Tony George-Roux’s Fleurs du Mal

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More illustrated Baudelaire. This edition of Les Fleurs du Mal dates from 1917 but the illustrations by Tony George-Roux have a distinctly Symbolist quality even though Symbolism as an art movement was pretty much over by this point. Baudelaire died twenty years before the first Symbolist manifesto was published but that manifesto named him as one of the leading poets of the movement so the connection is a fitting one. There’s a touch of Félicien Rops in some of these plates.

Tony George-Roux (1894–1928) was French, and if he produced more work along these lines I’ve yet to find it. The illustrations, engraved for this edition by Charles Clement, aren’t the best reproductions so I’ve added an additional plate at the end found on another site.

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Percy Walter Wolff’s Die Vorhölle

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Another name to add to the long list of Beardsley followers, Percy Walter Wolff is so obscure as to be almost completely absent from web records. This suggests that Die Vorhölle: Eine Lyrische Nachlese (1911), a Baudelaire collection, may be the only book he illustrated. The drawings make me wonder what Beardsley himself—who put a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal on a shelf in Salomé—might have done with the same subject.

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The Art of Tripping, a documentary by Storm Thorgerson

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How does this sound? 100 minutes of solidly informative documentary about the use of drugs by artists from the early 19th century on; a production that calls upon a remarkable cast of contributors (see below), with music by David Gilmour, and the whole thing “devised and directed” by Storm Thorgerson, better known as one third of the great Hipgnosis design team.

The Art of Tripping was broadcast in two parts in 1993 during the Without Walls arts strand on Channel 4 (UK). David Gale was the writer, with actor Bernard Hill playing the part of the narrator and guide. The programme managed to deal with a contentious subject without indulging in hysteria or insulting the intelligence of the audience, a rare thing today. Twenty years ago it was still possible to make a documentary about a popular subject without having any low-grade celebrity-du-jour offering their wretched opinion. The contributors here who aren’t medical people are almost all writers of one kind or another; Thorgerson and Gale punctuate the proceedings with a few actors who impersonate various historical figures.

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Without Walls was a very good series on the whole but this for me was a real highlight (no pun intended). In addition to it being a rare example of Storm Thorgerson working in television, the direction showed how it was possible to match the theme without recourse to cliché or flashy visuals. There isn’t a single moment of archive footage either. Thorgerson’s history of “socially unacceptable” drugs is structured as a journey through the levels of a multi-storey building, from ground floor to roof; being familiar with the director’s free-associative working methods I can imagine this being a result of thinking about getting high. Bernard Hill encounters the various commentators in successive rooms, each of which is furnished and lit to suggestively imply the drug in question. The use of lighting as a key motif is a smart one, and another metaphor, of course, for literal and symbolic (or spiritual) illumination. Editing effects are also deployed to thematically correspond to the different substances.

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This would be very successful even without a wide range of contributors but Thorgerson and company assembled a stunning array of different writers, many of whom I’d never seen on TV before, and many of whom didn’t turn up again. Some of them fill dual roles, so JG Ballard is on hand to enthuse about Naked Lunch, and appears later talking about his bad LSD trip. Similarly, Brian Aldiss talks about Anna Kavan, and also about Philip K Dick. Below there’s a rough list of the drugs covered and the people involved. In the two decades since this was made many of the people involved have since died, the director included, so the film now has the feel of a historical artefact. The Art of Tripping can be see in full at YouTube. This is how good British television used to be.

Opium
Dr Virginia Berridge (author), Grevel Lindop (author), Marek Kohn (author), Dr EMR Critchley (author), Phil Daniels (as Thomas De Quincey), Dr Tony Dickenson (neuropharmacologist), Dr Ian Walker (author), Thom Booker (as Edgar Allan Poe), Dr Peggy Reynolds (author)
Hashish
Prof John Hemmings (author), Ronald Hayman (author), Patrick Barlow (as Theophile Gautier), John McEnery (as Charles Baudelaire), Jon Finch (as Gérard de Nerval), Bernard Howells (lecturer, King’s College, London), June Rose (author), John Richardson (author), Margaret Crosland (author), Danny Webb (as Jean Cocteau), Robin Buss (translator), David Gascoyne (poet), George Melly (collector, Surrealist art)
Mescaline
Prof Eric Mottram (University of London), Francis Huxley (nephew of Aldous Huxley), Jay Stevens (author), Laura Huxley (widow of Aldous Huxley),
Psilocybin
Brian Cory (as Robert Graves), Paul O’Prey (author)
Marijuana / Nitrous Oxide
Harry Shapiro (author), Carolyn Cassady (author), Prof Ann Charters (author), Allen Ginsberg (poet)
Kief
Paul Bowles (author)
Heroin
JG Ballard (author), Prof Avital Ronell (author), Hubert Selby Jr (author), Brian Aldiss (author)
LSD
Dr Oscar Janiger (experimental psychiatrist), Diana Quick (as Anaïs Nin), Prof Malcolm Lader (psychopharmacologist), Dr Timothy Leary (author), Todd Boyco (as Andy Warhol)
Amphetamine
Lawrence Sutin (author)
Cocaine
Robert Stone (author), Prof. Annette Dolphin (neuropharmacologist)
MDMA

Previously on { feuilleton }
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Enter the Void
Opium fiends
La Morphine by Victorien du Saussay
In the Land of Retinal Delights
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Demon rum leads to heroin
The art of LSD
Hep cats
German opium smokers, 1900

Vathek illustrated

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Frontispiece, 1815. Engraved by Isaac Taylor after a drawing by Isaac Taylor Jr.

After some time Vathek and Nouronihar perceived a gleam brightening through the drapery, and entered a vast tabernacle carpeted with the skins of leopards; an infinity of elders with streaming beards, and Afrits in complete armour, had prostrated themselves before the ascent of a lofty eminence, on the top of which, upon a globe of fire, sat the formidable Eblis. His person was that of a young man, whose noble and regular features seemed to have been tarnished by malignant vapours; in his large eyes appeared both pride and despair; his flowing hair retained some resemblance to that of an angel of light; in his hand, which thunder had blasted, he swayed the iron sceptre that causes the monster Ouranabad, the Afrits, and all the powers of the abyss to tremble; at his presence the heart of the Caliph sank within him, and for the first time he fell prostrate on his face.

Vathek by William Beckford

The inevitable follow-up to yesterday’s post. Vathek was, we’re told, written in three days and two nights in the winter of 1782 when William Beckford was only 21. The novel is an Orientalist fantasy that’s grotesque and arabesque in the original sense of those terms, very much influenced by The Arabian Nights and similar tales. Here’s HP Lovecraft with a description:

Vathek is a tale of the grandson of the Caliph Haroun, who, tormented by that ambition for super-terrestrial power, pleasure, and learning which animates the average Gothic villain or Byronic hero (essentially cognate types), is lured by an evil genius to seek the subterranean throne of the mighty and fabulous pre-Adamite sultans in the fiery halls of Eblis, the Mahometan Devil. The descriptions of Vathek’s palaces and diversions, of his scheming sorceress-mother Carathis and her witch-tower with the fifty one-eyed negresses, of his pilgrimage to the haunted ruins of Istakhar (Persepolis) and of the impish bride Nouronihar whom he treacherously acquired on the way, of Istakhar’s primordial towers and terraces in the burning moonlight of the waste, and of the terrible Cyclopean halls of Eblis, where, lured by glittering promises, each victim is compelled to wander in anguish forever, his right hand upon his blazingly ignited and eternally burning heart, are triumphs of weird colouring which raise the book to a permanent place in English letters. No less notable are the three Episodes of Vathek, intended for insertion in the tale as narratives of Vathek’s fellow-victims in Eblis’ infernal halls, which remained unpublished throughout the author’s lifetime and were discovered as recently as 1909 by the scholar Lewis Melville whilst collecting material for his Life and Letters of William Beckford. Beckford, however, lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird; so that his tales have a certain knowing latin hardness and clearness preclusive of sheer panic fright.

Jorge Luis Borges noted some of the influences in his 1943 essay On William Beckford’s Vathek:

…I believe that Vathek foretells, in however rudimentary a way, the satanic splendors of Thomas De Quincey and Poe, of Charles Baudelaire and Huysmans. There is an untranslatable English epithet, “uncanny,” to denote supernatural horror; that epithet (unheimlich in German) is applicable to certain pages of Vathek, but not, as far as I recall, to any other book before it.

[Guy] Chapman notes some of the books that influenced Beckford: the Bibliothéque orientale of Barthélemy d’Herbelot; Hamilton’s Quatre Facardins; Voltaire’s La Princesse de Babylone; the always reviled and admirable Mille et une nuits of Galland. To that list I would add Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzione: etchings, praised by Beckford, that depict mighty palaces which are also impenetrable labyrinths. Beckford, in the first chapter of Vathek, enumerates five palaces dedicated to the five senses; Marino, in the Adone, had already described five similar gardens.

Byron admired the novel enough to take the name “Giaour” for one of his poems, and it’s no surprise to read that Clark Ashton Smith penned additions to The Third Episode of Vathek. Beckford’s fantasy is very much a precursor of Smith’s equally lurid and sinister stories.

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Given all this, it’s a surprise that more illustrators haven’t been attracted to the book. This may in part be a hangover of Victorian prudery: some of the novels of the Gothic period remained shocking to later sensibilities while Beckford’s scandalous reputation (Byron called him “the great Apostle of Paederasty”; to Hilaire Belloc he was “one of the vilest men of his time”) wouldn’t have made his name popular among the collectors of costly illustrated editions. Of the pictures here, the 1815 volume has a frontispiece showing Eblis perched on a hemispherical throne like the one John Martin later gave to Milton’s Satan. More of the uncredited edition from 1923 can be found at the Internet Archive while VTS has plates from the Marion Dorn edition. Mahlon Blaine not only put more effort into his illustrations but the content is also far more suited to his temperament; a shame there aren’t more of the drawings online. And it’s a shame too that Harry Clarke never tackled Beckford’s novel. Many of his contemporaries produced illustrated fairy tale books, as Clarke himself did with Charles Perrault’s stories. But none would have been able to match Clarke if he’d adapted Vathek with the same vigour he brought to Faust.

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The Caliph and the Giaour (c. 1800) by Richard Westall.

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The art of Mario Laboccetta

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Tales of Hoffmann (1932).

Another great illustrator about whom information is scant; I need better reference books, the web is often no use at all. Monsieur Thombeau posted the cover to Laboccetta’s edition of Les Fleurs du Mal (below) which had me looking around for other work by the artist. VTS has pages from a 1932 edition of Tales of Hoffmann while more of the Baudelaire pictures can be found on various bookdealers’ sites. As to the artist, we’re told he was an Italian living in Paris, and this French site has a small list of his illustrated editions. It’s frustrating to see that Les Paradis Artificiels is among these; what did he make of Baudelaire’s opium visions?

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Tales of Hoffmann (1932).

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Tales of Hoffmann (1932).

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