragraphs, reads in full:

My Lord 

Your Grace must remember, that some days before you left us, I commanded you to attend me to Doctor Delaney's house, about a mile out of this Town, where you were to find Doctor Helsham the Physician. I told you they were the two worthyest gentlemen in this Kingdom in their severall Faculties. You were pleased to comply with me, called on at the Deanry and carried me thither; where you dined with apparent satisfaction.

Now, this same Dr. Helsham hath orderred me to write to Your Grace in behalf of one Alderman Aldrich; who is master of the Dublin Barrack, and is as high a Whig and more at your devotion than I could perhaps wish him to be. And yet he is a very honest Gentleman, and which is more important, a near Relation of the
[political family] Grattans, who, in Your Grace's absence are governors of all Ireland, and your Vicegerents when you are here, as I have often told you. They consist of an Alderman whom you are to find Lord Mayor at Michaelmas next; of a Doctor who kills or cures half the city, of two Parsons my subjects as [illegible] who rule the other half, and of a vagrant Brother who governs the North. They are all Brethren, and your Army of twelve thousand soldiers are not able to stand against them.

Now, Your Grace is to understand, that these Grattans will shickle to death for all their Cousins to the five and fiftieth degree; and consequently this same Alderman Aldrich being onely removed two degrees of Kindred and having a son as great a Whig as the Father, hath prevayled with Dr. Helsham to make me write to Your Grace, that the son of such a Father may have the Mastership of a Barrack at Kinsale, which is just vacant, His name is Michael Aldrich. Both Your Grace and I love the name for the sake of Dr. Aldrich Dean of Christ-church, although I am afraid he was a piece of a Tory, you will have several Requests this Past with the same Request, perhaps for different Persons, but you are to observe only mine, because it will come three minutes before any other.

I think this is the third request I have made to Your Grace. You have granted the two first, and therefore must grant the third. For, when I knew Courts, those who had received a dozen favors, were utterly disobliged if they were denyed the thirteenth. Besides, if this be not granted the Grattans will rise in rebellion, which I tremble to think of. My Lady Eliz. Germain uses me very ill in her Letters. I want a Present from her, and desire you will please to order, that it may be a seal. Mine are too small for the fashion; and I would have a large one, worth forty shillings at least. 

I had a Letter from her two days ago, and design to acknowledge it soon, but business must first be dispatched, I mean the Request I have made to Your Grace, that the young Whig may have the Barrack of Kinsale worth 60 or 70 lb a year. I should be very angry as well as sorry if Your Grace would think I am capapble of deceiving you in any circumstances. I hope and pray that my Lady Dutchess may recover Health at the Bath, and, that we may see her Grace perfectly recovered when You come over. And pray God preserve and your most noble Family in Health and Happyness.

I am with the highest respect:
My Lord Your grace's most obedient
most obliged, and most humble
Servant  Jonath: Swift.

Historian, playwright and novelist Horace Walpole (1717-1797) wrote of Lionel Sackville: "with the greatest dignity in his appearance, he was in private the greatest lover of buffoonery and low company…" Swift thought him one of the most agreeable and well-informed of men, and the best conversationalist he had ever met. Theirs was a deep friendship based upon a shared point of view and sense of humor.

Images courtesy of Nate D. Sanders Auctions, with our thanks.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Sorrowful Saga of Jack Ruby's Pants, Now At Auction

by Stephen J. Gertz

Snap your suspenders auction attenders, Jack Ruby's pants are for sale.

A pair of trousers personally owned and worn by the man who fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of JFK, is being offered by Nate D. Sanders Auctions in its sale ending January 30th at 5PM Pacific. The opening bid is $5,000.

Ruby was not wearing this pair of pants when he shot Oswald. But he may have worn them during courtroom appearances. Or, he may have had them on when he heard news of the President's assassination while placing an ad at the Dallas Morning News office. Perhaps they were hanging in his closet at the moment JFK was shot. Maybe he was wearing them while Tammy True, his "No. 1 girl," performed her striptease act at Ruby's Carousel Club. Secrets abound in the pockets, which, alas, are sans historical lint. If only pants could talk. But these pants, apparently, are under a gag order and forbidden to split their seams; 100% worsted wool lips as well as fly are zippered.

We do know, however, that someone wrote Ruby's name on the outer lining to one of the pockets. It wasn't Ruby; the handwriting is not his. Perhaps his mother wrote his name there before sending him  to summer camp. It was probably Earl, Jack Ruby's brother, who inked Jack's name on the pocket. He provided a notarized letter of authenticity to accompany the pants so you know they're the real Ruby. We do not know, however, and will likely never know whether Jack Ruby slipped his right or left leg in first when putting them on, whether he put his shoes on before or after donning them, nor where he positioned his privates within his pants, to the left or to the right? History will remain a beggar.

You may be asking yourself, as I am, why bother writing about a historical artifact of dubious historical value that has nothing to do with books? We've written about Ernest Hemingway's typewriter. We've written about Herman Melville's travel desk. We've even written about Hart Crane's sombrero, which is probably not Hart Crane's sombrero.

We feel it our duty. I am, after, all, the man who slept in Lee Harvey Oswald's coffin. But if someone feels that a pair of Jack Ruby's pants has collectible value who am I to judge? Yet caveat emptor: it'll take a moment of madness to fill these pants with a backstory worthy of their purchase.

Book inserted to lend relevance to post.

How 'bout this one: Jack Ruby, né Jacob Rubenstein, was wearing these pants when he slipped my uncle, Elmer Gertz (1906-2000), his appeal attorney (who was Clarence Darrow's protegé in youth, and got Ruby's sentence reduced from death to life), a two-page note in Judge Holland's Dallas courtroom on September 9, 1965 highlighting his hopelessness and paranoid delusions about an anti-Semitic, neo-Final Solution conspiracy being played out where he was incarcerated:

"Elmer, you must believe me, that I am not imagining crazy thoughts etc. This is all so hopeless, that they have everything in the bag and there isn't any chance or hope for me. These hearings are just to stall for time. What chance do I have, when I know at this time that they are killing our people now in this very building. You must believe me, as to  what is happening, they are torturing people right here. Why should I constantly repeat all these things over and over"

Jack Ruby's Crazy Pants. That's how you sell this footnote of historical haberdashery. The tag covers the whole spectrum of the man, who had a  history of mental illness in his family, a violent temper, poor impulse control, and a dog named Sheba he was nuts about. Ruby's roommate, George Senator, told the Warren Commission that Jack would often refer to Sheba as his "wife." He took her everywhere and catered to her every whim. She was waiting in the car for him while he sent a money order from the Western Union office adjacent to the Dallas police station garage where he observed a crowd and went in. He did her bidding; he had no choice. He was a slave to Sheba. She wore the pants in the marriage.

On January 3, 1967, Jack Ruby, sentenced to life, died after throwing a pulmonary embolism secondary to lung cancer. He passed in Parkland Hospital, where JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were pronounced dead.

He was buried next to his parents but not in these pants.

Nor in the Ruby slippers.

Pants images courtesy of Nate D. Sanders Auctions, with our thanks.

Image of Ruby note to Elmer Gertz courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Terry Southern Talks William S. Burroughs, Easy Rider, Rip Torn, And The New Screenwriter

by Stephen J. Gertz

An extraordinary cache of manuscripts, signed autograph and typed letters, ephemera, and awards from the estate of novelist, essayist, satirist, and screenwriter Terry Southern (1924-1995) - whose dark, absurdist manner of satire influenced three generations of writers, readers, film directors and movie-goers - has come to market. 

Offered in individual lots by Royal Books in Baltimore, the archive highlights Southern's involvement with the Beats and the movies, starring William S. Burroughs, actor Rip Torn, and the film that changed Hollywood forever, Easy Rider, which Southern wrote.

An animated letter to Burroughs from 1969 is a joy. Within, Southern anticipates of a visit from Burroughs and  references his involvement with Scientology:

"Buzz along the rialto has it that a certain grand guy W.S. Burroughs may be jetting Appleward anon. I certainly hope so, and hasten to assure that your quarters are being maintained in a state of round-the-clock readiness--with the E-meter fully serviced, tuned to needle-point precision, and porno flicks dusted and ready to roll! Meanwhile, I trust this finds you in top form and fettle, grooving there in Old Smoke."

The letter goes on to speak extensively of NYC mayor Ed Koch's recent election win, focusing on what would appear to be a dense philosophical obsession Southern has with the politician.

A one-page typescript with corrections, c. 1975, provides a fascinating review of Southern's crafting of the screenplay for Easy Rider, focusing on how he actually wrote the part of George Hanson, played by Jack Nicholson, for wild man actor, Rip Torn, with a detailed explanation of why Torn did not get the role, which distills to Torn and Dennis Hopper (who directed the film) engaging in a bitter argument in a New York restaurant that ended when the volatile Torn pulled a knife on the uneasy Hopper.

"It was ironic, however, that Torn, who had paid such heavy dues for so long a time, should miss this particular custom-built boat, His extraordinary film, Coming Apart [in which Torn played a mentally disturbed psychologist who secretly films his sexual encounters with women], too far ahead of its time (and which certainly opened the door for Last Tango in Paris) never achieved the fruition it should have…"

More Rip Torn in a c. 1971 seven-page manuscript, executed in holograph pencil with numerous corrections. It's an unfinished and unpublished essay by Southern regarding his first encounter with Torn, which is more an encounter with the concept of Rip Torn than Rip Torn himself (though Torn would ultimately become one of Southern's closest friends and confidants). Torn's reputation for danger preceded him and from a producer's perspective casting him was a choice between genius performance or preserving life and limb:

"'Rip Torn would be perfect,…"

"The producer, a man not without certain twists of humor himself, smiled without looking up…

"'You don't hire Rip Torn,' he said. 'You hire a Rip Torn type…here, how about Bob Duvall?'"

The letter references Southern's involvement in the movie, The Cincinnati Kid during director Sam Peckinpah's brief tenure at the helm, Southern describes a meeting with the film's producer, the producer still reeling from Peckinpah's acrimonious departure (Norman Jewison would ultimately take the directorial reigns). The bulk of the essay details how Southern wrote a new scene in the midst of the change, introducing what would become Torn's character, Slade, a "gentleman" card shark.

Southern defines the modern screenwriter in a c. 1975, five-page composite holograph manuscript in typescript and paste-ups, titled The Feelgood Phenom. Complete and unpublished, it's a humorous philosophical essay on the idea of the "new screenwriter" (i.e. Southern), who is expected to be much more than a screenwriter; cultural "doctor" is his gig. It is, perhaps, not so much an ideal as an observation on the role Southern had defined for himself and subsequently filled.

Above, Southern's 1965 Writer's Guild of America Screen Writer's Annual Award  nomination for writing achievement for Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Though he only worked on the screenplay for a month, it was Southern, fueled by amphetamine, who transformed what was originally a serious drama into a wild dark satire. Kubrick brought Southern into the project after reading his zany comic novel, The Magic Christian, which actor Peter Sellers had given him to read. In 1969 Sellers would star in the novel's screen adaptation written by Southern with contributions by John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Peter Sellers, and Joseph McGrath. Southern's 1968 typescript final draft of the screenplay is also being offered.

Terry Southern and William S. Burroughs
Photo credit: Jack Wright III

Terry Southern spent 1948-1952 as an ex-pat in Paris, where he became closely associated with The Paris Review. He spent 1953-1956 in Greenwich Village in New York. He lived in Geneva 1956-1959 but spent much of 1956-57 back in Paris, where, with Mason Hoffenberg, he wrote the classic erotic satire, Candy, for Maurice Girodias. He helped convince Girodias to publish Burroughs' Naked Lunch. He returned to New York in 1959 and became part of George Plimpton's literary salon. Then Hollywood. In short, Southern was everyplace where things were happening in the post-WWII literary world, a rebel whose weapon of choice was satire, and it was his voice that fought against the absurdity of the the postmodern world with deeper absurdity, the only way it could possibly be observed without tears. To Southern, the world was crazy, it required a little crazy to appreciate it, and he was just the man to write about it.

Books by Terry Southern:

• Flash and Filigree (1958)
• Candy (with Mason Hoffenberg) (1958)
• The Magic Christian (1959)
• Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes (1967)
• Blue Movie (1970)
• Texas Summer (1992)

Screenplays by Terry Southern:

• Dr. Strangelove (with Stanley Kubrick and Peter George) (1964; Academy Award nomination)
• The Loved One (with Christopher Isherwood) (1965)
• The Collector (with John Kohn and Stanley Mann; uncredited, 1965)
• The Cincinnati Kid (with Ring Lardner Jr., 1966)
• Casino Royale (with John Law, Wolf Mankowitz and Michael Sayers;
  uncredited, 1967)
• Barbarella (with Roger Vadim, Claude Brule, Vittorio Bonicelli, Clement Biddle Wood, Brian
  Degas and Tudor Gates, 1968)
• Easy Rider (with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, 1969; Academy Award nomination)
• The End of the Road (with Dennis McGuire and Aram Avakian, 1969)
• The Magic Christian (with Joseph McGrath, et al, 1969)
• The Telephone (with Harry Nilsson, 1988)

Archive images courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks.

Southern-Burroughs photo courtesy of Terry Southern dot com, where it accompanies Burroughs' comments on Southern's Blue Movie.

Alec Baldwin tells a wildly funny story about Rip Torn in his his episode of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

James Thurber Illustrates Poetry

by Stephen J. Gertz

The four original illustrations by celebrated American humorist, cartoonist, author, and journalist, James Thurber (1894-1961) to accompany Charles Kingsley's poem The Sands o' Dee, as published in The New Yorker magazine March 25, 1939, have come to auction. Offered by Swann Galleries in its 20th Century Illustration sale January 23, 2014, they are estimated to fall under the hammer at $4,000-$6,000.

Executed in ink on paper, the artwork and poem appeared as part of The New Yorker's popular Thurber feature, Famous Poems Illustrated. Each drawing appeared above one of the four six-line stanzas:

 O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
          And call the cattle home,
          And call the cattle home,
      Across the sands of Dee."
    The western wind was wild and dank with foam
      And all alone went she.

 The western tide crept up along the sand,
          And o'er and o'er the sand,
          And round and round the sand,
      As far as eye could see.
    The rolling mist came down and hid the land;
      And never home came she.

Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair,--
          A tress of golden hair,
          A drownèd maiden's hair,
      Above the nets at sea?
    Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
      Among the stakes on Dee.

They rowed her in across the rolling foam,
          The cruel crawling foam,
          The cruel hungry foam,
      To her grave beside the sea.
    But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home
      Across the sands of Dee.

Each original illustration is 279 x 216 mm (11x8 1/2 or smaller). Thurber's signature appears at lower left on the final drawing. Three of the illustrations possess faint preliminary drawings on their versos.

Thurber illustrated nine poems for The New Yorker, the others being  Excelsior (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow); Lochinvar (Sir Walter Scott); Locksley Hall (Lord Alfred Tennyson); Oh When I Was ... (A. E. Housman); Curfew Must Not Ring To-Night (Rose Hartwick Thorpe); Barbara Frietchie (John Greenleaf Whittier); The Glove and the Lions (Leigh Hunt); and Ben Bolt (Thomas Dunn English). They were collected in Thurber's 1940 anthology, Fables For Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated.

Established in 1997, the annual Thurber Prize honors outstanding examples of American humor.

With an affectionate tip o' the hat to Thurber keeper of the flame, fanatic and collector, Jay Hoster, who knows more about the man and his books than anyone alive.

Images courtesy of Swann Galleries, with our thanks.

Sands o' Dee reprinted via WikiSource under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Strange Suicide Of An Early 20th C. Female Rare Book Binder

by Stephen J. Gertz

On Sunday morning, December 29, 1913, at 11:30AM the body of Mary Effingham Chatfield, 42, an art bookbinder with work commissioned by many of New York's most eminent book collectors and private libraries, was discovered flung across a couch in her studio on the sixth floor of 400 W. 23d Street in Manhattan, NYC.

She had been stabbed with a long, slender paper cutter with keen edge and point. On a nearby table a blood-splattered note was found with the cryptic accusation, "Mrs. Howard is to blame for this."

Close friends of Chatfield, who knew her as "Mollie," upon learning of her sudden, violent death and the strange note, presumed that she had been murdered.  The bloody note indicated that Mollie had written it after being stabbed, then dragged herself to the couch where she soon died: the blade had pierced her heart.

Her older brother, Harvey, who identified the body, knew otherwise. "I have not the slightest doubt that my sister committed suicide," he declared to reporters. "I do not know who the Mrs. Howard she referred to may have been for I do not remember any one of that name who has come into touch with our lives for at least five years." He then told of the bizarre circumstances which led to her death.

Binding by Mary E. Chatfield.

For the prior two months Mollie had been the victim of strange hallucinations, pursued by an inner voice that she believed to be that of a woman, one who commanded Chatfield to submit to her will and do what was demanded by her. In her desperation to escape the voice Mollie rented a studio on the top floor of her building in the hope that the voice could not reach her there. Chatfield, additionally, had taken to long, exhausting walks at rapid pace to elude the harridan's voice that constantly chased her. "It may have been that she believed that a Mrs. Howard was the woman who was following her wherever she went," her brother told a New York Times reporter.

What prompted her snap? Mollie and Harvey had a sister, Elizabeth, who, a year prior, had become so stricken by tuberculosis that she was sent upstate to Saranac, then a world-renowned center for the treatment of TB. They were very close and Mollie had given up her work to accompany and help care for her sister, who was suffering and wasting away. The months which followed were difficult for Mollie and when Elizabeth died she experienced a nervous breakdown.

By October of 1913, however, Mollie had made sufficient progress in her recovery to return to the city and begin work once again. She placed herself under the care of Dr.. John E. Wilson, a "nerve specialist" with an office at 616 Madison Avenue. Then the strange hallucinations began with the voice ordering her to do things she did not want to do. Her escape to the top floor and the frenetic walks around the city followed.

Harvey Chatfield thought that Mollie had been making progress; he had taken her out to dinner on Christmas Eve and she appeared to be in good spirits. Her doctor was also encouraged. She was last seen alive at 7:30 Saturday night December 28th.

Her body was discovered on the couch the next morning by a Mrs. Taylor, who had come to the studio with books she wished to have bound. After no response at the door the superintendent was called and Mrs. Taylor was let in and discovered the tragic scene.

Mr. Chatfield said that Mollie's bindings were commissioned by respected book collectors such as Robert J. Colter. Mrs. Taylor, present at the time Harvey Chatfield was interviewed and, evidently, the soul of discretion, said she thought it best not to mention other prominent people who hired Mary E. Chatfield, who was known in New York's art community for many years.

"Miss Chatfield's studio was one of the most artistically furnished of those in the big building. She had her workshop in the large front room into which the sunlight poured through a great skylight. An old spinning wheel stood in one corner, and the furniture included an antique desk of considerable value and an old mahogany piano. On the mantel was a pair of brass candle-sticks of unique design. A complete bookbinding outfit was neatly arranged on the work table beneath the skylight. Off this room was a smaller one, where Miss Chatfield had lived. She did her own cooking on a small gas range. Miss Chatfield was a member of an old Southern family, friends said. She was a handsome woman," (NY Times obituary).

Upper doublure. Note Chatfield's stamped signature at bottom edge.

The binding seen here is the only one by Mary E. Chatfield that I've thus far encountered. Curiously, no reference to her is found in Marianne Tidcombe's Women Bookbinders 1880-1920. It seems that she did not produce a large body of work; I have not found a single binding by her in any major library's online catalog. Yet with bindings by her in the collections of prominent collectors and libraries, as reported at her death, the books had to wind up somewhere. From a family of means, it may be that she was a dilettante in the Arts & Crafts movement, which, from its roots as an aesthetic protest against mechanization during the late 1880s-early 1890s, had, to a large degree, fallen into vocational work for the wealthy. Yet Chatfield was, reportedly, devoted to bookbinding, an unmarried woman of taste, means, and artistic yearning unsatisfied with the traditional, stultifying role: all dressed up with no place to go except shopping, the opera, and social occasions.

While the binding here - for a selection of Rudyard Kipling's verses bound together from various source editions - is certainly attractive Chatfield was not breaking new ground. But she was quite skilled with onlay work, not easy to well execute. Who did she study with? On the covers she has pictorially recreated the first stanza to Kipling's poem, The Legend of Evil:

This is the sorrowful story
Told when the twilight fails
And the monkeys walk together
Holding their neighbor's tails.

The upper doublure depicts an onlaid scene of Mandalay at twilight:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees

The mystery that is Mary E. Chatfield demands solution. I encourage anyone with further information on her to contact me.

February 3, 2014. We received the following from Thomas Conroy, with our thanks:

Both the Mary Chatfield binding and the article are important excellent finds. I can add a little knowledge to what you have already.

Mary Chatfield joined the Guild of Book Workers in 1906-1907, its first year, as a "Professional Member" and a pupil of "Minnie Sophie Pratt" (1868-1901). The Prat sisters, originally from Nova Scotia, were almost the only students of Evelyn Nordhoff, Cobden-Sanderson's first American lady student.  Neither Nordhoff nor Minnie Prat lived long enough to gain any particular skill as binders, but they were pioneers. Miss Chatfield didn't appear in the Membership List for 1907-1908, but reappeared in 1908-1909 with "A. Dehertagh" added to her list of teachers. Adolphe Dehertogh, of course, had replaced Frank Mansell as second finisher at the Club Bindery around 1898, and later worked for Edith Diehl; he had been trained in Brussells and had worked in Paris. Miss Chatfield does not appear in the GBW Membership Lists after 1909. It is perhaps impolite, with Dehertogh in the picture, to mention that binding designers have been known to sign books that were
actually executed by real binders, especially in a French-style context. The name "Bonet" comes to mind....

The story is a bit more obscure, though. The Grangerized Kipling shown here has been published before, in an article of 1915-- one of two fine bindings attributed to "Harvy Chatfield." Mary's brother Harvey S. Chatfield also joined the GBW in 1906-1907, sharing a New York address with her (this was most likely a studio address), as a professional but without mentioning his teacher. He likewise missed 1907-1908, and reappeared in 1908-1909, sharing a new NYC address with Mary, and now claiming Dehertogh as his teacher. In 1909-1910 he added "Teacher" to his listing. He remained a member of the Guild until 1920-21, changing his listing only in address. Possibly brother and sister worked as a team, forwarder and finisher; or possibly this was a binding of Mary''s, completed by Harvey after her death.

Finally there is Rose Farwell Chatfield-Taylor (Mrs. H.C.) of Chicago (b. 1870) who joined the GBW in 1906-1907 as a professional ("Rose Bindery") and as "Pupil of Rene Kieffer, Paris, France." The next year she listed herself as a teacher. She remained in the Guild without change to her listing through 1909-1910. It is at least an interesting coincidence that Mary Chatfield's body was discovered by a "Mrs. Taylor." Perhaps genealogical research might uncover a connection.


The Guild of Book Workers First Year Book and List of Members, 1906-1907. New York:The Guild of Book Workers, 1907. Annual, 1907-1946.

Burleigh, G. "Some American Bindings and The Guild of Book Workers." Arts and Decoration 5 (May, 1915), p. 274-276.
Header image from New York Times obituary December 30, 1913.

Binding images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A 19th C. Rare Book With The Worst Reviews You'll Ever Read

by Stephen J. Gertz

It is, perhaps, the most appallingly bad epic poem to have ever been written in English, comprised of 384 interminable pages of doggerel verse devoid of any literary merit, an opus d'odure that screams stinkburger. 

Introducing: A Nineteenth Century, and Familiar History of the Lives, Loves, & Misfortunes of Abeillard and Heloisa, A Matchless Pair, who Flourished in the Twelfth Century: A Poem, in Twelve Cantos, published in London by J. Bumpus in 1819, and written by "Robert Rabelais the Younger!" Rabelais the Elder, who requires no exclamation point, must surely wish, wherever he is, that Gargantua and Pantagruel squished the Younger under their feet before he co-opted Elder's reputation and committed  "horrible and terrifying deeds and words" associated with Pantagruel but here applied to poetry and western civilization's most tragic love story.

But why take my word for it? Contemporary critics flayed the pseudonymous new Rabelais and his creation.

"Our readers know, though not to the extent which we unhappily do, that there is a vast quantity of poetry, or lines arranged in the shape of poetry, with, sometimes, sorts of bad rhymes tacked to the end of them, and at other times merely purporting to be what they literally are, Blank verse, given almost daily to the world in these scribbling times. It is one of our heaviest tasks to go through a fair proportion (if there be any fairness in them) of these light productions; and we are often moved, though of most philosophical tempers, to exclaim with the satirist,

"'Your easy writing's d___d hard reading'

"But it is seldom that our patience has been more severely tried than by the volume before us. Ten thousand lines of stupid doggrel! Why, the Job or Griselda is unborn who could perform such a labour as their bona fide perusal! A page is a punishment for naughty boys at school to repeat in expiation of any offense, and six pages would be penance enough for the utmost mischief that ever luckless and unsteady wight committed. We would recommend the book to teachers for this use; but we are restrained by the little dull obscenities it contains, which might perhaps do no good to the morals of the rising generation. Not that our modern Rabelais is worthy of the name he assumes, even on the score of impurity: he is equally free from the piquancy and the wit of his prototype; guiltless alike of his learning, his humor, and his genius, and far distant from that grossness which he durst only imitate in modern days.

"Conceiving this book to be as pernicious as it is tiresome, we deem it our indispensable duty to enter our early protest against it, especially as its title and some pretty engravings are calculated to catch the general eye. Burlesques and travesties, to be at all tolerable, must in the first place be founded on a great preceding subject; in the second place, be not too much prolonged; in the third place, be witty; and in the fourth place, form entertaining associations of ideas with the original. In all these requisites this Abeillard and Heloisa is lamentably defective. Its ground work is barely sufficient for a few pages of parody…and could not, with fifty times the writer's talent, be endurably spun out to twelve long cantos. Of wit there is no particle, and of ludicrous association with the ancient tale we can discover no traces.

"…How then could this Mr. Rabelais the Younger hope that his trash could meet with public approbation or encouragement? - trash which has nothing to recommend it, but is as soporific as it is paltry, as senseless as it is tiresome, and as destitute of point as it is trite and unmeaning.

"We do not think it necessary to give any further account of such a piece of ribaldry, but shall subjoin merely one passage, taken at random, as an example of the whole tissue of stuff.

It's mighty disagreeable
Not to be, at all times, able
To pass o'er matters we don't like!
A truth so great, it all must strike.
-But first, our Hero had prevail'd
In Wedlock's wedge to get dove-tail'd
For Louey could refuse him nothing
Although, the ceremony loathing,
Was led reluctant à Paris,
Where for a trifling fee,
They married were - but privately;
Yet it (as usual) soon got wind,
All Paris, being so vastly kind,
Came complimenting now the pair
Which much vexed her, and made him stare.

"Eheu jam satis! - How would readers like to read four hundred pages of such wretched buffoonery as this, none of it better and much of it worse? We claim their gratitude for having done so much for their sakes, and with only the sensation of pleasure this volume has occasioned us, consign it to the trunk-liners and pastry cooks" (The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc. Vol. 3, No. 104, January 16, 1819).

"The title-page is characteristic. It would be impossible for good sense, wit, poetry, or excellence of any description, to proceed from such an introduction, as for Champagne and Burgundy to inhabit the house where 'porter, ale, and British spirits,' flare and float upon the sign in front. Not that we are disposed to pursue our comparison; we have too much respect for our house-brewed liquors to liken them to the vapid, vulgar, and disgraceful stuff which is here summated to our taste.

"No words of contempt are indeed adequate to stigmatize, with dire force, this labored mess of stupidity. We scarcely recollect a grosser instance of the general abuse of the press. Here is a thick, well printed, octavo volume, without one ray of intellect beaming through any part of it: reams of verse, without the shadow of versification; deluges of English, and not a sentence of the language properly so called. The befell, the crier, and the common hangman, are the only critics of such a performance; and we quit the task in utter disgust. The idea of illustrating such a thing with engravings…could never have conceived but in times of unmeaning extravagance.

"Let our readers justify our severity by enduring one extract - better than hundreds of lines in the book.

Poor Portia! when she lost her Brutus,
Wept in the groves of the Arbutus,
And calling for a pan of coals,
She ate them all red hot, by goles!
By which she chok'd herself, 'tis said,
- To this was Cato's daughter led:
Unhappy girl! -"
(The Monthly Review, Or, Literary Journal, Vol. XC, October 1819)

"The author of these verses would fain assume to himself the character of a wit; and in order to persuade his readers that he is so in reality, he calls himself Robert Rabelais the Younger. We must, however, undeceive them on this point, as he does not happen to possess one single spark either of the wit, genius, or vivacity of the writer whose name he has so impudently pilfered for his title-page. As for his poem, we venture to pronounce it the vilest and most contemptible bunch of doggrel that has appeared for many years, having no one redeeming point to save it from unqualified condemnation. It is at once trite, dull, and obscene: and so far from becoming the hot-pressed pages of a guinea volume, would disgrace the penny pamphlet of an itinerant hawker" (The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register, Vol. XI, No. 61, February 1, 1819).

Aside from the fine printing of W. Wilson, the ten delicately hand-colored aquatint engravings are the only saving grace to the book. Designed by John Thurston, etched by Thomas Landseer (brother of Sir Edwin), and aquatinted by George Robert Lewis, their quality stands in such stark contrast to the poem that it's as if Helen of Troy was kidnapped by a Neanderthal with delusions of handsome, or a Dior gown was draped on a ditch-digger.

The identity of Rabelais the Younger! remains a mystery. I suspect that if the poem had been well-received his real name would have surfaced if for no other reason than he could bask in the plaudits. With these reviews, however, he likely dug himself a hole and jumped in.

Can the publisher, J. Bumpus - a canny businessman who began as a bookseller and built his business into J. and E. Bumpus of Oxford Street, an esteemed London department store - have really seen merit in the Younger's work? It seems unlikely. My guess is that the Younger (who I suspect was a man of means and amateur litterateur with the leisure time to devote himself to the reader's ordeal) underwrote the cost of production and Bumpus was happy to take his money and publish the book at no risk.

Many if not most writers are driven by the notion, however crazy and grandiose they know it to be, that what they are doing is great work that the world needs to read. It's a necessary fantasy to keep from quitting during those times when it seems that the work is a waste of time that no one will care about. Judging from the feral exuberance of the poem, Rabelais the Younger! appears to have been in a compulsive manic fugue state during its composition, carried away by the wonderfulness of his own writing: this was it, the greatest satiric epic poem since Pope's Dunciad.

Rabelais the Younger! could have used a dose of Lithium to get through his mania. Readers will need a Valium to get through the book.

Image courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Rosary of Teardrops: The Life of Henry Darger

by Alastair Johnston 

HENRY DARGER: THROWAWAY BOY The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist by Jim Elledge (Overlook Duckworth, 2013, 396 pp., illus., $29.95)

Long after his death in 1973 Henry Darger emerged, first as another curious figure in Outsider Art in America, then gradually, as the extent of his work became known, as a remarkable self-taught artist whose obsessions resulted in awkward, childish, brilliantly colored surreal paintings and the longest work of fiction ever written, In the Realms of the Unreal.

John M. MacGregor, a psychologist interested in the mental state of Outsider Artists, wrote the first study of his work (which appeared as Dans les Royaumes de l’Irréel: le Monde de Henry Darger, from Art Brut in Lausanne, 1995, before appearing in English), stating emphatically that Darger had "the mind of a serial killer" and was possibly a "murderer and pedophile." During his decline into senility, Darger’s landlords, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, hired a neighbor to clear out the packrat’s Chicago apartment and only then discovered it contained art and writing: the distillation of his years of longing and scavenging in quest of something unobtainable. The landlords’ (who benefited to the tune of millions from Darger’s art) only acquaintance with the recluse had been occasional remarks about the weather when they ran into him. They had no idea this soul was someone who had been brought to tears by snowfall as a child.

In fact his whole miserable life was one of complete obscurity. Based on the startling artworks (some 300 paintings found in his apartment), a disturbing portrait emerged among critics of Darger as a sexually frustrated lunatic with a vague grasp of children’s anatomy and an insatiable blood-lust. Now we have a full scale biography, meticulously researched and imaginatively reconstructed by Jim Elledge to put Darger's art in a whole new light. Fortunately Elledge is a writer with a grasp of history, particularly the little-known history of gays in the late nineteenth century, and his discourse is free of terms like "discourse" -- not to mention "reification" or "structuralism."

In “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863), Charles Baudelaire posited that “genius is nothing more or less than childhood recovered at will.” Many artists use memory and reflection, remembrances of things past, as the inspiration for their work. But the innocence and curiosity of childhood are lost as we grow up. Like Balthus, Darger got stuck in adolescence, and the key to Darger is his childhood. So Elledge takes us back to the sordid corner of West Madison Street, Chicago, where Henry Darger Junior was created. His parents were German immigrants scrabbling to raise themselves up to a better life in the new world. Darger’s father was a tailor but, unlike his hard-working brothers who rose out of poverty, Darger’s father was a drunkard, and after the death of his wife in childbirth he became more dissolute and lived with the boy in a run-down shack. Young Henry was raised on the streets. He lied, stole and fought and showed a taste for pyromania.

Various Catholic do-gooders attempted to give him some education but he resisted, slashing one teacher with a knife, and ended up running with gangs of boys who would entice and then roll homosexuals. In school he acted out so much (speaking in voices) the other kids nicknamed him “Crazy.” Older boys and men would protect young Henry, who was small for his age, in return for sexual favors. It was the only route he knew to money and food. We know he was sexually promiscuous because among other things he was locked up at age 12 for excessive and sometimes public masturbation.

Fifty years from now Americans will marvel at the ludicrousness and expense we incurred to imprison people for possessing marijuana. Pot smoking is not a social evil, incarceration is. A century ago the insane asylums were full of people who had syphilis or were habitual masturbators. Spilling your vital seed, your “precious bodily fluids,” as fans of Dr Strangelove know, is a fatal weakness. But recognized authorities like Dr Kellogg (father of the flakes) expounded about the effeminacy that resulted from excessive wanking. In those days a man or boy who jerked off was considered to be temporarily transformed into a girl while his body regenerated his manly essence. Homosexuals were only of one type: men who dressed as women, wore makeup and had floral names, like Daisy or Violet. Machos who liked punking other men or boys were considered normal heteros with a taste for variety. Society thought the evils of masturbation and homosexuality were so great that the only sure cure was castration.

At Jennie Richee, n.d. (detail)

In Elledge's view, the little girls with penises, familiar from Darger’s massive paintings, are not hermaphrodites or freaks — or the product of his ignorance of female anatomy — they are emasculated boys.

Henry failed at schoolwork. If he received any money from his aunt he would be punished as a thief. If he told on the others they would extract sadistic revenge. He did have an interest in history, particularly the American Civil War which had ended three decades earlier. When a teacher mentioned that so many thousand men had died at some battle, Henry said that he had read three different figures in three different books therefore could not agree with the teacher’s estimate. Punished for being a wise guy, he soon shut up. Tales of life in the dark corridors of the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy reminded me of Papillon on Devil’s Island, without the tattoos and shrunken heads, but still pretty vicious. But the “vice, degeneracy and abnormal behavior” exhibited by Henry meant the Catholics couldn’t control him and asked his father to remove him.

At this point the father, turning down an incredibly generous offer from one of the matrons to adopt the lad, handed him over to the State Insane Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, 150 miles away on the prairie where he could forget about him. He was enrolled, unartfully, as Henry Dodger (later amended to Dagett). Henry thought the food was good and plenty, and he wolfed down heapings of breakfast oatmeal. Interestingly the asylum fodder was considered wormy oatmeal, wormy prunes and rotten meat, which suggests that the food in the Catholic home had been worse!

Untitled, pencil & watercolor, n.d., (detail)

The children were beaten with boards, raped and punished in many sadistic ways. One of the guards’ tricks was strangulation with a towel, which didn’t leave marks, until the child’s tongue lolled and they passed out. Deaths from castrations gone wrong led to an inquiry and the newspapers reported the sordid details: a 1907 investigative committee was shocked at the seeming callousness of the hospital staff. The committee reported that there were many problems that needed attention, in particular, although it was called The Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, there were many children of normal intelligence there as well as many adults (transferred from overcrowded prisons) who were left unsupervised after 10 p.m. in the dormitories with the children.

The girls fared as badly as the boys, one was gnawed by rats and lost a finger as well as much of her skin, another died after being put in a scalding hot bath. Her piercing screams were ignored. After Darger’s father’s death he wrote “I was very dangerous if not left alone.” As he entered his teens Henry could no longer face the future in this institution which now consigned him to full days of farm labor. He tried to escape, was captured and roped and led back tied to a horse like a beast. His second attempt was also a failure, but by the time he was 16 he managed to hop a freight and ride back to Chicago. But once there he had no idea what to do but surrender to police who sent him back to the city nuthouse where he had been locked up as a 6 year old. After a month he was returned to the Asylum but fled again, this time going South where he worked for a farmer for a few days and then set off to walk the 160 miles back to Chicago. After a five year absence, he showed up on his aunt’s doorstep and told her he had been cured of his insanity and discharged.

At Norma Catherine. Are captured again by Glandelinian Cavalry

His relatives didn’t know what to do with him, but all he wanted from them was to know what had happened to the baby sister who had been given up for adoption. This was the central puzzle of his life. He couldn’t believe her lot had been as bad as his. His godmother didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, but called on an old acquaintance, a nun who worked at St Joseph’s Hospital, and managed to get Henry hired as a janitor. However, the nurses and nuns all knew he had been in the asylum and gave him a wide berth and any time they thought he needed a reality check they threatened to send him back. He worked long hours in return for a room and board. 

But then in 1911 his life changed. Darger met an older man, "Whillie" Schloeder, and the two had a friendship that lasted until Schloeder’s death in 1959. They were photographed together thrice and all indications are that they were a couple. With some stability now in his life Henry began writing and illustrating his novel in the style of a children's book, In the Realms of the Unreal. Endless and unreadable, it occupied him for the rest of his life.

Michael Bonesteel published excerpts in his book on Darger and now Elledge has gone further to identify sources and point out the parallels to Darger’s own life in the story of the seven Vivian girls and the war between good and evil. The Vivian girls are fairies in both senses of the word: girls in spirit trapped in boys' bodies, as well as beings from an unearthly realm. There are numerous clues to Henry as Marie, one of the characters, and also the fact that he notes that the real author is Annie Aronburg, another alter-ego. He copied out important personal documents into his notebooks but always changed his own name to Annie Aronburg. Later he used pseudonyms, including Dargarius, claiming he was born in Brazil, and as proof would sing a children's marching song in Portuguese.

It was the abduction, rape and strangulation of a 5-year-old child named Elsie Paroubek that set Henry off. As a janitor he would find all the day's papers discarded in the hospital waiting rooms and could follow the drama which unfolded for a month before the child's corpse was found in a canal. There had been a monumental hunt for the girl, including pursuit of an Italian organ grinder and the belief that she had been kidnapped by gypsies and forced to beg. Another little girl, Lillian Wulff, who had escaped from gypsies showed remarkable strength of character and advised the police. But in the end the murderer was never apprehended.

Henry empathized with the tiny victim because it was the kind of abuse he had put up with all through his childhood. Although Henry had escaped with his life, he "understood her fear, her wanting to be back with her family, and what it meant to be raped and strangled. She became an emblem to him of his own abuse." He was moved to begin writing In the Realms of the Unreal. The illustrations were based on popular sources, Saturday Evening Post, the Sunday funnies etc, but were subsumed by Darger into his own fantasy and took on the sinister qualities of torture and disembowelment found in Japanese guro manga today.

A second novel, Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, is even more autobiographical, as Elledge points out, interweaving stories from Darger's life with fiction based on his library as well as his established cast of characters (Penrod -- a readymade boy hero from Booth Tarkington -- and the Vivian girls), but this time set in Chicago, rather than a fantasyland. The hero, Webber George, is badly behaved and mad at God for not making him a girl. (The surname George is common among the Romany or gypsy families but Elledge doesn't pursue this.) Many of Webber's escapades are drawn directly from Darger's autobiography and he himself enters the narrative to say, "the writer knows quite a number of boys who would give anything to have been born a girl."

Creative activity quelled his pent-up rage and inner torment, since "God had made his life a rosary of miseries and tragedy." A third work, promisingly titled The History of My Life, written in his seventies, derails into an apocalyptic revenge tale of a tornado (appropriated from Oz, though Darger had witnessed the devastation of a tornado personally) named Sweetie Pie that wreaks havoc on the Midwest, destroying all those places where Darger had suffered.

We now have several coffee-table books reproducing the remarkable art of Henry Darger and this biography fills in the sad details behind the work: his life of pain and despair, religious anguish and daily misery. (As an aside, all of the works of Darger are marked © Kiyoko Lerner, but this would never stand up in court. Apart from the fact he has living relatives, most of the work is not registered with the copyright office and she could not prove legal entitlement [See U.S. Copyright Law, Involuntary Transfer of Ownership, Section §201 (e)].)

What remains? We know he had a cupboard full of books including all of L. Frank Baum, some Dickens, books about the Great Fire of Chicago, and a mass of ephemera, pictures clipped from magazines to be traced and collaged into his art, which he pasted into old phone books. He also had a collection of 78 rpm records that he played into the night while he worked: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Chopin. Darger would be astounded at this interest in his life. (Even the little victim "Elsie Paroubek" brings up 65,000 Google search results.)

Acres of manuscript remain for the doctoral thesis machine to pick over before we wring all the sentimentality out of one of the saddest lives ever saved from the rubbish dump and held up for our contemplation.
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