Sculptured Melodies by Mera Sett

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Another week, another link to the Internet Archive. It’s hard to resist reporting these discoveries when so many are either surprising, much-needed, or—as in this case—fantastically rare and obscure. Sculptured Melodies (1922) was a book of short stories published privately in Britain in an edition of 500 copies. The possibly pseudonymous author and illustrator, Mera Sett, is so off the map that almost all the available information seems to derive from a series of posts about the book by John Hirschhorn Smith of Side Real Press. (The Internet Archive scan is also from Smith’s own copy of the book.) Each story is inspired by a piece of music, and written “in a decadent style reminiscent of Pierre Louÿs”; Orientalist or Ancient World exotica is the predominant tone.

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Whoever the author was, he (it does at least seem to be a he) illustrated his stories in the post-Beardsley idiom that continued to a feature of publishing in the 1920s. The drawings are very much the work of an enthusiastic amateur, although the same might be said of Sett’s better-known contemporary, Alastair (Hans Henning Voigt), another follower in Beardsley’s wake who compensated for his uneven figure drawing with copious decoration and outrageous costumes. Sett also uses decoration to disguise his shortcomings, borrowing some of Aubrey’s Japonisme peacocks along with other motifs from Persian and Indian art. The latter details suggest an unexplored artistic avenue that blends Beardsley’s black-and-white style with the tableaux of Persian miniatures.

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