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Posts Tagged ‘British Library’

Over There

June 19, 2014 | by

cupidity

R. Ferro, Cupidity - Greed

Lately I’ve been listening to the excellent BBC documentary World War I, which you can download and then listen to, incongruously, while waiting on line at the grocery store. The series presents the listener with a multifaceted portrait of the Great War, but—for obvious reasons, given the topic—it’s not exactly a laugh a minute.

That’s part of what makes the British Library’s new exhibition, “Enduring War: Grit, Grief, and Humour,” so surprising. Of course, people have always laughed and joked and made the best of awful situations—resilience is a marvelous thing. But the lighter side of World War I hasn’t come in for much scrutiny.

The exhibition is multifaceted: there are propaganda posters, excerpts from Rupert Brooke’s war journals, harrowing accounts of gassings and shell-shock, and horrifying casualty numbers. But along with this, the curators have made a point of highlighting soldiers’ darkly humorous letters and joke postcards; photos of servicemen goofing off; and satirical excerpts from the morale-boosting publication Honk! The voice of the benzine lancers. Read More »

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The Other Yellow Pages

May 19, 2014 | by

Last week, the British Library launched Discovering Literature, an online collection of more than 1,200 items from the Romantic and Victorian periods, all of it meant to arouse interest in classic English lit. There are manuscript pages and juvenilia from Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Keats, Wordsworth, and Blake, among others, but the diligent forager will find Charles H. Bennett’s vivid illustrations for Aesop’s Fables; more than twenty-five drawings from Gustave Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage; nineteenth-century gynecological gaffes (“the majority of women [happily for them] are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind”); and early vampire stories.

There’s also this: The Yellow Book. Not to be confused with the Yellow Pages or Redbook, The Yellow Book was an illustrated quarterly magazine with a provocative name; it came

from the notorious covering into which controversial French novels were placed at the time. It is, in fact, a “yellow book” which corrupts Dorian in Wilde’s original novel; this generally thought to be Joris-Karl Huysmans’ A Rebours (1884).

The founding principles were that literature and art should be treated independently and given equal status, and Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator of Wilde’s Salomé was appointed art editor.

Indeed, when Wilde was arrested in 1895, there were rumours he had been carrying a yellow-bound book. Though this was actually Pierre Louÿs’s French novel Aphrodite, a confused crowd thought it was a copy of this magazine, and gathered to throw stones at the publishers’ offices.

Those were the days, when the mere sight of a literary quarterly, or even something resembling a literary quarterly, could move a crowd to violence. The Yellow Book was published for only a few years, from 1894 to 1897, but it loomed large; nearly a century later, the scholar Linda Dowling called it “commercially the most ambitious and typographically the most important of the 1890s periodicals. [It] gave the fullest expression to the double resistance of graphic artists against literature, and Art against commerce, the double struggle symbolized by the paired words on the contents-pages of the Yellow Books: Letterpress and Pictures, Literature and Art.”

 

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Actual Size

November 19, 2013 | by

Infant-Library-Paris-Review

The miniature book The Infant’s Library. Part of the British Library’s current exhibition “Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain.”

 

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Snail’s Pace

October 24, 2013 | by

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I’m told foxes are all the rage right now. Specifically, that “foxes are the new owls.” Owls, of course, were the new squirrels, and I forget what preceded that, but it all started with birds. And birds, as we know, are, in our post-Portlandia world, beyond parody. But the seemingly arbitrary celebration of anointed fauna is nothing new. In the Middle Ages, it would seem, scribes were enamored of knights and snails.

The British Library blog notes, “as anyone who is familiar with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts can attest, images of armed knights fighting snails are common, especially in marginalia.” But why? Throughout history, scholars have floated theories ranging from resurrection allegory, to class struggle, to mockery of the Lombards (apparently the targets of much medieval badinage). At the end of the day, no one knows for sure. What is certain is that the gallery of images on the site is fascinating, and peculiar indeed.

Said the philosopher and theologian Albert the Great,

If thou wilt forejudge, or conjecture things to come … Take the stone which is called Chelonites. It is of purple, and divers other colours, and it is found in the head of the Snail. If any man will bear this stone under his tongue, he shall forejudge, and prophesy of things to come. But notwithstanding, it is said to have this power only on the first day of the month, when the moon is rising and waxing, and again on the twenty-ninth day when the moon is waning.

In the spirit of that Dominican (albeit a few days early), I shall make so bold as to prophesy something: I see no reason why knights and snails, representing either marauding Lombards or rebellious serfs, shouldn’t be the foxes of F/W 2014. You read it here first.

 

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Secret Erotica, Jane Austen, and Other News

August 13, 2013 | by

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Photo Credit Sean Malone

  • A tribute to the Blackwing 602, the favored pencil of many a writer, including Nabokov.
  • The saga of the Jane Austen ring continues! Now, an anonymous donor has given £100,000 to prevent Kelly Clarkson from spiriting the gold and topaz bauble off to America.
  • “All had a little twinkle in their eye that suggested a colorful, lively imagination!” The secret lives of erotica writers
  • The British Library’s Wi-Fi blocks Hamlet on grounds of “violent content,” fixes it.
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    A Battle for Souls, and Other News

    July 30, 2013 | by

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  • “But ultimately, I decided that the committees overseeing these sorts of things (editorial, sales, marketing) would never approve this. ‘The title is hard to read,’ they would complain. ‘The book is hard to read,’ I would silently retort. ‘That’s one of its principle merits.’” A glimpse into the process of cover design.
  • Stephen King on opening lines.
  • The London Fire Brigade blames a 10 percent increase of handcuff-related calls on Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Speaking of London: “In one corner sit the tut-tutting ‘serious’ readers. In the other, flirtatious undergraduates with their iPhones and social lives. At the heart is the battle for the soul—and control—of the British Library.”
  • Libraries team up with airports in a campaign called, appropriately enough, Books on the Fly. Here’s how it works: “Scanning a QR code, available on cards throughout the airport, sends users to a site where they can access the Kansas State Library’s eLending service. Visitors without a library card are directed to Project Gutenberg’s mobile-optimized site, where they can download titles in the public domain.”
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