Sometimes it is not so much the front of a postcard that makes it memorable but the back. This is a real photo postcard of Maine House of Christ's Hospital School in Horsham in their distinctive cassock school uniforms in 1919. But what makes it so utterly charming is that, presumably somewhere in that line-up is young H. E. Wright who has written the results of his Empire Day house cricket match on the back (and in brackets, his own contribution: 58 runs and 2 wickets) and he is so glowing with pride that he has sent the details to, presumably an older brother, an Lance Corporal in the Army.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Just when I thought I was done with Laurence Scarfe, having blogged about his lovely illustrations for a book called Three Ghosts a few days ago, I was browsing the 'vintage' books section of a local charity shop today and came up with this, Old Dave's Hut. A Adventure for Children by Joseph Avrach, illustrated by, of course, Laurence Scarfe. So now the charity has my £1 and I have another book in the house!
Sunday, March 29, 2015
A Boy in the Houseby Marzo de la Roche
Macmillan, London: 1953
This is a novella telling the tale of a thirteen year old boy called Eddy from an orphanage who has been given to two elderly sisters, a widow and a spinster, to help with work around the house. At the same time, a writer, Lindley, has rented out half of the sisters' house in order to have seclusion and quiet for a year to write the book he has always dreamed of writing. His intention is to keep himself to himself, to be polite but distant from the sisters. Of course, he soon becomes first fascinated by them and then embroiled in their odd lifestyle. The coming of the boy into the household turns out to be a catalyst for the fractious relationship between the sisters to boil over and they begin to use the boy as a pawn between them. All the while, Lindley is falling in love, with the boy.
Eddy is a curious mixture of innocence and somewhat ambivalent mischief. Much is made of a knife that he keeps with him, his 'treasure', the only thing he has from his father, and he has an unhealthy fascination with stories of stabbings from his Cockney roots with which he scares the boys from the neighbouring property. It is also clear that in the rivalry between the two sisters, he is not only aware of how he is being used (it begins with things as simple as one sister giving him a task and the other countermanding it) but he colludes with it. In the first instance this is simply because he enjoys watching their huge ding-dong arguments: later he aligns himself firmly with one sister against the other. Lindsey can see all of this but feels unable to intervene despite feeling more and more concerned about the boy's moral well-being.
For a while, the nature of Lindley's attraction to the boy is left airily unspecified, as it probably is to Lindley himself. We are told that it was something about Eddy's youth and youthful manner that attracted Lindley as though to an earlier version of himself. Also Eddy's vulnerability is stressed by his thin frame and his damaged foot and consequent limp, these things too bring an element of pity to the draw that Lindley feels towards him. When Lindley touches Eddy for the first time however, a hand on the shoulder, the effect is something he feels through his whole being. As the book gets going it becomes clearer to both the reader and to Lindley what the nature of the attraction is. Although it is never spelt out there is a telling passage in which Lindley watches Eddy and the neighbour boys swimming:
"The boys raced into the water, their naked bodies gleaming like wet gold in the moonlight. They looked unearthlily beautiful. Their ugly clothes thrown off like dark cocoons, they had emerged airy, graceful, free as birds. In and out of the water they dashed, splashing each other, rolling on the narrow strip of sand in an ecstasy of happiness, like young animals. Lindley watched them with delight, his eyes always resting on Eddy's agile little body. The handicap of his lameness was forgotten. He was graceful as a fish in his play."
Lindley's own awareness of his feelings for the boy is never fully developed but just at this moment watching Eddy swimming, Lindley sees one of the sisters also watching the boys. The sister does not see Lindley and so he watches her and sees a change in her expression as she watches the boys:
"He had been delighting in the play of the boys, he thought, with the appreciation of the artist, but there was something sensuous in Mrs Morton's face."
There is subtlety throughout this book in the depiction of the moods and colours of Lindley's attraction to Eddy: it is the most fully realised part of the plot and Eddy is the most fully realised character. The relationship between the two sisters also has a certain realism and complexity to begin with but as the story progresses and the great crisis comes upon them all, driven by the arguments between the sisters, a crisis which will take Eddy's future into its maw as well, it becomes a little contrived and the suspension of disbelief a little strained. It is a shame too that Lindley's writing is not more a feature of the story, it feels a little tacked-on and the reader is always surprised whenever it comes up, suddenly reminded that the man is there in the first place to write a book. There is an intriguing moral issue at the end of the book too which leaves one mulling.
This is not quite the masterpiece it could have been but it is a very well written and haunting little book that does stay with you quite a while after putting it down. For a book that can be read cover to cover in three hours that's no small achievement. It is, in it's field, a little known book that deserves to be read more widely.
(A big thank you to John for pointing the way on this one.)
Friday, March 27, 2015
I am just about old enough to remember when Pride marches were demonstrations and not street parties... I am not old enough to have been involved in London Pride 1979. Ten years after the Stonewall Riots in the US, London Pride week was themed on the basis of the anniversary and these fabulous original sheets of stickers that I've acquired recently attest to that.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Two new additions to the vintage photo collection arrived this morning: a delightfully happy looking young man showing off his long-johns and a rather beautiful soldier (sadly unidentified) from WW1 who, although reversed here, is actually on a glass negative that made it safely to me in the post!
Saturday, March 21, 2015
A couple of days ago I posted the colour illustrations from Three Ghosts by Laurence Scarfe. As threatened, here are the black and white drawings from the text that I also rather enjoyed.
Friday, March 20, 2015
This little book has been on my shelves a couple of years waiting for the right time to be taken down. This week I have been working in London most days and so the train journey back and forth has provided the perfect environment for a book of short stories like this one.
Saikaku Ihara (1692-1993) was writing in Edo Period Japan, the time of Samurai warriors and Shoguns. I am no expert in Japanese history and literature but I can appreciate that these were not written as 'historical' fiction, but rather as contemporary observations with a little humour and satire thrown in. This collection of thirteen stories was first translated and published as one of the 12 volumes in E. Powys Mathers' great anthology from the 1930s, Eastern Love, sometimes called The Eastern Anthology. These are tales extracted from Saikaku's oeuvre and drawn together by their theme of same-sex love and romance. The copy above is the 1970s paperback printing by Tuttle.
In Edo Period Japan the dominant ethos of homosexual love was that of a grown man with an adolescent boy, very similar to the pattern more familiar in the west from Greek civilisation. These stories are not pornography, they are charming and beautifully observed tales of devotion, love that makes men do mad things, of honour and of eternal love that continues beyond the grave. The titles of the tales give something of the flavour: "The Soul of a Young Man Smitten With Love Follows His Lover On A Journey", "All Comrade Lovers Die By Hara-Kiri", "A Samurai Becomes A Beggar Through His Love For A Page."
Having suggested a comparison with the model of Ancient Greece there is suggestion in these tales that the model wasn't so strictly adhered to in Japan. We have even in this small selection, stories of life long devotion and of relationships between young Samurai of the same age. In one story, "They Loved Each Other Even to Extreme Old Age", the rather self-explanatory title suggests a relationship well past the boundaries of pederastic love and, whilst there is regret expressed for the loss of youth and beauty, it doesn't stop the depiction of a loving and devoted life-long homosexual relationship.
The stories all fall within what is known at The Floating World genre of Japanese literature of the period, of which Saikaku was a founder and exponent, a genre set in the 'floating world' of urban life, of samurai and merchants, theatres and prostitutes: very very roughly perhaps a 'bohemian' setting. The Japanese word for 'floating world' is also an ironic play on the homophonic Japanese term meaning 'sorrowful world', that is, the earthly plane from which Buddhists seek to escape. That tension between the 'sorrowful' and the 'floating', between the eternal qualities of love and honour and the earthly qualities of passion and bodily beauty is, perhaps, one of the things which makes these tales so affecting to read.
There is a very slight undertone of the supernatural in some of the stories which only goes to strengthen the impression, from the lightness of touch and the lilting narrative, that one is reading a collection of fairy tales. And the collection does not lack for humour either, though it is of the most gentle sort. Beautiful boys are described beautifully in every tale, but you will find nothing much more explicit here than, 'they lay down together for the night'. To be honest I found that rather refreshing to read. Fifty Shades it ain't! If you would like to try something a little different in 'gay literature' that is enchanting without being demanding and yes stays with you a long time after you put the book down, I can't recommend this little paperback enough.
(Whilst we hear there are other booksellers out there, Callum James Books do, of course, try to keep some copies to hand, please ask if we have one currently in stock)
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Laurence Scarfe has been mentioned on Front Free Endpaper before, about two years ago when R and I visited Poole Museum and saw some screenprinted tiles from the Poole Pottery from the 1960s, some of them by Scarfe. He was a Yorkshire born lithographer, mural painter, book illustrator and a graphic and commercial artist. He was the art editor of The Saturday Book and a regular illustrator for The Radio Times and whilst he trained at the Royal College of Art, his longest full-time post was as a lecturer at The Central School of Arts and Crafts.
He comes from the same artistic garden as the likes of Ravilious and Bawden but, because he survived them both, and perhaps because of the necessities of his commercial work, his style moved with the times and his work from the 1970s in particular has a real feel of the decade about it.
This little paperback is called Three Ghosts. As well as the illustrations here, there are also some delightful and detailed black and white work in the text which show more clearly his links to Ravilious et. al., and may yet find their way onto the blog. The three ghosts in question are from three stories, "The Red Room" by H. G. Wells, "Rats" by M. R. James and "The Return of Imray" by Rudyard Kipling. I like them because they manage to be both lighthearted and eerie at the same time.