23 September 2011

Hope Mirrlees

Hope Mirrlees. PARIS. Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1919 ( ie 1920)
Current Prices-- up to $8000

The rediscovery of the Scottish writer Hope Mirrlees (1887 – 1978) is, I feel, principally due to the merits of her one masterpiece, the long poem Paris, which the Woolfs published in 1920. Only 175 copies of the 600 line poem were produced, which means that it now belongs with Pound’s early privately printed work as a true rara avis of modernism. At present, one dealer has a superb copy for $8,000. Predictably, critics today use the modish term ‘psychogeographical ‘ to describe the poem, which is a daring, impressionistic tour in French and English through the French capital and has been described as the ‘ missing link between French avant-garde poetry and The Waste Land.' The stylistic parallels are obvious, and the influences of Pound and other Imagists, are noticeable too:-

A red stud in the button-hole of his frock-coat
The obscene conjugal tutoiment
Mais, c’est logique
The Esprit de Francais is leaning over him

Hot indiarubber
Poudre de riz
Algerian tobacco

Monsieur Jourdain in the blue and red of the Zouaves
Is premier danseur in the Ballet Turque
‘Ya bon
Mama mouchi…

And so on. Paris is undoubtably a brilliant debut and deserved the care and attention that the Woolfs devoted to it. The paper for the covers, for instance, is the same paper used as endpapers on the first edition of Jacob’s Room. Virginia Woolf hand-set the proofs herself and hand-corrected the final copies. From her diaries it would seem that the novelist/publisher regarded her brilliant, multi-lingual, young protégé, whose family fortune derived from diesel and sugar, with a mixture of admiration and disdain. She was:

‘ a very self-conscious, willful, prickly and perverse young woman, rather conspicuously well-dressed and pretty, with a view of her own about books and style, an aristocratic and conservative tendency in opinion & a corresponding taste for the beautiful & elaborate in literature ‘ .

Oddly, Eliot himself has little or anything to say of Paris, at least in his published letters of the period, although he came to know Mirrlees well in later years and indeed wrote portions of The Four Quartets at her home at Shamley Green, Surrey. The early twenties was a productive period for Mirrlees. Paris was followed by a novel, The Counterplot (1925), then came The Book of the Bear (1926), a series of translations of tales from the Russian which she produced with Jane Harrison, with whom she shared her life for many years. In the same year appeared the book which has gained her a cult following. Lud in the Mist has been described by Neil Gaiman as ‘one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written ‘ and also a ‘reconciliation of the fantastic and the mundane’. Others have compared it to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and more pointedly to the work of Tolkien, who may well have been influenced by it - there are definite similarities in style and characterisation. There are themes—notably relating to how imagination is related to reality-- that resound more strongly in today’s climate than they did in Mirrlees’s own era. Its reprinting ( without the author’s consent) in 1970 introduced it to the Flower-Power generation and its popularity has slowly increased ever since. At present, copies of the novel in paperback are easy to find online at sensible prices, though no copy of the first 1926 English edition is presently on ABE. There are, however a few copies of the first American edition ranging in price from $500 to $1,200.

After Harrison’s death in 1928 Mirrlees’s productivity suddenly slumped to almost nothing. Protected by her family’s wealth, she was able to pursue her literary and other interests as a virtual recluse, without fear of penury, though in the fifty years left to her she published only one other book, A Fly in Amber ( 1962), which is a biography of the remarkable Elizabethan antiquarian and book collector Sir Robert Cotton. Copies of this are easily and cheaply available on ABE. Mirrlees died in 1978.

For those interested in twentieth century women’s writing, it may be instructive to compare and contrast the life and work of the privileged Mirrlees with that of the impoverished Charlotte Mew, though their work was markedly different in style and scope. Both were publishing in the same era, were equally determined and strong in their different ways, and both women braved convention in their sexual orientation. Following the publication of the penurious and tragic Mew’s Collected Poems, we are very soon to have from Carcanet the Collected Poems of the only slightly more prolific Mirrlees. Paris does, of course, feature largely in this collection, but for those who would prefer to read the poem in facsimile, the Pegana Press have recently published an edition of 50 numbered copies at £375. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. The price of $8000 may be toppish but It is certainly a 4 figure book. I sold one a decade back in the hundreds -probably a routine copy, it went to a Hogarth Press completist and it is likely to be the Hogarth connection that drives up the price. It is one of the handful of 'stoppers' when it comes to building a Hogarth collection although it is not nearly as rare as 'Poems by C.N. Sidney Woolf' (1918) which on this reckoning must hit $10000! Woolmer notes that most copies of 'Paris' have 2 short hand-written corrections by Virginia Woolf (pages 3 and 22.)

A good book came out in 2009 about Hope by Michael Swanwick 'Hope in the Mist' -- it has sold out (that's the author above placing a rose on her grave.) I got my copy through selling the author's agent a Mirrlees letter (to Raymond Mortimer) at a slightly reduced price. Sadly it is not the one of 30 signed by the author and Neil Gaiman and the fantasy artist Charles Vess. There were also 5 copies lettered A - E for presentation-- hand bound in iridescent ripe plum silk with chartreuse cloth covered slipcase. You could not miss one of those. By the way 'Paris' is a small book less than 6 inches high - look out for the red blue and gold diamond design...

18 September 2011

Some help with Self-Help books 2

Most philosophers, avatars and gurus can be plundered for a self-help book (eg 'Jesus my CEO') but from the many thousands of self help books produced only a few have reaped the whirlwind-- Tolle, Robbins, Peck, Canfield, Thomas Moore, Rhonda Byrne, Orison Swett Marden, Helen Hayes, Shakti Gawain, Deepak Chopra etc., See below for Private Eye's take on the failed self-help writer.

Jeremy Bentham, much concerned with the pursuit of happiness  and not short on good wordly advice ('Reputation is the road to power...') might be a good basis for a useful self-help tome. I recently came across an auction catalogue from 1977 where someone paid £350 for a signed  autograph quotation from the great Utilitarian-- "The only way to be comfortable is to make those who are about you love you./The only way to make those who are about you love you is to appear to love them./The only way to appear to love them is to love them in effect, & act accordingly." Not unrelated to the current notion 'fake it to make it...' He said this more than once and in several ways. He was also not shy in asking advice from others-- in another auction 25 years ago someone paid £850 for a long letter from Bentham to one J. Reeves "...asking for help in disentangling himself from a former mistress.' Another soundbite from JB--'Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. ... They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think.'

The Benthamite records could be multiplied several times for current values. This year at auction in Los Angeles someone paid £8500 for a self-help book annotated by Michael Jackson. It was The 48 Laws Of Power by Robert Greene (Viking 1998) and without the Prince of Pop's marginal notes it can be bought for less than £1. Bonham's catalogue entry goes thus:

"... a number of pages with passages underlined and annotated in various pens by Michael, providing an insight into his view of the world, with comments such as 'Make yourself respected, a God Demands Worship' and 'No more talking silence is more powerful', and 'you create your own circumstances even in the manner in which you are treated and looked upon', and 'deer are special because they hide if they walked the streets like dogs no one would care' + 'the moon comes every night so people don't care to look to the heavens Haleys Comet,the fact it comes once in a lifetime makes it important...'
The book can be downloaded as an app for 50 pence. Not willing to buy a copy for 1p + £2.80 postage I went for this option and it duly appeared abridged as 48 soundbites on my cellphone. A useful work, somewhat cynical and ruthless for a self help book with ideas taken from Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Gracian, Talleyrand, Bismarck and also various 'con artists.' It is really for one aspiring to wealth and fame and it is odd that Michael was so jazzed by it. The author has gone on to write the 50th Law (10 lessons in Fearlessness) with a rapper named 50 pence.

His lawyer Bob Sanger is on record as saying '..he loved to read. He had over 10,000 books at his house.' At one session in an LA bookstore he spent $6,000 on books and allowed anyone in his group to take books. Unsurprisingly, the members of his entourage were not excited by this kind offer...

To be continued--Self-help sleepers ('books that look like nothing'), Wayne Dyer's library sold on Ebay and Samuel Smiles on so-called 'winners' ('...riches are no proof whatever of moral worth; and their glitter often serves only to draw attention to the worthlessness of their possessor, as the glowworm's light reveals the grub.' )

14 September 2011

Sven Berlin, The Dark Monarch 1962

Sven Berlin. The Dark Monarch: a Portrait from Within. The Galley Press, London 1962.

Current Selling Prices
$400+ /£250+

‘ I have sealed between two boards the names of folk I knew in Cornwall to be opened on my 100th birthday, September 14th 2011 ‘.

The words of Sven Berlin in 1998 regarding a legendary rarity and one of the most scandalous art books of the twentieth century. The Dark Monarch appeared a few years after Berlin (1911 – 1999) had left St Ives, where he had lived in an artistic community that included Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach, Ben Nicholson, Bryan Winter, Alfred Wallis, Roger Hilton, Terry Frost and Arthur Caddick. It was a satire on the behaviour of some of these characters and was written perhaps in revenge for the way in which he as a figurative painter and sculptor had been snubbed by some of the adherents of abstraction. Berlin’s error was to assume that his enemies would not recognise themselves in the ‘fictional' characters of the supposed novel. Perhaps he also felt that they wouldn’t have the money or energy to file lawsuits. But he was wrong. Berlin had portrayed the artists almost unaltered. They recognised themselves and Arthur Caddick, a close friend, was the first of four who filed for libel. The suit was settled out of court and Berlin lost £7,500 in damages. Not only that, but the court requested the return of any books sent to bookshops. Even those copies that had been sold were requested to be returned to the publisher. Luckily, the British book buyer doesn’t take too kindly to being told by a court that the ‘libellous ‘book they’ve bought must be destroyed. So, of the 575 copies of the Dark Monarch that had been sold or reserved , ‘no more than 100 copies escaped ‘ (according to one dealer ), and it is likely that most of these ended up in the bookshelves of many free-thinking north Cornish art lovers.

Berlin, nevertheless, was financially ruined by the action and was affected by his experience for the rest of his life. He became paranoid and only revisited St Ives once in 40 years. After a peripatetic existence he ended up in rural Dorset, where he died in 1999. But on the issue of The Dark Monarch he remained unrepentant up to the end. He insisted that his novel was a work of the imagination, rather than a factual document. He insisted that he had created real characters that belonged ’ to the world of imagination: who triggered them does not matter ‘.

Following the order for the scandalous novel to be withdrawn it became an instant collector’s item, especially in and around St Ives. Copies were paraded around; some changed hands for many times the cover price. Berlin himself, it would seem, died owning just a single copy, presumably because he gave away some of his complimentary copies to friends and relatives before the edition had been recalled. With the coming of the Tate to St Ives the market for copies was further boosted and Berlin, even taking into account his love of hyperbole, was probably not far wrong when he exclaimed to his publisher in 1992 : ‘My prices are rocketing up. The Dark Monarch is going for £500, if you can get it ‘.

Berlin won’t be around to celebrate his hundredth birthday on September 14, but friends and relations, and perhaps a few enemies, will surely enjoy the ritual opening of the sealed ‘ key ‘ to The Dark Monarch , which coincides with the publication of a new book on Berlin, Artist and Publisher. Both events are likely to ruffle a few feathers in Cornwall and there may be one or two raised voices in Tate Britain and Kettles’s Yard too, although the controversy is nearly fifty years old.

Even though the much-coveted Dark Monarch has recently been reprinted in a small edition, copies of the first are still very much sought after. There are three currently on ABE. Two are with a well known art gallery in St Ives, who want $763 for each (one is signed ); the third is elsewhere at a more sensible £250. Berlin’s other books are far less expensive. The autobiographical titles hover at around £8, while the more notable Alfred Wallis of 1949 comes in at a surprising range of prices, from an extremely reasonable $19 in the US to $80 in London and a frankly silly $254 from St Ives.
Meanwhile, why not browse a few junk shops in Cornwall for one of those elusive Dark Monarchs. Finding one could pay for the trip! [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. I am off to the Cornish Riviera as we speak...will also look out for his Alfred Wallis book.

02 September 2011

Some help with Self-Help books

In the last posting we showed a book annotated by David Foster Wallace. The 300 David Foster Wallace books (mostly annotated) now held at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas were 10% self help books (which are no longer available as they have 'intimate commentary on living persons'.) A report at the excellent site The Awl reviews them in depth:-
"...One surprise was the number of popular self-help books in the collection, and the care and attention with which he read and reread them. I mean stuff of the best-sellingest, Oprah-level cheesiness and la-la reputation was to be found in Wallace's library. Along with all the Wittgenstein, Husserl and Borges, he read John Bradshaw, Willard Beecher, Neil Fiore, Andrew Weil, M. Scott Peck and Alice Miller. Carefully."
Although there are many inane and cheesy self help titles they have a long and respectable history and some works are even read and taken seriously by highly educated, even sophisticated, readers. I am surprised that the Awl writer was surprised.

They go as far back as Machiavelli, Balthasar Gracian, even Ovid and Lao Tzu - but the first book of the modern era is probably Self-Help by Samuel Smiles which appeared in 1859. There are no copies of the true first online at present and the only price reference I can find is a 28 year old auction record:
Self-Help. L, 1859 - 8vo, - orig cloth - worn - With material inserted about this copy being lent for the PMM exhibition - Bloomsbury, later Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Oct 27, 1983, lot 66, £190 ($283.10), Pickering & Chatto
Extrapolating from this it may by now be a $1000 book and if in exemplary condition and well puffed it could make £1000. The PMM reference would have meant more in the 1980s--it refers to its appearance in the book (and exhibition) Printing and The Mind of Man (John Carter and Percy Muir 1967). Smiles according to PMM was 'the epitome of that energetic probity which characterises the best side of Victorian society.' It sold 275,000 copies over the next 40 years. Carter and Muir note '...the proof of its success which most delighted Smiles was the number of letters attesting its usefulness which he received from artisans -the class to whom it was directed-from all over the world."

A later bestseller was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People the model of the modern self help manual. It appeared first in 1936 and has sold 15 million copies. I have no real notion of the value of a 1936 first but could imagine a decent jacketed copy making several hundred dollars, especially if signed by Dale himself. For $200+ you can buy the Easton Press edition-- talking of cheesy here is how one copy is described:
"...bound in genuine leather with raised hubs on the spine, and featuring 22kt gold stamped titles and cover designs, magnificently illustrated and featuring threadsewn pages, moiré fabric end sheets, gilded page edges, and a permanent satin-ribbon page marker. Here is your opportunity to own a wonderful timeless work of literature which can increase in value while providing reading enjoyment for generations to come..."

To be continued with discussion of a modern Machiavellian self help book from the library of the Prince of Pop Michael Jackson (pic above) also the dispersal of the library of self help guru Wayne Dwyer via Ebay...