Coca fiends

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The latest post at Strange Flowers details some of the celebrity endorsements for Vin Mariani, the 19th-century tonic that famously blended wine with an extract of cocaine. Those antique ads reminded me that others may be found in the Leonard de Vries collections of old newspaper ads which is where these examples originate. The Victorians invented mass advertising, and were quick to realise the potential of the celebrity endorsement. What’s surprising today is seeing a product like Vin Mariani promoted by Popes and crowned heads alongside writers such as Émile Zola and Octave Mirbeau, neither of whom had glowing reputations among moral guardians of the time.

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Raphaël Freida’s Torture Garden

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The guarded, the cautious, the small-scale, the modest, the well-crafted—such books may be rewarded (in our own time, at the national level), but they are rarely preserved. They are not preserved because guardedness, caution, smallness, modesty, and craft can be replaced in any given generation. What is irreplaceable is excess: Of verbal kinesis, religious intensity, intellectual voracity.

Amit Majmudar on Entertainment and Excess: The Great Literary Audiences.

Amit Majmudar is talking about literature and posterity but his argument can be applied to other forms of art. I find the thesis a persuasive one, especially where novels are concerned, for the way it accounts for those works that manage to survive even when they offend the principles of craft and taste by which most novels are judged and criticised. No one would ever claim William Hope Hodgson as a great prose stylist but the excesses of his imagination have ensured that his work remains in print a century after it was first published, while hundreds of “finer” contemporary writers are completely forgotten.

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Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden (1899) is excessive enough to have ensured that if the author’s other works are reprinted at all it’s because they follow in The Torture Garden‘s wake of notoriety. The moral purpose behind Mirbeau’s scenes of lingering death may have been overwhelmed by its reputation as a classic of erotic sadism, but we’re a long way from 50 Shades of Grey as is evident from these etchings by French artist Raphaël Freida (1877–1942). Given the content it’s surprising to find an illustrated edition at all, Freida’s volume being a limited one published in 1927. The book contained 11 illustrations of which 7 are shown here from two different sources. The impaled figure in the second plate was a surprise since it seems to have been borrowed by Philippe Druillet for one of his pages in his bande dessinée album Yragaël (1974). (See below.) Druillet, like Freida, is an artist whose work is sufficiently excessive to prove attractive to future generations of comic readers and art enthusiasts.

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The Garden of Adompha

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…the growths of that garden were such as no terrestrial sun could have fostered, and Dwerulas said that their seed was of like origin with the globe. There were pale, bifurcated trunks that strained upwards as if to disroot themselves from the ground, unfolding immense leaves like the dark and ribbed wings of dragons. There were amaranthine blossoms, broad as salvers, supported by arm-thick stems that trembled continually.

And there were many other weird plants, diverse as the seven hells, and having no common characteristics other than the scions which Dwerulas had grafted upon them here and there through his unnatural and necromantic art.

These scions were the various parts and members of human beings. Consummately, and with never failing success, the magician had joined them to the half-vegetable, half-animate stocks on which they lived and grew thereafter, drawing an ichor-like sap. Thus were preserved the carefully chosen souvenirs of a multitude of persons who had inspired Dwerulas and the king with distaste or ennui. On palmy boles, beneath feathery-tufted foliage, the heads of eunuchs hung in bunches, like enormous black drupes. A bare, leafless creeper was flowered with the ears of delinquent guardsmen. Misshapen cacti were fruited with the breasts of women, or foliated with their hair. Entire limbs or torsos had been united with monstrous trees. Some of the huge salver-like blossoms bore palpitating hearts, and certain smaller blooms were centered with eyes that still opened and closed amid their lashes. And there were other graftings, too obscene or repellent for narration.

Thus Clark Ashton Smith in The Garden of Adompha, one of the stories in the author’s Zothique cycle which was first published in Weird Tales in April, 1938. Zothique was Smith’s contribution to the Dying Earth subgenre, sixteen stories set on the last continent in the final days of the Earth, and a home to no end of sorcery and cruelty. I’ve always enjoyed this subgenre, especially in the hands of Jack Vance whose later Dying Earth stories show the influence of Zothique, so these are some of my favourites among Smith’s prodigious output. The Garden of Adompha is a particularly grotesque piece, concerning the sequestered garden of the title to which King Adompha has undesirables removed. Once there his wizard, Dwerulas, drugs the victims and grafts parts of their bodies to the garden’s hothouse plants. Virgil Finlay’s cover painting downplays the horror somewhat, and Dwerulas’s supine prey, Thuloneah, looks like a very typical American girl, but then for a story that reads like a pulp equivalent of Octave Mirbeau it’s surprising it made the cover at all.

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Re-reading some of Smith’s stories over the past week, The Garden of Adompha among them, there’s been the additional pleasure of searching for illustrations from their original publication. I knew that Virgil Finlay had painted this cover, one of the few cover features Smith received from Weird Tales, but Alistair Durie’s Weird Tales (1979) collection only has a monochrome reproduction. The always reliable Golden Age Comic Book Stories not only has a copy of Finlay’s original painting but also the interior illustration which looks like a litho drawing rather than the artist’s more usual scratchboard. The most recent book collection featuring the story was The Collected Fantasies Of Clark Ashton Smith Volume 5: The Last Hieroglyph (2010) from Night Shade Books. (I would have linked to the publisher’s page but their site seems to be broken.)

Update: Golden Age Comic Book Stories changed its name then vanished altogether. The picture links here have been updated.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Vathek illustrated
The Vengeance of Nitocris
The House of Orchids by George Sterling
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Odes and Sonnets by Clark Ashton Smith
The King in Yellow
Clark Ashton Smith book covers