Thursday 31 May 2007

Night Mail

Apparently, at some point last night after all the regular Peter Owen bloggers had left the office a long awaited delivery snuck in through the letter box. This is the first P.O.P. edition of I Live Under A Black Sun by Edith Sitwell. We had been waiting for it for over a month and imagined that it had been eaten by the voracious bookmunchingmonster that apparently lives in our local sorting office but were relieved to find that in truth, as befits a book written by Dame Sitwell, it was merely planning on making an entrance.

This is a cover from the very first wave of Peter Owen covers - with watercolours and drawings, very fifties in style, rather marvelous in their way. This period was then followed by the sharp graphic designs of Keith Cunningham , then they rather lost way during the eighties and nineties before computers started making everything easier - we think that some of our current book covers are beginning to match the tradition started by books like these. Indeed, there is much wistful talk in the office of going back to the good ol' days of small, beautiful hardbacks but there's plenty of market research to be done.

To get back to I Live Under a Black Sun (The web page seems to have disappeared: a job for tomorrow) the strange ambition of the book is summed up in the foreword by E.S.:

'This novel is founded on the story of Johnathan Swift, Stella and Vanessa. But not only have the details of that story, but also the frame-work (sic), have been changed. I have drawn copiously upon the letters of Jonathan Swift; in some cases the language of the latter has been modernised. The story of the dream in Chapter IX, Part III, was suggested by John Aubrey's tale T.M., Esq.'

What hope for a contemporary writer pitching a novel like this? 'Right, what I've done is written a novel about the love life of Johnathan Swift, right, BUT I've set it during the First World War, right, and it's not really very accurate' But the result is magnificent: dark, brooding and beautiful.

In other news, The Dovegreyreader has discovered joys and pains of Anna Kavan and there is a review of Alfred Douglas in this week's TLS. Which I'll try and put up tomorrow.

Friday 25 May 2007

A Reviewer Reviewed

We've recently been named one of the five best publishing blogs by the incomparable Mark Thwaite at The Book Depository. Probably because of all the photos. Not only that but thanks must go to Martin Huddersfield who took the time to photocopy some more Kavan pics as well as some of her short stories published in the London Magazine in the 60s. To answer your question Martin ( no return address) I think that you're right in saying that Red Dogs was never republished. Unless perhaps in Julia and the Bazooka (A fine name for a book, that) whose contents list I can't put my hands on at the moment.

But on to non Kavan related topics. A couple of weeks ago, the Telegraph printed a review of Alfred Douglas: the Man and His Art by Jane Stevenson. Ms. Stevenson professed herself less than convinced by Caspar's arguments for Bosie's rehabilitation. At the behest of the aforementioned incomparable we asked Caspar to come up with a riposte. And here it is:


Although December is still far away, I was reminded of a phrase in one of Bosie’s Christmas sonnets—‘the dark battalions of the unreconciled’—when reading Jane Stevenson’s review of my biography of Lord Alfred Douglas. She belongs to a group of critics who find it utterly impossible to say anything in favour of the poet who was loved by Oscar Wilde.
The phenomenon of this antipathy is not new. Why, Reginald Turner, writing to Bosie in the late 1920s, pointed out that he (Turner) had had to endure much criticism for breaking a lance for his Lordship. Turner is one of my witnesses for the defence of the poet. I was happy to unearth, in the course of my research which incidentally extended over a period of some eighteen years, his testimony that ‘the only real money of any amount that Oscar got [after his release from prison] was provided, and provided lavishly, by Bosie Douglas.’ I hoped that the evidence of Bosie’s loyalty to his incarcerated friend, of his courage in openly pleading for a humane treatment of gays, and of the support he gave to Wilde at the final stage of the latter’s chequered career, would have resulted into a somewhat more balanced picture of the man. It pleases me to say that I have been contacted by some of my readers who told me as much. But Jane Stevenson has joined the band of Bosie-bashers and shows dismay even at the fact that he failed to get a degree! No doubt she would also lecture Messrs Richard Barnfield, Shelley and Swinburne, for they, too, did not gain academic laurels; but I may point out to her that Bosie, while at Oxford, read a tremendous amount of literature; that he was, in fact, a highly-cultured man as is evinced by his poetry as well as by his contributions on literary subjects which appeared in The Academy under his editorship. I refer Ms Stevenson to my bibliography of Bosie’s articles.
The reviewer of the Telegraph raises her hands in horror at Bosie’s ‘irresponsible behaviour’ and cites two instances: (1) that he carried a loaded revolver with him which accidentally went off making a hole in the ceiling of a hotel and (2) that he eloped with Olive Custance without having a fixed idea of how the two of them were going to make a living.
True, Bosie did carry a gun in the months before Wilde’s incarceration, but it would have been helpful to her readers if Ms Stevenson had told them why the young aristocrat had armed himself. He had done so in view of the fact that his father, the Marquess of Queensberry, objected to his relationship with Oscar Wilde and had threatened to use physical violence if he met the couple at, say, a public restaurant. Considering that the Marquess had previously been trying to horsewhip the Foreign Secretary, one can understand that Bosie acquired a weapon to defend himself from someone who was notoriously bellicose.
As regards Bosie’s subsequent runaway match, I may remind Ms Stevenson of the words of Pascal: Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas. Olive and Bosie were very much in love, you see. They acted impulsively, irresponsibly if you will; yet they have my sympathy for following the dictates of their hearts rather than listening to the sober voice of reason. But them I’m a romantic.
In my biography I have quoted the testimony of many who knew Douglas and who had warm words for him, such as Rupert Croft-Cooke, John Betjeman, Alice Head and Bosie’s niece Violet (whom he adopted), to name but a few. Ms Stevenson refers to none of these testimonies as it would rather spoil her caricature of Douglas who, she claims, ‘as his beauty faded turned more solipsistic, litigious and liable to violent reverses of opinion. He blasphemed most of his gods at one time or another, including Wilde and pederasty.’ The comment on Bosie’s ‘fading beauty’ is intensely typical and interesting from a psychological point of view. Bosie-bashers always refer with glee to the transience of his good looks. I don’t know if the physical appearance of these critics is likely to appeal more to abstract rather than figurative painters and sculptors, but few things seem to cause more irritation in some quarters than beauty and charm. Jealousy, as Bosie himself wrote in one of his letters, is, indeed, ‘the most terrible of all sufferings.’ Now Jane Stevenson mentions Bosie’s efforts at one time in his stormy life to distance himself from the deceased Wilde, without, typically, telling her readers why he did so and without telling them that he happily reconciled himself to the memory both of the writer whom he had revered and of Robert Ross who had done his utmost to traduce him (Bosie). The reviewer is wrong, then, when she states that Bosie’s sonnet to Churchill, acknowledging he had misjudged the politician, constitutes ‘perhaps the only occasion on which Douglas, a good hater, made such a concession.’ She is wrong when she claims that Bosie kidnapped his son, Raymond (it was his grandfather who did this), and when she remarks that ‘the most depressing thing about the early poems is the desire they show for the consumption of boys as commodities,’ she is really entering the realms of silliness. In fact (to quote Rupert Croft-Cooke’s comment on a colleague of Ms Stevenson who, writing about Oscar, had made an equally silly remark), this judgment ‘can only be answered by a plural monosyllable which Wilde would never have used.’ Bosie’s gay poems number a mere six or seven, so to suggest, as does Jane Stevenson, that ‘these set the whole tone,’ seems odd to me.
The reviewer does not hold Bosie’s poetry in high regard. Well, each to his taste. I venture to think that Bosie was a great poet, and find myself as regards this in the company of someone whom Jane Stevenson does respect, if only (as she points out) because he got a double first at Oxford; a man of letters who, writing in 1897, described Bosie as ‘a most delicate and exquisite poet—far the finest of all the young poets in England.’ It was Oscar Wilde who wrote this, and I fondly hope that my edition of Bosie’s poems may enable new generations of unprejudiced readers to experience in his lyrics the same thrill of beauty and wonder which for years has delighted

Caspar Wintermans
The Hague, The Netherlands

Thursday 17 May 2007

More Kavan pics and a review

In spite of my telling Jenny Sturm to hold on to her Kavan pics, that they'd make a great book some day, she's only gone and sent some more, Above is Kavan without her otherworldly hairnet. Below are some shots of Charles Fuller - who I believe was one of Kavan's disastrous beaus?. He is undoutedly a handsome swine.

There is another Alfred Douglas review from the remarkable Dovegreyreader. Given the volume of books she's currently getting sent we're amazed and very grateful that went through all 400 pages, going even further than the poetry and into the notes. Although doing so apparently gave her a piquante dinner story.

Wednesday 16 May 2007

Wish you were here?

Kavan's featuring heavily on the blog these days but we're all of a flutter about her at the moment. This snap of Kavan in Bali was sent by the very learned Kavanophile Jenny Sturm (Who writes the foreword for Guilty) ALL THE WAY FROM NEW ZEALAND BY ELECTRONIC MAIL - not quite so impressive these days I know. I know. Much more impressive, and probably immensely wrenching, was Kavan's trip from New Zealand to uk in a freighter in 1942 accompanied by nobody but twelve paratroopers. A wrench not just because the high seas weren't exactly safe in 1942 but because she was leaving behind her partner, a conscientous objector under threat of prison. It's exactly these kinds of experiences that inform her powerful, lonely prose.

And wouldn't you know it. Advance copies of Guilty came in just now.

Tuesday 15 May 2007

Anna Kavan Event

A very brief phone call from one of the most distinguished of contemporary British authors means that we can finally announce some exciting news:

On the third of July, to mark the publication of Guilty we are going to hold an Anna Kavan evening at the London Review Bookshop. Brain Aldiss, Doris Lessing Virginia Ironside and Christopher Priest will be holding a panel discussion about Kavan's life and work amidst a few brief readings - all will be very welcome.

The heartening thing about this event was how willing all these writers were to promote Kavan's work. It was just a case of a round of 'can you do this date, this one? etc.

Monday 14 May 2007

Alfred Douglas Review

Saturday brought a piece by Jane Stevenson in the Telegraph:

It seems that she doesn't quite agree with Caspar's opinion of Bosie. Interestingly, it's not so much that she disagrees with the biographical evidence but with the interpretation of said evidence - Bosie's still on trial after all these years.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

One thing that the Bookfair

brings home is that publishing is a small old world - however big the Transworld stand is. BNO1 did not quite was unaware quite how small until his hobby (Reading and translating contemporary Argentine literature - BNO1 needs some friends) suddenly came into contact with his work life. Having read the Spanish translation of The Enormity of the Tragedy he noticed that the translator was the author of one of the books he was currently reading ( Los Acuaticos, very much to be recommended by what's been read so far) so he sent out a speculative email and got this as a reply - a fascinating insight into a translator's job and also the standing of Quim Monzo on the continent:

'For many reasons, not least that Quim Monzo is a
dear friend of mine, it was a wonderful surprise to receive your message. But
first of all, please excuse my dreadful English. It wouldn't seem kind to me
to write you in Spanish, but I'm only a translator, that is to say that I
can read and translate reasonably well even William Burroughs --indeed I
have done it-- but my fluency is... well, you see.
I did the work maybe more than fifteen years ago, then I returned in Argentina --after
living 20 years in Barcelona-- and I have but a blurred memory of my
intentions and about how I thought then my work had to be done. I guess I can only
help you telling these things:
- As I say, Monzó and I were very close friends; in fact he
gave me lessons of Catalan.
- In very brief terms, he was the first postmodernist, as it
were, not only in Catalan but in Spanish narrative.
- Critics and inteligent readers use to say that, appart from his
subject and contemporary/semi surreal plots, one of the charms of
his books was that they were written in a wonderfully economic, very simple,
almost inmaculate but sparkling and ironic prose.
- I tried to keep those characteristics, but spare Spanish
needs to be a bit less spare than spara catalan if it doesn't want to look
awkward or inexpresive; so maybe I took some slight liberties.
- Quim himself told many times, even in public, that he felt
very well represented by my translations. But, you see, we were friends, so
- True, I felt very comfortable translating his books. I
cannot assure you that I couldn't have felt too comfortable every now and then.
But, also true, as a rule I do my best to preserve the literal sense and the
general mood of the author's writing.
And if you have a momento when you finish, tell me how did you
like "Acuáticos".
[Sincronicity: just in this moment I am translating Hawthorne for
Acantilado, the independent publishing house that has Quaderns
Crema and publishes Monzó in catalan.]
Best wishes,
Marcelo Cohen.'

Wednesday 2 May 2007

Loving Mephistopheles on The Book Depository

The Book Depository - undoubtedly one of the best conceived post-Amazon bookselling projects (It'll be a genre) has an excellent review of Loving Mephistopheles.
Thank you to them and also to the always excellent DoveGreyReader.

A chance encounter with Doris Lessing at the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (A prize which we're pulling out all the stops for next year) last night means that avid Kavan fans won't have to wait too long for exciting news. Never has BNO1 felt more proud than when helping the great writer into a taxi.

Tuesday 1 May 2007

Locus Magazine
A welcome envelope from the States in the post today - the eminent Locus magazine has done a review of Mervyn Peake: the Man and His Art:

'It's always interesting to glimpse the roots of an artist's vision, to see the first stirrings of inspiration and inclination. Mervyn Peake, known primarily as the author of the Gormenghast novels, was an artist first. His early work (at the age of ten) depicted the exotic environs of China, where he was born and lived with his British missionary parents before the family returned to England. An argument could be made that China provided the underpinnings of his unique artistic sensibility, and support for that view can be found in Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art.
This new book by his son, Sebastian Peake, in collaboration with Alison Eldred, edited by G. Peter Winnington [A long winded list of credits, the result of much amicable discussion. P.O.P.] (author of an acclaimed Peake biography), functions as both a memoir and artistic retrospective. Its premise is that Peake was first and foremost an artist who created thousands of witty expresive drawings, sketches and paintings, and whose service as a war artist during WW2 not only provided a valuable record of the horrors of the concentration camps but personally affected him deeply and permanently. During his lifetime his artistic ability was widely acknowledged. However, after his death, Gormenghast became the lens through which Peake was viewed.
Mervyn Peake . . . should help correct that view. It's packed with artwork, offering a marvelous selection of early sketches, notebook pages, book illustrations, photographs letters, and paintings. Among the illustrations provided are samples for his workfor Treasure Island, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Bleak House and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Even in Peake's earliest sketches, dating from his childhood in China, his skill with line is evident. At age 16 he illustrated a series of Walter De la Mare poems for his own pleasure. The sketches show just how confident and expressive his early work really was. This expressiveness would become a hallmark of his later artwork. In particular, his mature drawings and paintings reveal the artist's skill and humor, frequently verging on caricature and cartoon. In his own advice to young artists in The Craft of the Lead Pencil, Peake writes: 'Do not be afraid to exaggerate in order to convey the real intention of your drawing,'

Handsome, respectful and well organized, this book presents its complex subject in a forthright, affectionate manner, detailing Peake's childhood; his development as an artist, illustrator and writer; his domestic life; his service during WW2; the writing of many works, including the Gormenghast trilogy, followed by his tragic illness - later diagnosed as Parkinson's disease - and, after much suffering, his early death. Peake's unrestrained imagination has influenced a generation of writers. Perhaps with this book, his influence on artists will become equally profound.'

What a corking piece - and one can but share the final sentiment. For a start there's nothing in Children's book sections these days to touch Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor.