Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

24 JULY, 2013

The Cat and the Devil: Rare Illustrations from James Joyce’s Little-Known Children’s Story

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Gerald Rose’s wonderful drawings depicting Joyce himself as the satanic protagonist of his irreverent children’s book.

My obsession with vintage children’s books was propelled into full swing a few years ago with the discovery of The Cat and the Devil, a charming 1981 picture-book based on a letter James Joyce wrote to his grandson Stephen on August 10, 1936, and illustrated by celebrated French artist Blachon. (The obsession has since escalated with more such lesser-known children’s treasures by famous “adult” authors, including Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, James Thurber, Carl Sandburg, Salman Rushdie, Ian Fleming, and Langston Hughes. But it turns out the Joyce gem was preceded by an even more magnificent UK edition illustrated by Gerald Rose, tragically out of print and nearly impossible to find but still surviving at some public libraries. For those not fortunate enough to track down one of the few remaining copies, here are Rose’s utterly delightful illustrations to feast your eyes on — doubly delightful for portraying Joyce himself as the devil:

The story ends on a mischievously Joycean note:

P.S. The devil mostly speaks a language of his own called Bellsybabble which he makes up himself as he goes along but when he is very angry he can speak quite bad French though some who have heard him say he has a strong Dublin accent.

Another Joyce feline story, The Cats of Copenhagen, also based on a letter to Stephen, was recently discovered and posthumously published in 2012 as one of the year’s best children’s books. For some modern-day cat love of equal literary and artistic delight, see the hopelessly wonderful Lost Cat.

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22 JULY, 2013

When Edward Gorey Illustrated Dracula: Two Masters of the Macabre, Together

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“No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be.”

As if knowing that the great Edward Gorey illustrated a small stable of little-known and wonderful paperback covers for literary classics weren’t enough of a treat, how thrilling it is to know that he also illustrated the occasional entire volume, from classic fairy tales to H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds to T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. But out of all his literary reimaginings, by far the greatest fit for Gorey’s singular brand of darkly delightful visual magic is Edward Gorey’s Dracula (public library), a special edition of the Bram Stoker classic originally published in 1977 and eventually adapted as a magnificent toy theater of die-cut foldups and foldouts. Gorey’s illustrations of the characters are terrifyingly charming and charmingly terrific:

Mina Murray

Jonathan Harker

Lucy Westenra

Dr. John Seward

R. M. Renfield

Dr. Abraham Van Helsing

Count Dracula

The gorgeously Gorey endpapers are particularly marvelous:

The book also includes some pages from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula manuscript:

Manuscript notes and outlines, p. 35 verso b. (Courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia)

Manuscript notes and outlines, p. 2 (Courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia)

But the greatest Gorey-goodie of all is the toy theater set:

Complement Edward Gorey’s Dracula with a look back at this gallery of the beloved illustrator’s other literary masterpieces.

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19 JULY, 2013

If Gorey and Sendak Had Illustrated Kafka for Kids

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A hauntingly beautiful black-and-white adaptation of the beloved author in children’s verses.

Sylvia Plath believed it was never too early to dip children’s toes in the vast body of literature. But to plunge straight into Kafka? Why not, which is precisely what Brooklyn-based writer and videogame designer Matthue Roth has done in My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs (public library) — a magnificent adaptation of Kafka for kids. With stunning black-and-white illustrations by London-based fine artist Rohan Daniel Eason, this gem falls — rises, rather — somewhere between Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and the Graphic Canon series.

The idea came to Roth after he accidentally started reading Kafka to his two little girls, who grew enchanted with the stories. As for the choice to adapt Kafka’s characteristically dark sensibility for children, Roth clearly subscribes to the Sendakian belief that grown-ups project their own fears onto kids, who welcome rather than dread the dark. Indeed, it’s hard not to see Sendak’s fatherly echo in Eason’s beautifully haunting black-and-white drawings.

Much like Jonathan Safran Foer used Street of Crocodiles to create his brilliant Tree of Codes literary remix and Darwin’s great-granddaughter adapted the legendary naturalist’s biography into verse, Roth scoured public domain texts and various translations of Kafka to find the perfect works for his singsong transformations: the short prose poem “Excursion into the Mountains,” the novella “The Metamorphosis,” which endures as Kafka’s best-known masterpiece, and “Josefine the Singer,” his final story.

“I don’t know!”
I cried without being heard.

“I do not know.”

If nobody comes,
then nobody comes.

I’ve done nobody any harm.
Nobody’s done me any harm.
But nobody will help me.

A pack of nobodies
would be rather fine,
on the other hand.

I’d love to go on a trip — why not? –
with a pack of nobodies.

Into the mountains, of course.
Where else?

In a way, the book — like most of Kafka’s writing — also bears the odd mesmerism of literary history’s letters and diaries, the semi-forbidden pleasure of which swells under the awareness that their writers never meant for us to read the very words we’re reading, never sought to invite us into their private worlds. Kafka wished for his entire world to remain private — he never finished any of his novels and burned the majority of his manuscripts; the rest he left with his closest friend and literary executor, Max Brod, whom he instructed to burn the remaining diaries, sketches, manuscripts, and letters. It was out of love that Brod chose not to, possibly displeasing his friend but eternally pleasing the literary public.

Though Kafka never wrote for children (in fact, one might argue, he never wrote for anyone but himself), My First Kafka transforms his surviving work into a fine addition to other notable children’s book by famous authors of “adult” literature, including Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

Thanks, Sharon

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