I used to share this series on the excellent Fine Books Magazine website all the time, mostly because it’s nice to share other people’s appreciation of those you legitimately adore. Clearly this particular addition signals a return to this blog keeping an eye on those who are going to make a difference to what we do. Ladies and gents, Diane Dias DeFazio:
For those of you that haven’t been following my series of pocket catalogues dealing with weird fiction, crime and all round peculiarity…this is probably not terribly interesting. For the five of you that have…here is the latest instalment:
“We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
Martin Stone has moved on. The tip-tapping man of many pockets, drainpipe legs and dangling Gauloises has succumbed to a grim and irresistible disease. The flea markets of Paris and the stalls of Portobello should, by rights, be islands of silence.
Not for too long though, Martin wouldn’t like that, just a minute or two of quiet, slightly damp, reflection followed by a shrug and a return to bustling commerce.
His kind of memorial would involve a knowing nod and the production of some specially secreted oddity from under a stall; a sly grin and a “I thought you might come by. Take a look at this.”
Stop all the clocks, shut the bloody dog up, all that stuff. He dealt enough poets to know that understanding words and understanding books are very different things.
Everything about Martin was a good story.
I was in one of those Parisian flea markets with him quite recently, the bugger made me get up really early and meet him in a cafe somewhere in the dimmer aura of Paris, full of sullen, smoking men in wet woollen coats drinking coffee strong enough to take the silver off a mirror.
“This place is great!” He enthused, giving a credible impression of a mer cat in a tight Paul Smith suit. “Stick close though, some of these bastards can be a bit touchy.”
I wasn’t sure whether he meant the occupants of the cafe or the promised flea market nestled nearby beneath an underpass, he probably meant both.
I walked around with him, or in fact trailed after him, for an hour or two, trying to keep up with the rapid French, the knowing laughter, people shouting his name across makeshift aisles and endless boxes of dodgy Gallimards that he would sift through in the time it took me to figure out there were actually books on a stall that looked at first glance like someone had upended a skip full of 19th century brothel furniture onto a table.
He’d have moved on before I could get five books in. You knew incontrovertibly that once Martin Stone had moved on, there was nothing good left. He smiled at everybody, carried away very little.
On one stand near the roadside he shook hands with a lanky bloke who looked like he should be in a documentary about the Resistance. I bought a piece of schoolboy smut written by George Sands’ nephew, while Martin solemnly unwrapped something wrapped in layered plastic bags produced from an ancient suitcase. It was one of those typically French artist’s books, all pochoir and glassine, and the two of them leaned over it to protect it from the drizzle while Martin leafed delicately through it.
“Give me a minute.” He said to me and hurried off with his phone pressed to his ear.
The hero of the resistance looked me up and down and gestured after Martin.
“Is he well?” He asked.
“No.” I shrugged. He shook his head mournfully, and stamped his feet.
Less than five minutes later Martin returned, they nodded at each other, Martin took possession of the book in its wrappings and we headed off.
“Anything good?” The book had disappeared into yet another bag.
“Oh yes! Lovely thing, really scarce, only ever seen one before.”
“Shouldn’t be hard to shift then.”
“Oh, already sold it. Four and a half.”
That’s pretty much how it went on. Later in his flat in Versailles we ate cake and talked about Michael Moorcock. In retrospect every minute I was lucky enough to spend with Martin over the last 20 years was an education in knowledge, charm and enthusiasm, and there weren’t anywhere near enough of them.
When I was in my 20’s he gave me the keys for his then apartment in the Rue Cels in Montparnasse and said I could flat-sit while he was in the US. I spent a week drinking wine and eating cheese, reading Sebald and wandering through the Jardin de Luxembourg. Bill Wyman phoned his answering machine. I listened to zydeco. He could tell I needed a break, he knew the signs, and he generously provided it.
In return, when stuck on one of his overburdened forays to London, he’d occasionally come and sleep on my couch in Waterloo. We’d smoke too much and drink too much, before he climbed the huge, terrifying mountain of learning not to, and I would wake up the next morning feeling simultaneously close to death, and privileged.
We talked about books. He knew more, stored and treasured and preserved and embodied more about books than anyone I have ever met or heard of. Despite his vast knowledge, amazing memory, and almost magical ability to track and locate gems of bibliophilic rarity, he was always quietly offhand about it.
He taught me the priceless lesson that just because something isn’t worth much, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I always felt that his mere existence gave me a kind of permission to write four hundred word descriptions of books worth fifty quid; this was not a qualification that necessarily appealed to any of my subsequent employers. There are books in my office right now that bear his small, neat pencil annotations, there are probably similar books in the offices of every major book-dealer in the world.
He got around.
I was supposed to go and see him this week, he died the day before I was going to catch my train. I won’t regret the books I never bought, or the ones I really shouldn’t have; but I will regret that. Without him I might have been a bookseller, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and be a good one. That’s still a work in progress, but if I ever make it, it’ll be down to him.
We weren’t close, but I loved him. I didn’t know him well enough, but I am very grateful to him. The world, such as it is, has lost something important, and is a lesser place because of it.
In keeping with the general manic panic prevalent amongst bookdealers who aren’t Simon Beattie at this time of year, I’ve been screeching my way through whatever stock I have available in an effort to put on a good show at this year’s Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s never simple or straightforward, and the process is usually accompanied by the highs of thinking “This is a great thing! People will love this thing!” and the lows of “I am a terrible bookseller, these are terrible books, why am I doing this to myself? I should stop this and go live in the woods.” So with that in mind here’s a list of some nice things I am probably showing, in no particular order, please feel free to peruse:
And here, Ladies and Gentleman, is my favourite thing, and certainly my book of the week:
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1901. Second Edition. 12mo. 55pp. Publisher’s yellow decorated glazed paper covered boards titled in a rather bilious orangey red. Rubbing to extremities, moderate wear, a very good copy indeed. Internally clean and fresh. Inscribed to front flyleaf by the great lady herself:
“To Mrs. Beatrice Forbes Robertson Swinburne Hale! With Love of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 1910”
Copies of this book are rare, nice copies of the first edition that preceded it by just over a year are even rarer, and copies signed or inscribed enter a whole new realm of rare which verges on purely theoretical; three inscribed copies of the first two editions, including this one, show up in over 30 years. For a story so polarising and influential, it’s pretty thin on the ground in signed or inscribed form. The story, a keystone piece of early American feminism displayed through the prism of deftly executed and unsettlingly poetic supernatural fiction, is quite simply one of the best cases for ostensibly sensationalist literature changing the world. Part eulogy for female mental health, part captivity narrative and part autobiographical depression journal. One of its many themes (it’s basically all underlying theme, it’s the feminist iceberg of fin de siecle writing) is the androcentric socio-medical belief that women need rest when they should be active, enclosure when they desire freedom and lack of stimulation when they quite definitely desire more. Ms. Gilman was, to put it mildly, rather of the belief that these theories of “care” were wrong and more directed at keeping unruly women (whether for medical or other reasons) out of sight and out of mind…trapped as it were, behind everything else. Critically the story is noted for having provided an in text guide to feminist interpretation, as her protagonist struggles to arrange the “galloping pattern” of the wallpaper into something comprehensible, Gilman is suggesting that this is what women have to do on a daily basis to try and navigate a world that actively denies them the means to do so…that it ends in a descent into madness is neither surprising nor a fault in the interpreter. So, the good news is you have an early copy of the perfect storm of feminist weird tale inscribed by the late 19th century’s High Priestess of Feminism.
The really good news is that it’s inscribed with love to Beatrice Forbes-Robertson on what I believe to be the occasion of her New York marriage to Swinburne Hale, society lawyer.
Beatrice was the transatlantic issue of the mighty London house of Forbes-Robertson, theatrical super family, friends of Oscar Wilde in all possible ways, revolutionisers of the stage, she was mates with royalty, blood brethren of the rich and famous from Bernhardt, to Irving, Ellen Terry, Bram Stoker, Gilbert and Sullivan and the great and powerful on both sides of the pond. Actress, activist, public speaker on Women’s Suffrage, Vice President of The Actress’s Franchise League (yup, a women’s trade union in pre First World War America), President of The British War Relief Organisation, author of “What Women Want” and, along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself, a prominent member of Heterodoxy (which is an incredible name on so many delicious levels); the prominent and occasionally notorious and radical feminist debating group based in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century. A hotbed of unorthodox feminist opinion and a haven for New York’s lesbian and bisexual women, other members apart from Gilman and Forbes Robertson included Inez Haynes Irwin, Ida Rauh (another actress and female trade unionist, running mate of Eugene O’Neill), Susan Glaspell (the greatest woman playwright no-one has heard of), Fola La Follete (Quote of the week: “A good husband is not an adequate substitute for the ballot.”) and Zona Gale, first female Pulitzer winner. I can only imagine that their meeting rooms didn’t need gas or electricity, it probably just glowed out of sheer rage and intelligence, they referred to their struggle for recognition as “breaking into the human race.”
One of the greatest and most significant weird tales of the late 19th century, (a story “not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy…”) inscribed by its ground-breaking feminist author to a friend and fellow fighter for women’s suffrage on the occasion of her marriage. Beat that.
by guest contributor Jonathan Kearns in collaboration with Brooke Palmieri
Nor is the empire of the imagination less bounded in its own proper creations, than in those which were bestowed on it by the poor blind eyes of our ancestors. What has become of enchantresses with their palaces of crystal and dungeons of palpable darkness? […]
Guest blog post by Lynn Verschuren, Museum Studies project placement in Special Collections. Earlier this month, the University of Glasgow welcomed internationally renowned scholars in the fields of philosophy, literature, art history, linguistics and disability studies as part of the Understanding the Senses: Past & Present conference held on campus for the second year running. […]
Really should get back into the swing of Book of The Week, seeing as I have so much good stuff at the moment and, in between juggling my stock portfolio and refusing to allow Billie Piper to shamelessly objectify me (Stop it Miss Piper! Stop it.), I have a little time to show off.
Every now and then something comes along which…you’ve heard this before, try and imagine it said in the voice of that one man with the voice made of molasses and horseshoe nails who did all the movie trailers in the eighties; “Changes the face of storytelling…”
That’s a little hyperbolic, but the significance of Dorcas Dene, and a couple of her contemporaries, in radically changing popular fictional attitudes to women in the early part of the 20th century shouldn’t overlooked. I mean alright, this one was written by a man, but think of it as sexually progressive, gender swapped, Georgiana Cavendish style utopianism…I really tried to make that a thing. That’s not going to work. Anyway. Dorcas Dene is great and the three rarest issues I have chosen as my book of the week:
1. Sims, George R. Dorcas Dene, Detective; Her Adventures. [First and Second Series]. London: F.V. White & Co, 1897. First Edition. Two volumes, 8vo. 119pp + 1pp. ads., [both volumes identically paginated, which is rather odd] Publisher’s blue and green cloth titled in black and gilt to spine and front boards, respectively. I’m never sure if I am using that word correctly so perhaps I should have gone with “The First Series volume is bound in blue cloth, titled in gilt and black to spine and front board…” etc. Minor bumping and edgewear, slight rubbing to the gilt of the First Series volume…that’s it.
If I were the kind of bookseller who catalogued things as near fine on a regular basis, these would be near fine. I’ll go so far as to say that the Second Series volume is near fine, they are both lovely, strong, clean tight copies, internally clean and graced with toe-tinglingly charming adverts for Pear’s Soap and Mellin’s Food…that’s it, it’s just called “food” and it says you can add wine or spirits to it; for me (and for most other booksellers) this does not narrow it down to any particular foodstuff; seriously, it could be breakfast cereal. Or yogurt.
Anyway, they are very lovely copies. I’ve only ever seen one copy of the first series in the flesh and it was in a sadly charmless state. I admit I wasn’t expecting to see another, especially not accompanied by its equally scarce partner volume (the two series were published on each other’s heels, along with the impossibly rare paper wraps issue, they are all rather slight objects), so this is certainly rather lovely. It’s a bit like meeting that person from your past that you always had a crush on and then bumping into them whilst on vacation to recover from a dreadful relationship and discovering that they too had a crush on you and they disclose this to you over dinner in a small, rustic restaurant called “Il Monastero” overlooking a secluded backwater of the Arno in Florence…is this fantasy getting too specific? I feel as if perhaps I’m digressing. Florence though.
Anyway. Painfully rare, and well used if seen.
These stories, however, are not to be lumped in with the giant shoggoth-like mass of so-called “Holmesian Imitators” which the late 19th and early 20th century spawned like tiny, wriggling, know it all tadpoles in a rather stagnant pond of crumbling Imperialist pretension. Nope.
Dorcas Dene (nee Spencer, before hooking up with her archetypally sexist man-muppet of a husband, who is rather tragically a blind ex artist; perhaps in some way symbolising the fact that it’s about time we stop thinking we’re in charge, when we clearly don’t have the chops for it) is an ex-actress and private detective of considerable wit and intellect, who naturally and through sheer application of intelligence and merit enlists the support and complete co-operation of Scotand Yard in her crime fighting exploits:
“It isn’t usual,” the Superintendent said, “for our men to act under the orders of a private detective, even one so talented as Dorcas Dene, but under the circumstances I consent.”
Her “Watson” is a rather pleasant sort of chap, a Mr. Saxon (her theatrical agent originally, whose devotion and admiration know only the bounds of late-Victorian propriety), assisting her on a voluntary basis in her exploits. Unlike the occasional slightly token female detectives from the period, Ms. Dene is crisply procedural and methodical, no guesswork or conjecture, just exact, considered deduction and observation. She’s a master of disguise, stands no nonsense and brings her criminals to justice with no more manly assistance than Holmes might enlist from Watson and his service revolver.
Now it’s much less of a big deal, but in the male dominated world of 1890’s popular literature there usually had to be at least some capitulation to feminine frailty otherwise we chaps just felt all left out. Interestingly Ms. Dene is also considered attractive and charming. Steely determination, raw ability and being intellectually superior to the men around you are not, historically, things that are going to get you described as charming…not even by other women. I’m not even sure about the “historically” bit, to be honest.
In addition, Dorcas is an actress, which for a good chunk of time prior to the second half of the 19th century was almost exactly the same word as “prostitute.” So what you basically have is a complex, smart, attractive woman excelling in a male dominated field by virtue of ability and results whilst doing so without her ability being compromised by the prejudices or assumptions of the society in which she operates. Not only that, she’s solving crimes, goddammit, AND she’s the main breadwinner for her household, AND she does it whilst looking fabulous and having close non-romantic friendships with people of the opposite gender. I love this book, at the very least for what it stands for and for the fact that upon publication it was highly thought of…in a Britain that wouldn’t give the vote to women for another two decades, and only then so that they’d stop burning stuff and making us look like idiots.
The characterisation is very deliberate. Dorcas is meticulous, observant and unruffled in her exploits. There are also a number of occasions throughout the stories where Sims, through the medium of his detective, is able to offer a commentary on the sins and peccadilloes of Victorian male society; The Diamond Lizard, The Mysterious Millionaire and The Council of Four are all somewhat calmly giving the 19th century gender norms a long, hard look.
Finding another set of this title in attractive condition is about as likely as a disabled, female, democrat receiving towtruck assistance in North Carolina
As an added bonus here’s the description of the wraps edition:
2. Sims, George R. Dorcas Dene, Detective. Her Adventures. London: F.V. White, 1897. First Edition, First Printing. 8vo. 119pp. + 1pp. ads. Publisher’s original ilustrated card wraps, very good indeed, clean and sharp with a closed tear to the front lower spine hinge, minor edgewear and chipping, some very slight inoffensive creasing. An incredibly well preserved copy of a legendarily scarce Queens Quorum highlight. Internally clean and fresh. There’s some scruffy page trimming between pages 57 and 59 but it’s otherwise quite the fancy looking object.
I’m giddy. There’s been one copy of this book in auction in 30-plus years, and that was in the 2002 Lackritz auction…Mr L. being the man whose collection most closely approximates the Shangri-La of crime based bibliophilia. That’s it.
Fortune and Glory, kid, Fortune and Glory.
Aside form the usual frictions of 120 years or so this copy should be ever so proud of itself. My views on Dorcas Dene as an important addition to the genre of crime and detective fiction are well know (see the previous description!). Suffice it to say that this is kind of a pinnacle. It’s not every day that one can hold in one’s hand a tile from the mosaic of change, and fit it back into its rightful place.
(The original cataloguing was done specifically for the enjoyment of Rebecca Baumann, and I just decided to keep it for my last list)