11 January 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins, 1962.

Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes, Angus Wilson and W.H.Auden. THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS. Sunday Times Publications, London, 1962.

Current Selling Prices
$25-$50 /£12-£25

A book that looks exciting at first glance with some heavy hitters like Waugh and Auden on board, also the cultish travel writer Paddy Leigh Fermor and even a late contribution by the poet Edith Sitwell. Why is this book worth so little? The first clue is the publisher -the Sunday Times- all the contributrions had originally appeared there and presumably they printed a big run of the book for the potential punters. Secondly these collections of authors seldom do well unless there is someone like Joyce or Beckett in there. Even the tripartite SF

anthology 'Sometime, Never' by William Golding, John Wyndham, & Mervyn Peake (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956) can now be found at £50 in super condition although some dealers cheerfully hold out for £250 or more. The 1948 'Why Do I Write? An Exchange of Views Between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and V.S. Pritchett' a slim volume that looks vaguely valuable is also only a £50 note to buy. Lastly the Seven Deadly Sins is intended to be humorous and with few exceptions humour doesn't sell well.

The idea for the book came from Ian Fleming who asked 7 top writers to comment on their favourite deadly sin. The result was this witty book that includes Angus Wilson on Envy, Edith Sitwell on Pride, Cyril Connolly on Covetousness, Patrick Leigh Fermor on Gluttony, Evelyn Waugh on Sloth, Christopher Sykes on Lust, and W. H. Auden on Anger. It is illustrated with 15th century woodcuts.

The star piece is by Connolly, who alone chose to write his piece as a short story. For once he outshines Waugh (who called him 'Smarty Boots.') His protagonist Jonathan Edax is a miserly book collector who comes across a legendary rarity by the nineties poet Alberic Chute ('...that exquisite talent, silenced it was said by some evil tentacle of the Wilde scandal after his third and most remarkable book of poems!'). It is a slim volume - 'The Bourbon Rose,' one of three known copies published in Newport Pagnell in 1886. Edax finds out that the poet, now a very old man, is alive and rushes to his house to get the book signed...

Many readers thought it was some sort of roman a clef but an inscribed copy to the great collector Anthony Hobson puts the record straight. CC wrote:-
To Anthony Hobson and others BE IT KNOWN THAT -Everyone at first tried to make C.C. do 'Sloth' which he refused. 'Edax' is not meant to be a self-portrait...Edax is a tall spare big-nosed man suggested by A.J.A. Symons, Jack Kahane, Robert Briffault etc., His habit of despising everyone (comes) from Wise and many traits from a mutual friend. He was in fact the illegitimate son of Alberic Chute without knowing it. The Bourbon Rose' was suggested by 'The Mickle Drede' (Gordon Bottomley) - see Hayward's catalogue...'
A very fine inscription, the best kind - giving background, inspirations and secret knowlege and undoubtedly transforming a £20 book into a £500+ book.

VALUE? Can be had in limpid shape for about £20, a copy of the US edition from Morrow was spotted at $20, however it was bedevilled by micronicks. This was a new word to me- presumably meaning very, very short or small nicks. Might use it myself.

Meanwhile I would like to find Gordon Bottomley's 'The Mickle Drede' a great nineties rarity. Bottomley (sometimes pronounced Bumley) published his first collection of poetry, The Mickle Drede and Other Verses, in Kendal in 1896 but later attempted to destroy all copies of this book, which he considered to be immature. There are 5 copies at COPAC so he missed a few. Always a steady but unsensational seller this is obviously the black tulip of Bottomley's oeuvre and Connolly probably refers to it as an example of a notorious nineties rarity. Value? Being from Kendal it may be worth a mint. It has to be three figures but certainly not four--Bottomley is a determinedly minor writer. However there are some very well heeled collectors of nineties verse who may not have the book.

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