Sunday, January 18, 2015

Baron Corvo in the Ukraine

 
Regular readers of some longevity may remember that way back in August 2013 I had a few spare copies of books by Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo and offered to send them out for free on a first-come first served basis to anyone who hadn't read one in the hope of 'spreading the word' and perhaps garnering some interesting responses. I am always fascinated by people's responses to reading Rolfe for the first time and so it's been interesting to hear back from some of those who received those books. Not everyone responded and that's fine but I just didn't think anything of it when a request came in for a copy of Stories Toto Told Me (not in the edition pictured above I'm afraid!) from Ukraine.. at the point of my sending it, there was no particular issue there big enough to make international waves. As you will see from the email below that I received just before Christmas, the book was sent into a peculiar and difficult situation and has had quite a life since I sent it out. Maryna, a 24 year old ex-air traffic controller, currently studying ethnography in Lviv and spending the rest of time reading Robert Aickman and watching Slavic folk horror movies, has kindly agreed that I can reproduce her email in full... I am very grateful for it and I hope you will appreciate it as much as I have.
 
 
 
Hello Callum,

it's Maryna from Luhansk - you sent me Baron Corvo's "Stories Toto Told Me", and haven't heard from me ever since :)

My failure to deliver a proper (or whatever) review probably needs an explanation. Last winter, the situation in Eastern Ukraine turned from unstable to hellish, so one day I had to grab my backpack and flee. I had been living in a rent apartment, so lamenting over a Lost Home was out of question - even though the feeling that I'd lost my hometown was, and is, still there. But the apartment had been full of books. I only managed to get them back recently, having visited the dreaded ex-hometown - it wasn't that bad, even though my Ukrainian accent, acquired after a few months of living in Western regions, infuriated the gunners now and then. I had to leave many books behind - a highly curious Russian four-volume Meyrink collection, for instance - but most of them I carried with me in great bundles like those which ex-USSR smugglers used to carry their merchandise. "Stories Toto Told Me" was in one of the bags.

When I finally got to read the collection, it reminded me of an obscure Hungarian movie, Angyali üdvözlet, or The Annunciation. All roles in it were performed by children: ten-year-old Adam and Eve leave the garden of Eden, and as the subsequent stories unfold, the film offers a pleasantly grotesque reading of the ancient and modern history. The magniloquence of the scenes' progression - there are tyrants, monarchs, revolutionaries (the latter category including Jesus and a pretty fair-haired Lucifer as well) - is subverted by the tyrants' lisp and the knights' and maidens' overdone "adult" acting, and that's precisely what makes the sight so fascinating. It's reductionist to call it a movie where the roles of adults are performed by children: it is a movie, in which the games of children are fashioned to fit the Great Narrations. "Aren't you bored?" - the crucified Jesus is asked. The characters suffer, because their Great Narrator, or their creator, is an ill-tempered grownup, and the games he invents are inevitably boring.
 
 

That's when a parallel to Rolfe's "Stories" comes to mind. The world of Toto's stories is a world where a benign adult, who reigns the kingdom of children, is an observer and an occasional playmate, not a capricious gamemaster or a toy store manager. I am not oblivious of connotations when I call Toto's demiurge benign, and even to a person who is unaware of Baron's biography, some digressions in "Stories" might give a rough impression ("they made the little divel kick and struggle, — just as I should, sir, if you whipped me naked with a whip of red-hot wires, instead of with the lilac twigs you do use when I am disobedient"). There's not a vestige of artificially preserved, idolized Youth - in these stories being young is not a more favourable condition, it's simply more natural than growing up.

"First of all, you must understand that the saints in heaven are always young; that is to say, if you are old when your life in this world comes to its end, you just shut your eyes while your angel takes you to paradise, and when you open them the next minute you are there, and you have gone back to the prime of your life, and so you are for always; but if you die while you are young you do not change your age, but remain at the age at which you died."

Eternal youth can be a damnation - when one's master is an old man, forever jealous of his servants' games. Toto's God addresses his angels as "little brothers" - maintaining the spirit of this delicately mischievous collection. Images of teenage saints appeal to me for various reasons, but mainly because folk-Bible stories tend to get exceptionally weird when they depict young martyrs. I remember being fascinated by a book on Ivan and Jacob, who are regarded as the most controversial saints in Orthodox Christian hagiography. It is believed that a five-year-old Ivan accidentally killed his two-year-old brother, presumably during a game, and then hid in a stove and was burnt alive - again accidentally - by his parents. And our local stories of the rescue of infant Jesus are outright creepy because of his weird transformations: "She took the old man into her arms and held him to her breast. And he turned himself into a small boy in swaddling clothes."

"Stories Toto Told Me" presents a brighter side of teenage martyrology. The naivete of that delightful lore which strips saints of their shining garments and dresses them in peasant clothes, is merged with Rolfe's delicate humor - and in the world which thence arises, cherubini are more impish than their pet "divels". Lately I've been contemplating Pelagia Horgan's article on the effect of religious art (Fra Angelico's in particular) on secular people. Rolfe's "Stories" are in no way "sacred" by these standards, of course, but the essayist's conclusion may be extended to embrace them: it's the artist's transforming gaze that matters. Baron Corvo/"Toto" animate solemn Christian images, and frescoes turn into lusty tricksters and young rebels who are simply too riotous to worship those stuffy pagan gods.

Kind regards,
Maryna

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Faber and Faber Covers: Thom Gunn & Stephen Spender


There's nothing that would much more kindle the flame of my typographically inclined heart than a collection of mid-20th Century Faber & Faber poetry books. The fact that these are by two great gay poets is just an added bonus. I say 'gay' poets but, of course, their approach to man-on-man action in their lives and in their writing was very different. Thom Gunn was writing about gay subculture in poetry with confidence and clarity from the 1960s onwards. Spender, however, had a somewhat more complicated relationship with men. He had several romantic affairs with men, he was married, he spent time both denying and embracing the homosexual side of his character and even changed overtly homoerotic lines in his published poetry as they went into later editions to 'tone them down'. He was a complex man for sure but, like Gunn, much underrated now.

Now, before the eagle eyes among you shout foul, the Thom Gunn covers have appeared on Front Free Endpaper before along with one my favourite poems but him: but not as proper scans. The Stephen Spender, however, I have just recently added to my shelves and they seemed to go so well together I thought I would share all of them.










Thursday, January 08, 2015

Male Nudes in Die Schonheit


More from the early twentieth-century German magazine Die Schonheit which was an organ for the early naturist movement. One of the most noticeable features is the significant amount of male nudity included in the magazine. Throughout the naturist movement's lifetime and despite strenuous protestations that the nudity was nothing at all to do with sexual attractiveness, the female nude has always massively overshadowed the male in nudist photography. The female nude is more prevalent in Die Schonheit too, but the men run a closer second place than usual and here are some of the contents of just a couple of volumes. The genre is a strange one and I suppose it might best be described as a kind of Arcadian meets Beefcake. The photographs of Von Gloeden also grace the pages of the magazine but none that haven't been reproduced many times on the internet and elsewhere. The photographers credited here, from the top are: George Schmidt, B. M. Muller (two photos), Hanni Schwarz (three photos), M Schadewald, Marie Anna Freimut and Rudulf Zima.












Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Fidus in Die Schönheit


I recently acquired a run of the pre-ww1 volumes of a German magazine called Die Schönheit simply, 'Beauty'. It was a haven for Nacktkultur, the early twentieth century German movement which, in large degree was the beginning of naturism and a starting point also for numerous other twentieth century health and wellbeing movements. The magazine was produced by a publishing house of the same name whose other publications were all related to the burgeoning naturist movement. The magazine is packed full of the work of symbolist artists as illustrations and one that stands out among them is Fidus, that is, Hugo Höppener (1868–1948) who gained his nickname, meaning 'faithful' because he went to prison for a brief spell following a conviction for public nudity. He spent his early life in communes and his spiritual beliefs, he was a Theosophist, led him to eventually embrace Nazi ideology. Having said that, the Nazis didn't embrace him back and they seized and banned his work. These images all come from just one volume of Die Schönheit, giving an idea of how prolific he was. He was also illustrating for Jugend and for the early gay magazine Der Eigene at the time.






Vintage Photos: A Selection


None of these belong to me I'm afraid, although I did help the bidding along on a number of them. The first five photos are from the ebay shop of the wonderful Chuck who, God knows how, manages to present desirable vintage photos in some quantity almost every week. You will find his current items for sale here. The last scan is gratefully received from John, a reader of Front Free Endpaper. Rover Scouts were, I'm told, for young men aged 17-23 who wanted to continue in the organisation: apart from the horribly awkward name of the author, John was rather enjoying the acrobatic positions on the front cover! 






Friday, January 02, 2015

Mystery Patterned Paper


This piece of paper was used to create a makeshift dust jacket for a book, I guess sometime in the 1940s or 50s and it didn't separate from the book until 2014 so it did a pretty good job. But it's a bit of a mystery. It has the look of something designed by Enid Marx, but I'm pretty sure it's not. Obviously, it was originally a retailer's paper bag, and presumably they were called "Smiths". It's tempting to think of W. H. Smith but I'm sure it's not theirs as they have had quite consistent design elements in their logos for decades and nothing like this. So, a bit of a mystery. As ever, if anyone passing this way wants to have a guess or has solid intelligence then please do use either the comments below or the email contact link to let me know what you think.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Statue by Stuart Sandford


A little while ago the British artist Stuart Sandford caused something of a stir with his life-sized statue Sebastian, using a professional male fashion model (called Sebastian) in his underwear 'shooting' himself with a camera rather than a bow there were obvious classical references as well as clearly contemporary commentary. At the end of last month Sandford announced another statue, again made with 3D scanning technology but this time fabricated in aluminium and then painted and as the artist himself tweeted, "this time naked". It is a private commission based on Frederick Leighton's 1880s statue, "The Sluggard"





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde: Two New Catalogues


Two new catalogues at the same time! Each is a short list of books related to one particular author, that is, Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde. These are not lists of rare first editions and holograph letters but are the collection of an interested reader, enthusiast and amateur scholar and, as such, the lists contain loads of affordable and interesting material for the same kind of person. Over 150 items relating to Carroll and Alice and nearly 80 Wilde items. The catalogues are produced in digital form only and can be perused here:

http://www.callumjamesbooks.com/carroll.pdf

and

http://www.callumjamesbooks.com/wilde.pdf


Members of my mailing list had advanced warning of these catalogues and if you would like to be included in that elect band next time around just drop me an email to let me know.



 
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