I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The anti-incunabulum

Julia writes enthusiastically about Dorothy Sayers’ crime novel Gaudy Night and I hoik out my copy to jog my mind. It’s like a time machine. I’m back in that bleak period after the war (WW2 not those backyard scraps like Korea) when Britain’s deprivations seemed to get worse and worse. Bread rationing, yet.

Plus paper rationing. Books were published but not the sort people moon about romantically these days. Open the cover and you saw the title page, on the back of which was the publishing history plus the copyright line. The next page (in effect p.3) you could start reading. Top, bottom and side margins were about half-an-inch wide and the paper was already turning brown. I had a perfect example, G. W. Stonier’s Shaving Through The Blitz, a collection of New Statesman articles, but it seems it’s disappeared. Stolen, perhaps, after it turned into an antique.

Gaudy Night was published in 1935, my birth year, and my impression is the nineteenth published in 1955. Same narrow margins, same brown pages despite the fact paper was by then freely available. But Victor Gollancz, the publisher, was famously stingy; ten years after WW2 he was still selling economy editions.

A closer glance at the publishing history (You don’t think I just read the story, do you?) reveals the book was re-set in 1948. Which probably means you’d have needed a magnifying glass before then. And look at that dust jacket: a salade of typefaces, unforgivable quotes round Lord Peter, and the word cheap from a guy who thought euphemisms were cheap.

I shouldn’t complain. Sir V (he was later knighted) gave us low cost books from good authors. But so did Penguin yet their books, even though paperback, didn’t look cheap. Am I too picky? Of course I am.


Joe Hyam said...

I am not sure that I am tempted to return to Dorothy Sayers detective stories, which I used to read and greatly enjoy in green covered Penguins, only because there is so much else to read, but I do regularly return to Dorothy Sayers translation of Dante (among others), which has much to commend it.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: You will remember in The Years With Ross Thurber describes Ross bursting through his door and asking: "Is Moby Dick the fella or the whale?" I have a similar problem with Dante.

I first came upon D in my youth, when my needs were much easier to define. The name seemed epicene and all I wanted to know was whether D was a fella or - well, not quite a whale - a woman? Immediately adjacent to this seminal reference, and in a book that could definitely described as "improving", was a painting which might have been pre-Raphaelite of two delicious young things lingering in the vicinity of a five-foot high wall covered with climbing roses. I assumed that one of these was D but wasn't sure.

Since then I have seen other paintings, mainly etchings, which have positively identified D but have left the gender issue unclear. Since the flowing clothes are ambiguous the problem has to do with headgear: that of a person who has just had a shower and temporarily shrouded the head in a towel. If you watch your Kindle this puzzle continues to be propagated in the gallery of literary giants that tell you your battery is being saved.

The fact that the name D is associated with Beatrice doesn't help since I assume that same-sex love was occcurring in those distant times. You could say I had fallen at the first hurdle and I would have to agree.

I admire and envy your willingess to read new stuff, me, I can't stand the strain as I explain in the first para of my previous post, Titled classes' vade mecum - clumsily titled but with direct link to DLS in her non-Dantesque mode.