ER Herman’s Fables

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I: The Persons of the Tale.

The Fables in question are the short pieces by Robert Louis Stevenson that first appeared in a collected edition in 1896. These illustrations by British artist ER Herman are from a 1914 edition that I hadn’t encountered before until I received an email asking if I knew anything about the artist. I didn’t, and neither does anybody else it seems; Herman’s life and other works are a complete mystery, as are his forenames (he does seem to be a he, however, going by a review in The Bookman). I suspect the ominous date of publication may be a clue: Herman could well have died in the First World War without having the opportunity to publish anything else. On the other hand, a couple of biographical entries have 1890–1930 as birth and death dates, although this makes the absence of other artwork even more striking. And given such vagueness, it’s still possible that ER Herman could have been a woman who gave up her art career to raise a family, as my mother did in the 1950s.

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II: The Sinking Ship.

Regarding the drawings, The Bookman review identifies a Beardsley influence which is immediately evident in the use of pictorial space, the masses of black and white, and the parallel shading lines. So too with the treatment of clothing; Herman’s figures, however, are his (or her) own. It makes a change seeing illustrations for a Stevenson book that isn’t Treasure Island or A Child’s Garden of Verses. Fables includes The Persons of the Tale, a surprisingly early piece of metafiction in which Long John Silver and Captain Smollett briefly step out of the pages of Treasure Island to smoke their pipes and discuss the likely outcome of the story. “But there’s the ink-bottle opening. To quarters!”

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III: The Two Matches.

My thanks to Duncan for alerting me to these drawings which may be seen at a larger size here. If anyone has any details about ER Herman’s life or other work, please leave a comment.

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IV: The Sick Man and the Fireman.

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V: The Devil and the Innkeeper.

Continue reading “ER Herman’s Fables”

Weekend links 374

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Le Chasseur by Lupe Vasconcelos who was profiled this week at Unquiet Things, and whose work may also be seen at the Ars Necronomica art show in Providence, RI, until the end of the month.

• “After a morning’s writing, Stevenson would entertain himself with music, particularly the flageolet, which he played so badly ‘people fled from the sound’.” Peter Moore reviewing Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa by Joseph Farrell.

• Jon Hassell’s 1981 album, Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two, will be reissued next month.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 228 by Arma Agharta, FACT Mix 614 by Do Make Say Think.

Yet, entertaining as all this is, in a macabre key, the dead are hard to think about—and, in many ways, to read about. Unlike animals, which Lévi-Strauss declared were not only good to eat but bon à penser, too, I found that I averted my eyes, so to speak, several times as I was reading this book. Not because of the infinite and irreversible sadness of mortality, or because of the grue, the fetor, the decay, the pervasive morbidity—though Laqueur’s gallows humour about scientific successes in the calcination of corpses can be a bit strong—but because the dead present an enigma that can’t be grasped: they are always there in mind, they come back in dreams, live in memory, and if they don’t, if they’re forgotten as so many millions of them must be, that is even more disturbing, somehow reprehensible. The disappeared are the unquietest ghosts. Simone Weil writes that the Iliad is a poem that shows how “force…turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him.” But Laqueur is surely right to inquire why that thing, the “disenchanted corpse…bereft, vulnerable, abject”, is a very different kind of thing from the cushion I am sitting on or even my iPad (which keeps giving signs of a mind of its own). I have always liked Mme du Deffand’s comment, when asked if she believed in ghosts. A philosopher and a free thinker, she even so replied: “Non, mais j’en ai peur.” (“No, but I am frightened of them.”)

Marina Warner reviewing The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains by Thomas Laqueur

New Worlds magazine at the Internet Archive. Not a complete run but it’s a start.

Brigit Katz on breakthroughs in the scientific search to replicate psilocybin.

• The relaunched (and slightly renamed) Manchester Digital Music Archive.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Robert Altman Day (restored/expanded).

• RM Rhodes presents the art of Philippe Druillet.

Fragile Self

Dream Lover (1964) by The Paris Sisters | Dream Street (1966) by Henry Mancini | Dream Letter (1969) by Tim Buckley

Weekend links 234

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The Devil in the Green Coat by Andrea Dezsö, an illustration for a new, uncensored edition of the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales.

• That { feuilleton } object of cult attention, Penda’s Fen, a 1974 television film by David Rudkin directed by Alan Clarke, continues its long journey out of the shadows. To coincide with a screening in London of a 16mm print, Sukhdev Sandhu looks back at a unique drama, and examines its connections to other British films of the period. There’s still no sign of a DVD release although rumours persist. Related: Penda’s Fen at A Year In The Country.

• “One of the reasons I’m sure I found the horror genre congenial is that it’s almost always focused on the body. The body is the center of all horror films.” David Cronenberg talking to Calum Marsh about his novel, Consumed.

• Mix of the week: Antony Hegarty’s Future Feminist Playlist, and Secret Thirteen Mix 134 by James Ginzburg & Yair Elazar Glotman. Related: Nimbes by Joaniele Mercier & James Ginzburg.

• Another week, another Kickstarter: Suzanne Ciani: A Life in Waves is a planned feature-length documentary about the American synthesist and composer.

• “[Marjorie] Cameron’s connections to Scientology and powerful men once drew headlines, but now her art is getting its due,” says Tanja M. Laden.

Jay Babcock found a Hawkwind Tarot spread in International Times for 1971. Is this an overlooked Barney Bubbles design?

• “Tempered in the flames of hell”: Helen Grant on the precursors of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp.

Hawthonn: Phil and Layla Legard (and others) remember John Balance with a special musical project.

Derek Jarman Super 8 by James Mackay, a book of stills from Derek Jarman’s Super 8 films.

• “Coltrane’s free jazz wasn’t just ‘a lot of noise’,” says Richard Brody.

This might be the world’s first book on colour palettes.

Paris 1971 (1971) by Suzanne Ciani | The Fifth Wave: Water Lullaby (1982) by Suzanne Ciani | Blue Amiga (2014) by NeoTantrik & Suzanne Ciani

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Moral Emblems

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Being the owner of half the volumes in the Tusitala Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s collected works I’m not exactly unacquainted with the author’s books but this is one I hadn’t seen before. It is included in the Tusitala set (vol. 22) but this is one of the books I don’t own. The Moral Emblems & Other Poems Written and Illustrated with Woodcuts were published originally in Edinburgh Edition in 1898. The copies here are from a book edition prepared by Stevenson’s stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, in 1921. The 35 Tusitala volumes followed in 1924. Stevenson enjoyed sketching while on his travels so these crude woodcuts aren’t without precedent even if he didn’t make a habit of adding illustrations to his writing.

Emblem books were a popular form of moral instruction from the 16th century on. This particular example shares some of the pious qualities of its ancestors albeit with a wry attitude typical of its author. Regarding a man (“who might be you or me”) who pushes another into the sea, we’re told “And he will spoil his evening toddy / By dwelling on that mangled body.” The verses being written some years after Treasure Island, pirates appear in a couple of places, especially in the last sequence: Robin and Ben: Or, The Pirate and The Apothecary. The final illustrations aren’t as successful as his rough little vignettes but for someone with no reputation as a draughtsman they’re better than you’d expect. See the rest of the book here or download it here.

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The Magic Shop by HG Wells

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The Magic Shop (1964).

I discovered this TV adaptation by accident while looking for something else (more about the something else tomorrow). The Magic Shop is a 45-minute drama directed by Robert Stevens in 1964 for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Writer John Collier adapted a script by James Parish that’s loosely based on the short story by HG Wells. The story is one I know very well, having read it many times, but I hadn’t come across this TV version before. It’s a surprise finding it so close to Christmas since I first read the story in the only Christmas present that’s survived from childhood, a hefty collection of HG Wells’ short stories that I pestered my parents into buying me in 1973. I mostly wanted to read The Time Machine but the other stories seemed promising, especially the ones illustrated by Richard Gilbert on the (miraculously intact) dustjacket: The Sea Raiders (sailors attacked by octopuses), The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (man attacked by tentacular plant), The Valley of Spiders (attacking spiders falling from the sky), and so on. The book as a whole runs to over 1000 pages, and proved to be a revelation with Wells ranging through fantasy, science fiction, horror, and oddities which don’t fit any category other than Robert Aickman’s indispensable label, “strange stories”. The book made me a lifelong Wellsian, and also spoiled me a little when I moved on to more recent science fiction and found many of the alleged greats to be appalling writers. Wells’ prose can’t compete with Robert Louis Stevenson but it’s still well-crafted in that no-nonsense late Victorian manner familiar to readers of Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Design and illustration by Richard Gilbert (1970).

The Magic Shop is one of the strange stories, the shop in question being a mysterious establishment somewhere in Regent Street, London, one of those premises one discovers by accident then can’t find again. The narrator is informed by the proprietor that this is a Genuine Magic Shop, as distinct from the kind selling mere conjuring tricks. The meaning of this isn’t clear at first but while the narrator’s young son is being beguiled by the marvels on display we follow his father’s growing alarm when he realises there’s more to the shop than he anticipated, not all of it pleasant or fun. The story was published in Twelve Stories and A Dream in 1903, and can be read here.

The TV version takes the bare bones of the tale—curious shop, indeterminate location, friendly yet sinister proprietor—and blends it with the nasty-child-with-magic-powers theme that was dramatised so memorably by The Twilight Zone in It’s A Good Life. The Hitchcock show was made three years after the Twilight Zone episode so it’s easy to see It’s A Good Life as an influence. Leslie Nielsen is the father who takes his son, Tony (John Megna), to the fateful shop on his birthday. The proprietor informs the pair that Tony is “the right boy” since he found the shop in the first place, the subtext being that he’s also possesses the right character to be the recipient of some heavy voodoo abilities. The boy’s bad seed status has been telegraphed from the outset by a birthday gift from an uncle of a black leather jacket; throughout the scene in the shop he looks like a miniature hoodlum. More American anxiety about its troublesome youth? Maybe, although the episode ends so poorly that the whole thing comes across as a lazy piece of filler. This is, of course, a long, long way from the Wells story which is all the more effective for being elusive, understated and, yes, magical.

Previously on { feuilleton }
HG Wells in Classics Illustrated
The night that panicked America
The Door in the Wall
War of the Worlds book covers