Tuesday, May 14, 2019

My Grandmother & the Folio Society

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, my grandmother decided to join the Folio Society. Both she and my grandfather had always had a fascination for books - much earnest calculation had gone into their earlier choice to invest in a collected set of Dickens (which I now own) back in the 1930s.

Mary Maclean: Calligraphy (1915)

When Bronwyn and I found an old art portfolio of hers, dating from 1915 (when she was 21), it made clear her interest in calligraphy and figure studies.

Mary Maclean: Dante Alighieri (1915)

I inherited a number of the books she collected after my father's death, and I have to say that they've begun to fascinate me more and more. For a start, there's the fact that she owned a copy of the very first Folio Society book ever: Tales, by Leo Tolstoy (1947).

Leo Tolstoy: Tales (1947)

My grandmother was a very remarkable person. Born in Achiltibuie on the West Coast of Scotland in 1894, she was brought up speaking Gaelic, and didn't in fact learn English until she went to school - in Ullapool, a day's walk away along the coast.

Mary Maclean (aged 11 or 12)

She studied Mathematics and Science at Glasgow University before the First World War, but was also an active suffragette. She told me once that she didn't mind chaining herself to railings, but - given the poverty of her upbringing - couldn't bear smashing large plate-glass windows.

Votes for Women! (Scotland)

Virtually all the boys she knew died in the war. As a result, she was forced to contract a 'mixed marriage' - i.e. to marry a lowlander and a non-Gaelic speaker, my grandfather Angus Alexander Ross, from Dingwall in Ross-shire. The two, however, did have a number of things in common.

Mary Maclean: Self-Portrait (1915)

They detested priests. Both had qualified as school teachers, but my grandmother in particular hated the fact that the parish minister had to approve your morals before you were allowed to teach in any district in Scotland. And you had to take Sunday School. As an atheist and rationalist, she found this extremely difficult, as did my grandfather.

In search of irreligious freedom, my grandparents came out to New Zealand in the early 1920s. The first place they were sent to was Rawene, on the Hokianga harbour, where they were renowned for having the only tin bath in the district - that is, until my grandfather riddled it with bullet holes while trying to take out a particularly cheeky rat. He was rather fond of guns, in fact: shooting fish from the wharf was another of his favourite sports (you had to get the angle of refraction right, apparently, which he was able to do from long practice in his earlier life as a fisherman in Canada, before the Great War).

My grandfather died in the Second World War, leaving my grandma to raise two boys on her own. She taught Maths at various schools in Auckland: Epsom Girls and Takapuna Grammar among them. It was in her house in Bayswater, with the beautiful glass-fronted bookcases, that we first became acquainted with her eclectic taste in books. By then she'd become interested in Christian Science, but only as a sideline. She remained a Labour-voting Socialist and rationalist to the end. She didn't suffer fools gladly.

She died in 1990 at the age of 96. I miss her: her sardonic wit, not to mention her immense experience of life.

* = originally owned by Mary Maclean Ross

Charles Ede: Welcome Letter (1947)


    Leo Tolstoy: Tales (1947)

  1. *Tales, by Leo Tolstoy. [The Raid; Two Hussars; Three Deaths; Poliskushka; The Death of Ivan Ilyitch; Two Old Men]. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude, and by Constance Garnett. 9 pen and ink sketches by Elizabeth Macfadyen. Quarter-bound in black cloth with red cloth covers. White dust-jacket printed in red and black. 280 pp. 25.3 x 16 cm. (First book published by the Folio Society).

  2. [1948]:

  3. The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, by Thomas de Quincey. 10 wood-engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton. Bound in black cloth blocked with a gilt design. White dust-jacket printed in red and black. 220 pp. 22.2 x 14.1 cm.

  4. Homer: The Odyssey (1948)

  5. *The Odyssey, by Homer. Selected and translated by F.L. Lucas. 16 engravings on copper by John Buckland-Wright. Bound in brown canvas with gilt blocked figure. White dust-jacket printed in light brown and black. 136 pp. 25.3 x 16.1 cm. .

  6. [1949]:

    Lettice Sandford, illus.: Arabian Love Tales (1949)

  7. Arabian Love Tales, Being Romances Drawn from the Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, Anonymous, rendered into English from the literal French translations of Dr J.C. Mardrus by Powys Mathers, 12 full-page line drawings by Lettice Sandford. Bound in full blue-green cloth decorated in brown and gold, endleaves with a design in green by Sandford. White dust-jacket printed in blue-green and black. 246 pp. 22.5 x 17.2 cm.
  8. The Compleat Angler or The Contemplative Man's Recreation, by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, with a full-page frontispiece and 28 small illustrations in the text by Lynton Lamb. Bound in full green cloth with a border of rules in blind; endleaves with a design in grey by Lamb. White dust-jacket printed in grey and black. 274 pp. 22.9 x 15 cm.
  9. *Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities, by R.S. Surtees. 15 hand-coloured plates by Henry Alken. Bound in full red buckram. White dust-jacket printed in grey and black. 228 pp. 22.9 x 15.2 cm.
  10. *The Parson’s Daughter and Other Stories, by Anthony Trollope, selected and introduced by John Hampden, 17 wood-engravings by Joan Hassall. Bound in full cream cloth with a repeat pattern in green. White dust-jacket printed in green and black. 228 pp. 21.9 x 14.4 cm.

  11. [1950]:

    Herman Melville: Typee (1846)

  12. *Typee, by Herman Melville, introduction by Robert Gibbings, nine leaves of pencil drawings by Jacques Boullaire. Bound in full yellow cloth with a repeat pattern in green by John Buckland-Wright. White dust-jacket printed in green and black. 278 pp. 22.8 x 14.9 cm.

  13. [1951]:

  14. The Complete Poems of Emily Brontë. Edited and introduced by Philip Henderson. Portrait frontispiece. Bound in quarter red-brown leather with dark green cloth boards. Dust-jacket. 282 pp. 19 x 13 cm.
  15. *The Newgate Calendar. Edited and introduced by Sir Norman Birkett. 8 leaves of contemporary engravings. Bound in quarter red cloth with marbled paper boards. White dust-jacket printed in red and black. 259 pp. 22.7 x 15 cm.

  16. Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

  17. *The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. Edited and introduced by John T. Winterich. 10 leaves of civil war photographs. Bound in grey cloth blocked with a dark blue pattern. White dust-jacket printed in red and black. 159 pp. 22.4 x 17.2 cm.
  18. *The Sofa: A Moral Tale, by Crébillon Fils [Claude-Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon]. Translated by Bonamy Dobrée. 7 leaves of etchings by Robert Bonfils. Bound in pink cloth. White dust-jacket printed in pink and black. 256 pp. 22.8 x 15.2 cm.

  19. [1952]:

  20. *Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff, by Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Introduced by Sidney Scott. 8 full page engravings by Douglas Percy Bliss. Quarter bound in dark green buckram with marbled paper boards. White dust-jacket printed in pink and black. 155 pp. 22.5 x 13.5cm.
  21. *The Quest for Corvo, by A.J.A. Symons. Introductions by Sir Norman Birkett and Sir Shane Leslie. 6 pages of collotype plates. Quarter-bound in black buckram with light grey boards blocked with a design in dark grey and red. White dust-jacket printed in red. 289 pp. 22.7 x 15.3 cm.
  22. *Two Tales of the Congo, by Joseph Conrad. Eight copper engravings by Dolf Rieser. Bound in grey cloth blocked in black with an African effigy design. White dust-jacket printed in black. 166 pp. 22 x 14 cm.

  23. [1953]:

    Sir Thomas Malory: Lancelot & Guinevere (1485)

  24. *Lancelot & Guinevere, edited from Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, twelve drawings by Lettice Sandford. Full silver cloth decorated in red. No dust-jacket. 22.6 x 14.6 cm. 208 pp. The Presentation Volume for 1953.
  25. *Readings from Dickens, by Emlyn Williams, introduction by Bernard Darwin. Four leaves of plates. Full dark green linen with a vignette in gold on a red ground. White dust-jacket with a design in red and green. 22.1 x 14.4 cm. 164 pp.

  26. [1954]:

    Ippolito Nievo: The Castle of Fratta (1867)

  27. *The Castle of Fratta, by Ippolito Nievo, translated by Lovett F. Edwards, 8 leaves of illustrations by Eric Fraser, drawn in black ink and Chinese white on marbled linoleum. Bound in quarter grey canvas, marbled paper boards. White dust-jacket printed in grey and dark brown. 22.8 x 14.2 cm. 226 pp.

  28. [1955]:

    Maxim Gorki: The Artamonovs (1927)

  29. *The Artamonovs, by Maxim Gorki, translated and with an introduction by Alec Brown, nine wood-cuts by Peter Pendrey. White dust-jacket printed in red and black. 22.8 x 15.3 cm. 282 pp.
  30. *The Discovery of Tahiti, by George Robertson, edited and introduced by Oliver Warner, ten wood-engravings by Robert Gibbings. Bound in quarter green cloth, yellow paper boards with a repeat pattern in dark brown by Gibbings. No dust-jacket. 22.1 x 14.6 cm. 128 pp. The Presentation Volume for 1955.
  31. *The London Spy, by Ned Ward, edited and introduced by Kenneth Fenwick with 12 leaves of contemporary prints by Hogarth and others. Quarter black cloth, marbled paper boards, designed by John Westwood. White dust-jacket printed in dark blue. 22.7 x 14.8 cm. 328 pp.

  32. [1956]:

    Walter de la Mare: Ghost Stories (1956)

  33. Ghost Stories, by Walter de la Mare. 16 lithographs by Barnett Freedman. Introduction by Kenneth Hopkins. Bound in yellow canvas blocked with a brown design. Dark grey slipcase. 234 pp. 22.5 x 15 cm.

  34. [1958]:

  35. A Memoir of the Forty-Five, by The Chevalier de Johnstone. Introduced by Brian Rawson. 8 leaves of gravure plates. Bound in dark blue buckram blocked with a gilt design. 22 x 14.5 cm. 251 pp.
  36. Five Japanese Love Stories, by Ihara Saikaku, translated by William Theodore de Bary, eight full-page wood engravings by Mark Severin. Full pale green artificial silk. Grey endleaves with a design in purple by Severin. Dark purple-red slipcase. 20.7 x 14.6 cm. 160 pp.

  37. [1960]:

  38. Hermsprong, or Man As He Is Not, by Robert Bage. Introduction by Brian Rawson. 10 two-colour drawings by Cecil Keeling. Design printed endleaves. Quarter-bound in black buckram with marbled paper covers. Aqua slipcase. 262 pp. 22.8 x 14 cm.
  39. The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, by his son Ferdinand. Translated and annotated by Benjamin Keen. 11 contemporary woodcuts and engravings. Map endleaves. Quarter-bound in cream leather with Japanese wood veneer boards. Black slipcase. 272 pp. 25 x 15.8 cm.

  40. [1961]:

  41. The Conquest of New Granada, by Juan Rodriguez Freile. Translated by William C. Atkinson. 7 wood-engravings by Harold Bennett. Bound in dar green buckram blocked with a gilt design. Dark red slipcase. Map endleaves. 228 pp. 22.3 x 14.7 cm.
  42. From Atlanta to the Sea, by William T. Sherman. Edited and with an introduction by B.H. Liddell Hart. 16 photographic plates. Bound in blue and grey cloth centrally divided down each cover and blocked with a gilt design. Map endleaves. Red slipcase. 304 pp. 23 x 17 cm.

  43. [1963]:

  44. A Shameful Revenge and other stories, by Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor. Translated with an introduction by John Sturrock. 9 full-page wood-engravings by Eric Fraser. Bound in quarter red cloth, white paper boards patterned with a marbled design by John Piper. Red endleaves. 22.6 x 14.8 cm. 200 pp.

  45. [1964]:

  46. Poems of Andrew Marvell. Introduction by C.V. Wedgwood. Wood-engraved frontispiece portrait by Peter Reddick. Quarter bound in grey leather, green cloth boards. Pink endleaves. Grey slipcase. 19 x 12.9 cm. 184 pp.

  47. [1965]:

  48. Ars Amatoria, by Publius Ovidius Naso. Translated by B.P. Moore. Drawings (frontispiece, three head-pieces and 71 smaller decorations) by Victor Reinganum. Quarter bound in dark green leather, brown cloth boards. Endleaves with a repeat pattern in brown by Reinganum. Grey slipcase. 18.9 x 12.9 cm. 128 pp.

  49. [1967]:

  50. Colonel Jack, by Daniel Defoe, 12 leaves of two-colour full-page wood-engravings by John Lawrence. Full yellow linen with an illustrative design in black by Lawrence, black leather spine-label, black endleaves. Black slipcase. 22.3 x 14.8 cm. 320 pp.
  51. The History of the Great Rebellion, by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, edited by Roger Lockyer, with 32 pages of contemporary etchings and portraits. Full dark blue buckram with a design in gold, blue-grey endleaves. Grey slipcase. 25.5 x 16.1 cm. 472 pp.
  52. Sir Roger de Coverly, by Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele and Eustace Budgell, edited by John Hampden, wood engravings by Richard Shirley Smith (frontispiece portrait and thirty head-pieces). Quarter brown buckram, marbled paper boards, green endleaves. Brown slipcase. 22.6 x 14.8 cm. 160 pp.

  53. [1977]:

  54. The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, introduction by Gilbert Phelps, nineteen full-page wood-engravings by Zelma Blakely. Full green cloth with a repeat pattern in dark green by Blakely, black leather spine-label, green endleaves. Dark orange slipcase. 22.8 x 15 cm. 500 pp.
  55. Ralph Rashleigh, by James Tucker, introduced and edited by Colin Roderick, sixteen full-page drawings by Nigel Lambourne. Full pale green cloth with a design in brown by Lambourne, map endleaves, Brown slipcase. 22.8 x 15.1 cm. 344 pp.

  56. [1982]:

  57. Songs of the Wandering Scholars, by Helen Waddell, edited and with a preface by Dame Felicitas Corrigan, ten wood-engravings by Joan Freeman. Full brown-green cloth with a frieze of Monotype ornaments in purple and gold, pale brown endleaves. Lilac slipcase. 25.3 x 16 cm. 372 pp.

  58. [1983]:

  59. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, by Daniel Defoe (3 vols. - 288, 288 & 366 pp.), introduction by Pat Rogers, with 102 contemporary prints, drawings and paintings. Full brown buckram decorated in gold, map endleaves. Dark red and pale brown three-volume slipcase printed in brown. 25.3 x 18.9 cm.

  60. [1989]:

    Raymond Chandler: The Complete Novels (1939-58)

  61. The Complete Novels, by Raymond Chandler. (7 vols). Introduction by Frank MacShane, frontispiece drawings by Sue Bradbury. From the third printing, Sue Bradbury's drawings were dropped and each volume contained between six and nine drawings by Geoff Grandfield. Full grey cloth with a silhouette of Philip Marlowe by David Eccles in dark grey, dark red endleaves. Dark grey seven-volume slipcase titled in silver. 22.2 x 14.1 cm. The Big Sleep, 184 pp. Farewell My Lovely, 228 pp. The High Window, 204 pp. The Lady in the Lake, 208 pp. The Little Sister, 224 pp. The Long Goodbye, 288 pp. Playback, 156 pp.

  62. Anton Chekhov: The Island of Sakhalin (1895)

  63. The Island of Sakhalin, by Anton Chekhov, translated by Luba and Michael Terpak, introduction by Irina Ratushinskaya, with fifteen leaves of contemporary photographs. Full pale grey-brown cloth with a design in red and gold by Sue Bradbury, dark red endleaves. Dark red slipcase. 25.2 x 16.1 cm. 288 pp.

  64. [1991]:

  65. Coleridge Among the Lakes and Mountains, selected and edited by Roger Hudson, with 68 illustrations reproducing contemporary paintings, prints and documents. Full white cloth lithographed in colour with a painting of Lake Windermere, pale green endleaves. Pale green slipcase. 24.5 x 17.3 cm. 256 pp. The Presentation Volume for 1992.

  66. Leslie Stephen: Hours in a Library (1874-79)

  67. Hours in a Library, by Leslie Stephen (3 vols). Introduction by Jonathan Steinberg, with 35 full-page portraits. Full blue-green cloth with a design in black and gold by Caroline Archer, dark blue endleaves. Dark blue three-volume slipcase. 22.8 x 15 cm. 354 / 360 / 344 pp.

  68. [1993]:

    Sir Norman Birkett, ed: The Newgate Calendars (1951 & 1960)

  69. The Newgate Calendars. (2 vols): The Newgate Calendar, edited and introduced by Sir Norman Birkett, with contemporary engravings, 260 pp. The New Newgate Calendar, edited and with an introduction by Lord Birkett, illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ('Phiz'), 265 pp. Quarter black cloth, brown paper boards with a repeat pattern in black and gold by Daniel Norman, brown endleaves. Brown two-volume slipcase. A photolithographic reprint of two volumes first published in 1951 and 1960 respectively. 22.7 x 15.1 cm.
  70. The Source of the Nile: The Lake Regions of Central Africa, by Richard F. Burton Introduced by Ian Curtis. Full pale brown cloth binding with a pastiche Victorian design in black and gold by David Eccles. Brown endleaves. Map loosely laid in. Black slipcase. 25.3 x 17.6 cm. 606 pp.

  71. [1997]:

    Christopher Hibbert: Italian Cities (1985-93)

  72. Italian Cities, by Christopher Hibbert. (3 vols). Full artificial silk (a different colour for each volume), decorated in gold, endleaves printed in gold to a design by David Eccles. 16 pages of colour plates in each volume. Dark blue three-volume slipcase printed in black and titled in gold. Volumes form colours of Italian flag in slipcase. 1. Venice. Green binding, dark green endleaves. 436 pp. 2. Florence. Cream binding, dark brown endleaves. 398 pp. 3. Rome. Red binding, dark red endleaves. 388 pp. 25.2 x 19.6 cm.

  73. [1998]:

    Robert Graves: The Greek Myths (1955)

  74. The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves (2 vols). A reduced size reprint of the first edition of 1996, divided into two volumes in a two-volume slipcase. Vol.1 342 pp, 12 leaves of plates. Vol.2 357 pp, 4 leaves of plates. Map endleaves. Quarter-bound in brown cloth with image printed brown and black covers. Orange slipcase with gilt title. Each book 22.8 x 15 cm.

  75. [1999]:

    Magnus Magnusson, ed.: The Icelandic Sagas (1999 & 2002)

  76. Icelandic Sagas I. Introduction by Magnus Magnusson. 16 colour plates by Simon Noyes. Map endpapers. Quarter black morocco over illustrated cloth boards with gilt titles on spine. 809 pp. 25.3 x 17.6 cm.

  77. [2001]:

    Richard Barber.: Legends of King Arthur (2001)

  78. Legends of King Arthur. (3 vols). Reduced size reprint. Illustrations by Roman Pisarev. Introduced by Richard Barber. 726 pp and 16 pages of plates in total. Quarter-bound in dark green buckram with printed paper boards. Dark green slipcase titled in gold. 22.9 x 15.1 cm.

  79. [2002]:

    Richard Barber.: British Myths & Legends (2002)

  80. British Myths & Legends. Reduced size reprint. (3 vols). Vol.1 Marvels and Magic, 8 Monochrome plates. Vol.2 Heroes and Saints, 4 Monochrome plates. Vol.3 History and Romance, 5 Monochrome plates. Quarter-bound in dark red buckram. 708 pp in total. 22.8 x 15 cm.
  81. Icelandic Sagas II. Translated, edited and introduced by Magnus Magnusson. Illustrations by John Vernon Lord. Map endleaves. Quarter-bound in dark blue leather with design printed cloth boards. 759 pp. 25.2 x 17.7 cm.

  82. [2003]:

  83. Satyrica, by Petronius Arbiter. Translated by Frederic Raphael. 7 illustrations by Neil Packer. Pictorial endpapers. Illustrated endpapers. Quarter bound in brown cloth with image printed paper sides. 157 pp. 28.8 x 19.3 cm.
  84. Selected Poems, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Edited and introduced by Richard Holmes. 74 wood engravings by Miriam Macgregor. Quarter-bound in dark blue leather with patterned cloth boards. Dark blue slipcase. 372 pp. 28 x 18.7 cm.

  85. [2005]:

  86. The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, by Bernard Lewis. 14 colour plates of Islamic miniatures and photographs. Bound in image blocked red cloth. 242 pp. 23 x 15 cm.

  87. Rudyard Kipling: The Collected Short Stories (1888-1932)

  88. Collected Short Stories, by Rudyard Kipling. (5 vols). Vol.1, Plain Tales from the Hills, Soldiers Three and other stories, 446 pp. Vol.2, Wee Willie Winkie and other stories and Life's Handicap, 503 pp. Vol.3, Many Inventions and The Day's Work, 507 pp. Vol.4, Traffics and Discoveries, Actions and Reactions and A Diversity of Creatures, 574 pp. Vol.5, A Diversity of Creatures (continued), Debits and Credits and Limits and Renewals, 590 pp. 11 illustrations by Philip Bannister in each volume. Bound in red cloth blocked with a black and gold image. Illustrated red slipcase. 25 x 16 cm.

  89. [2007]:

  90. The Collected Stories of Leo Tolstoy. (3 vols). Vol 1 - xvi, 497 pp. Vol 2 - vii, 487 pp. Vol 3 - vii, 440 pp. 55 stories. Translated from the Russian by Aylmer and Louise Maude. Introduced by John Sutherland. Illustrated by Roman Pisarev. Bound in image blocked green cloth with gilt lettering to spine. Illustrated slipcase.

  91. Winston Churchill: The World Crisis (1923-31)

  92. The World Crisis, by Winston Churchill. (5 vols). Volume 1 1911-1914 xvii plus 464 pages. Volume 2 1915 xiii plus 453 pages. Volume 3 1916-1918 xiii plus 474 pages. Volume 4 The Aftermath xii plus 383 pages. Volume 5 The Eastern Front xii plus 311 pages. All volumes include b&w textual maps and b&w illustrations. Three-quarter bound in grey cloth with printed cover. Title gilt printed on crimson slipcase.

  93. [2008]:

    Thaddeus Holt: The Deceivers (2004)

  94. The Deceivers, by Thaddeus Holt. (2 vols). Foreword by Sir Michael Howard. Frontispiece and 32 pages of black & white plates. Bound in grey cloth blocked with a black and red design. Black two volume slipcase. 9½ x 6¼ in. 1064 pp.

  95. [2009]:

  96. The Realm of the Unreal and Other Stories, by Ambrose Bierce. Introduction by Will Self. 10 black & white etchings by Nathan Sissons. Bound in orange image blocked cloth. 534 pp. 9½ × 6¼ in.

  97. [2010]:

  98. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey. Introduced by Ruth Rendell. 8 colour illustrations by A. Richard Allen. Bound in purple design blocked cloth. 232 pp. 23.7 x 15.7 cm.

  99. Anton Chekhov: Collected Stories (2010)

  100. Collected Stories, by Chekhov. (4 vols). Volumes 333 pp; 347 pp; 303 pp; 364 pp. 60 stories. Translated by Ronald Hingley. Illustrations by Laura Carlin. Introduced by James Lasdun. Bound in blue cloth with gilt titles. Decorated slipcase. 9¾ x 7¾ in.
  101. Crusader Castles, by T. E. Lawrence. Introduced by Mark Bostridge. 118 black & white illustrations. Bound in buckram blocked with an illustration by Joe McLaren. 240 pp. 8½ × 6½ in.

  102. [2011]:

    Mark Twain: Collected Stories (2011)

  103. Collected Stories, by Mark Twain. [3 vols]. Bound in image blocked cream Buckram. Black & white illustrations by Roger Fereday. Three volume maroon image printed slipcase. 928 pp. 24 x 15 cm.
  104. Folk Tales of Britain: Narratives. (3 vols). Collected and edited by Katharine M. Briggs. Preface by Philip Pullman. Bound in buckram, blocked with individual designs by Hannah Firmin et al. 25 cm.

  105. Katherine M. Briggs: Folk Tales of Britain: Legends (2011)

  106. Folk Tales of Britain: Legends. (3 vols). Collected and edited by Katharine M. Briggs. Preface by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Illustrated by Hannah Firmin et al. 28 monochrome illustrations in each volume. Bound in pictorial maroon cloth, upper boards and backstrips blocked and lettered in gilt and black. Maroon endpapers. 25 cm.

  107. [2012]:

  108. Chronicles, by Raphael Holinshed. Frontispiece and 90 woodcuts. Bound in buckram printed and blocked with the title page from the 1577 edition. 456 pp. 10.2 x 6.6 in.

  109. Herman Melville: The Complete Shorter Fiction (2012)

  110. The Complete Shorter Fiction, by Herman Melville. Introduced by Jay Parini. Frontispiece and 15 colour illustrations by Bill Bragg. Bound in buckram blocked with a design by Bill Bragg. 528 pp. 10 × 6¼ in.

  111. Pliny the Elder: Natural History (77)

  112. Natural History, by Pliny the Elder. (5 vols). 379 pp., 429 pp., 384 pp., 354 pp., 421 pp. Translated by H. Rackham et al. Introduction by Anthony T.Grafton. 100 colour plates across all volumes. Bound in 3/4 buckram with pictorial paper front. Title and pattern on slipcase. 26.5 x 17.5 x 22.7cm.
  113. Paris After the Liberation, by Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper. New introduction by the authors. Frontispiece and 32 pages of colour and black & white plates. Three-quarter bound in buckram printed with a photograph of an AFPU photographer kissing a child before cheering crowds, 26 August 1944. 448 pp. 10 × 6¾in.

  114. [2013]:

  115. Conrad’s Congo, by Joseph Conrad. Introduced by J. H. Stape. Preface by Adam Hochschild. Frontispiece and 16 pages of sepia and black & white plates and some integrated diagrams. Bound in cloth blocked with a design by Neil Gower. 256 pp. 9 x 6¼in.

  116. Luo Guanzhong: The Three Kingdoms (2013)

  117. Three Kingdoms. AD 168 to 280. (4 vols). Translated by Moss Roberts. Introduced by Ma Jian. 280 integrated woodcuts from a 19th-century edition. Bound in shimmering cloth, blocked with four key figures redrawn by Neil Gower. Pictorial slipcase.

  118. [2014]:

    Appolonius of Rhodes: The Voyage of Argo (2014)

  119. The Voyage of Argo, by Apollonius of Rhodes. Introduced by Lawrence Norfolk. Title page spread and 7 double-page colour illustrations by Daniel Egnéus. Translated from the Classical Greek by E. V. Rieu. Pictorial slipcase. Printed endpapers. Full colour binding, bound in cloth. 208 pp. 10 x 6¾ in.

  120. [2017]:

    William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury (2017)

  121. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. Introduced by Stephen M. Ross and Noel Polk. Coloured text and colour-coded bookmark. Slipcase with printed label. Bound in blocked cloth. 552 pp. 10 x 6¼ in. Fine edition.

  122. [2018]:

    Shi Nai’an: Outlaws of the Marsh (2018)

  123. Outlaws of the Marsh: The Water Margin, by Shi Nai’an. (2 vols). Introduced by Frances Wood. Translated by J. H. Jackson. Illustrations from the Rong Yu Tang edition by Shi Nai'an. Three-quarter bound in image blocked aqua-blue Art Silk with a printed cloth front board. Illustrated title pages and 141 woodblock illustrations. Ribbon markers. Gilded page tops. Image printed light brown cloth slipcase. 880 pp. in total. 11 x 7¼ in.

Jack Ross: Mary Ross's signature (1951)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tracey Slaughter: Conventional Weapons

Bronwyn Lloyd: Tracey & Jack (9-5-19)

So Bronwyn and I drove down last night, after my midday class, to attend Tracey's booklaunch in Hamilton. It was great! The crowd could hardly fit into the space - the refurbished Poppies Bookshop, one block back from Victoria Street - so they were gathering outside as well as in. The drink flowed free, and the catering was splendid.

Bronwyn Lloyd: Crowd Scene (9-5-19)

Here's my launch speech for the book (which - of course - doesn't begin to do it justice, but one must at least try to fix an impression):

Tracey Slaughter: Conventional Weapons (Wellington: VUP, 2019)

I think that the thing I’d like to stress to begin with is that I first knew Tracey as a poet, long before I knew about her short stories. It was, in fact, her feature in Poetry NZ 25 (2002), which really woke me up to her as a writer.

Poetry NZ 25 (2002)

Just reading the titles of those poems now is very evocative, I must say: “Lone Wolf goes to her Reunion”, “Anatomy of dancing with your Future Wife,” as well as the terrifying “Rules for Teachers (1915).”

Nor do you have to hunt out old issues of Poetry NZ to see them, either. These – and many more – were included in her first book, the wonderful – and revelatory – Her body rises: stories & poems (2005).

Tracey Slaughter: Her body rises (Auckland: Random House, 2005)

Over the years I’ve been privileged to see a lot more of Tracey’s poems – as a friend, but particularly as an editor. She’s always been very generous to my requests for more material from her. One of the poems in the present book, Conventional Weapons, first appeared in my guest-issue of brief #50 (2014).

In fact, that whole issue was bookended by two long Tracey Slaughter poems, “31 reasons not to hear a heartbeat” at the beginning, and her fascinatingly disproportionate Victorian monologue “The Box of Phantoms” at the end. That one isn’t in this book, alas, but you can look it up in the issue.

brief 50 (2014)

So while it is technically true that this is Tracey’s first stand-alone poetry collection, it’s very misleading to see her as any kind of newcomer to the game. She’s been publishing poetry for more than two decades now, and it’s high time that we started to see her, like Raymond Carver, as someone equally adept at poetry and the short story.

But what kind of a poet is she? Words like ‘bodily,’ ‘visceral’, ‘grimy and dirty’ have frequently been used to characterise her work, and particularly these poems. There is a lot of sex in them. There’s also lot of desperation, pain, and sheer horror of the void. As Hera Lindsay Bird remarked on the dust jacket of another recent VUP book, Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, ‘it won’t make you feel better.’

But all that implies a kind of shock value: a quest for extremity for its own sake. But you have to read deeper and better than that if you want to begin to understand some of the many things Tracey is trying to do in these poems.

As always, she’s extremely, wonderfully literary. Mike Mathers’ Stuff article about this book states that: “If the collection had an overarching theme, it would be one of giving voice to a group of strong female characters of different ages.”

I mentioned before the long Victorian monologue in that old issue of brief magazine. In many ways this collection is a tip of the hat to Robert Browning’s Dramatis Personae (1864): to his idea of embodying complex and subtle character portraits in dramatic monologues – a precedent followed by his disciple Ezra Pound in Personae (1909).

It’s a mistake to think that poets are mostly concerned with self-revelation, leaving fiction writers to concern themselves with the delineation and analysis of character. Perhaps, in fact, it’s Robert’s wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning who’s the stronger influence here: particularly her wonderfully rich and complex verse novel Aurora Leigh (1856).

Tracey understood long since that to be a good writer you also have to be an insightful reader, and I was particularly delighted to hear the echoes of Federico Garcia Lorca’s great ‘Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias,’ with its repeated refrain of ‘a las cinco de la tarde’ [at five in the afternoon] in her own poem ‘breather’ (which came second in the 2018 International Peter Porter Poetry Prize).

Here’s Lorca:
A coffin on wheels is his bed
at five in the afternoon.
Bones and flutes resound in his ears
at five in the afternoon.
Now the bull was bellowing through his forehead
at five in the afternoon.
The room was iridescent with agony
at five in the afternoon.
Here’s Tracey:
Call your wife, leave a message at the sob. Call your wife, she is learning the hard way. Call your wife, the histology is back. Call your wife, her lipstick is audible. Call your wife, she’s on her third bottle & the kids are starting to look like stars. Call your wife, she remembers the colour of the wallpaper in neonatal. Call your wife, she is talking to you with her head tipped back so you don’t hear the asphyxia. [83]
It’s not that Tracey is imitating Lorca’s heart-broken lament for his doomed friend, the dead bullfighter, but she certainly seems to be channelling it somehow. The love trysts in cheap hotels which occur so often in this collection of poems have become a kind of underlying motif or background music, like Lorca’s Andalusian folk traditions and gypsy ballads.

The mention of music brings me to another major theme in Tracey’s work. She is herself an accomplished rock & roll drummer, and has performed for many years as the lead singer in a local covers band. In fact one of the original titles for this book was ‘Covers’ – which does tend to confirm that the complex relations between poetry and music are never very far away for her.

If Lorca, and all he represents, constitutes one pole of her inspiration, then, the sad, frail, whip-thin and radioactively talented Karen Carpenter might be said to embody the other.

Karen Carpenter (1950-1983)

Her long sequence ‘it was the seventies when me & Karen Carpenter hung out’, which covers almost twenty pages of the book, underlines this relationship in all its dangerous, flamboyant glamour. KC, or Kace, was a drummer like Tracey. Like Tracey she fought the pressure to come out from behind her drums. Unlike Tracey, she gave in.

A single review mentioning the word ‘plump’ was enough to set off the nightmarish anorexia which eventually took the star’s life – and it’s that aspect that Tracey’s narrator in the poem explores in all its painful detail. Painful, yes, but also funny with a kind of gallows humour:
the feet
of me & KC
glue our dreams
like trophies
to the cork-tile
kitchen. When we get
there the cupboards bulge
with Instants
bright in their toxic
brands. Our
tongues are caked
with calories, all for
our mothers’
convenience. You can
just get so lovesick
for puke. [53]
So, while I do continue to hear Lorca’s immortal elegy when I read Tracey Slaughter, I also hear Karen Carpenter’s late, great song ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ – or rather, see the video for that song, with KC’s eyes bugging out of her face, and the jumpsuit emphasising every absent curve.

If life wasn’t like that – if young girls didn’t set out to starve themselves to death in the name of a false image of perfection; if desperate souls didn’t get themselves fucked in anonymous hotel rooms in random acts of adultery, then it might not be necessary to write about it.

Tracey has the courage to do so. More importantly, she also has the skill and the depth of poetic knowledge to write it in such a way that we have to go back to her poems again and again to tease out their corners, work out the angles, learn – each time – a little more about the sheer strangeness and beauty of human beings. Buy this book. You won’t regret it.

Tracey Slaughter