September 01, 2012

Book dedications n.5

What do British Airlines, a Remington typewriter, the absinthe drinkers of Paris, and the jury which declared that Lady Chatterley's Lover was not obscene, have in common? They have all had novels dedicated to them. The art of dedicating a book was the subject of the very first post I wrote for Books in the City, and every year on the anniversary I like to pass on some intriguing dedications I've run into over the course of the year. Here is this year's selection.

1. From Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac:
"To Maria:
Your portrait is the fairest ornament of this book, and here it is fitting that your name should be set, like the branch of box taken from some unknown garden to lie for a while in the holy water, and afterwards set by pious hands above the threshold, where the green spray, ever renewed, is a sacred talisman to ward off all evil from the house.
                                                          -- DE BALZAC"
Did anyone else besides me think that “box hedges” had that name because they were trimmed into box-like shapes? No! “Box” is “box” because its wood, being non-warping, is prized for making ornamental boxes. And perhaps even more relevant here, the “Garden of Eaden” blog where I learned that goes on to say that “One of the charms of common box is the delicious musky smell it gives off after a period of rain”. Apparently England's dullest monarch (just my opinion) Queen Anne found the smell so unbearable that she had all the box in St. James Park ripped out.

Who was Maria? No one knows for sure. I like the theory that she was a girl whom Balzac described in a letter around the time he was writing Eugénie Grandet as a "poor, simple and delightful bourgeoise”, although the author of Women in the life of Balzac, which I’ve only seen in an online version but imagine must be a nice thick book in hard copy, points out that she doesn’t fit the type: the women to whom Balzac dedicates his books, while they come in many shapes, eg “members of his family, old family friends, literary friends, rich people to whom he was indebted, women of the nobility, or women whom he loved for a time at least”, had in common that they were all women “whom he could respect and recognize in society”.

Not like the simple bourgeoise Balzac characterised as “the most naive creature that ever was, fallen like a flower from heaven". He also records a phrase she wrote to him, which I suppose could be thought of as her dedication to him. I’m not sure if is extremely naïve, or not naïve at all:

"Love me a year, and I will love you all my life."

2. From Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
"You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author has dedicated a book to someone else and not you. Not this time. Because we haven't yet met / have only a glancing acquaintance / are just crazy about each other / haven't seen each other in much too long / are in some way related / will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other... this one's for you. With you know what, and you probably know why."

I came across this a few months ago during a moment of particular fondness for Neil Gaiman after he “shared his reading habits” (this the title of the feature) in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. In my case, the word "share" really did mean “share”, as opposed to a new-speak way of saying “tell about”, because I had been reading the same book. It is Just my type: A Book about Fonts and Neil got a lot of points in my book for telling (sorry, sharing) this wonderful story:

"My 'make this last as long as you can' book is Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. It’s illuminated a subject I thought I understood, but I didn’t, and its chapter on the wrongnesses of Comic Sans came alive for me recently visiting a friend at a Florida retirement community, in which every name on every door was printed in Comic Sans. The elderly deserve more respect than that. Except for the lady I was visiting, widow of a comics artist. For her, it might have been appropriate."

3. From Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
"It was to the soul of CYRANO that I intended to dedicate this poem. But since that soul has been reborn in you, COQUELIN, it is to you that I dedicate it. ~E.R."

Cyrano de Bergerac, which we all think of as a play but which is, as its author states in the dedication, a poem, being written in rhyming couplets, always seems like such a period piece, I don’t know, maybe because Gerard Depardieu played both Cyrano and Porthos of The Three Musketeers as well as -- I just learned at Central Library's Balzac celebration -- the lead in what Nicholas Reid considers the best film ever made from a Balzac novel, the Napoleonic Wars-era Colonel Chabert.

But appearances can be misleading, especially since, as the verse (author undeservedly forgotten) I love to quote goes, "I think that I shall never view, a French film without Depardieu", and Cyrano is actually more contemporary than most people realise, a grandiose revisitation of overblown French romantic literature: a bit of a spoof, and a lot of homage.

The author of Cyrano, Edmond Rostand, died in 1918 aged only 50, a victim of the terrible flu epidemic. His son Maurice was well-known in Parisian society in the inter-war period as what was once called a "homosexual personality", a friend of Jean Cocteau and frequenter of literary salons with the likes of Marcel Proust.

It is fitting that Rostand should have dedicated Cyrano to the famous actor who starred in the prodigiously successful play (500 performances in a row), because Constant Coquelin's talents were a major inspiration for the play, especially the magnificent ending, which Coquelin is said to have collaborated on, where Cyrano tragically expires on stage, throwing his duelling sword into the air and declaring that there is one thing no one can take away from him -- his panache, his white plume, the symbol of his bravery and his honour.

Here's a great trailer for the 1950 movie of Cyrano which starred Jose Ferrer - with quite a bit more nose putty than the Gallic Gerard Depardieu required, but just as much, if not more, panache:

4. From The Shadow-line by Joseph Conrad

Borys and all others
who like himself have crossed
in early youth the shadow-line
of their generation
With Love"

I had heard about people having to cross their shadow-line and used the expression myself in various ways it suggested itself to me for years before I actually read the book and found out precisely what Conrad meant by the term. The Shadow-line, he explains in the opening, is the moment of passage between youth and maturity, the moment when youth must be left behind.

“What moments?” he asks. “Why, the moments of boredom, of weariness, of dissatisfaction. Rash moments. I mean moments when the still young are inclined to commit rash actions.”

He also points out -- I love this -- that he doesn’t mean the very young, because the very young, "strictly speaking, have no moments at all".

As for the dedication, in September 1915 as Conrad was completing the manuscript of The Shadow-Line, his son Borys enlisted in the British Army, heading for the killing fields of France -- the Somme, in his case. He made it home alive and fifty years later he wrote a memoir (My father, Joseph Conrad) in which he looks affectionately at his famous father but where he also notes that his father, with his old-fashioned manners, had a difficult time expressing his love. In person.

5. From Amphigorey Again by Edward Gorey
"In fond collaborative memory…
Addeé Gorrwy
Aedwyrd Goré
Agowy Erderd
D. Awdrey-Gore
Deary Rewdgo
Dedge Yarrow
Dewda Yorger
Dogear Wryde
Dora Greydew
Dreary Wodge
Drew Dogyear
E.G. Deadworry
Edgar E. Wordy
Eduard Blutig
Edward Pig
Garrod Weedy
Gary Dredwoe
Grey Redwoad
Groeda Weyrd
O. Müde
Ogdred Weary
Orde Graykdw
Raddory Gewe
Regera Dowdy
Roger Addyew
Roy Grewdead
Wardore Edgy
Waredo Dyrge
Wee Graddory
Ydora Wredge"

The Table of Contents of Amphigorey Again testifies to the originality and fruitfulness of these many collaborators (I started out thinking I would just copy a few, to give you the idea, but when it came time to leave some off, I just couldn't):

The galoshes of remorse -- Signs of spring -- Seasonal confusion -- Random walk -- Category -- The other statue -- 10 impossible objects (abridged) -- The universal solvent (abridged) -- Scenes de Ballet -- Verse advice -- The deadly blotter -- Creativity -- The retrieved locket -- The water flowers -- The haunted tea-cosy -- Christmas wrap-up -- The headless bust -- The just dessert -- The admonitory hippopotamus -- Neglected murderesses -- Tragedies topiares -- The raging tide -- The unknown vegetable -- Another random walk -- Serious life : a cruise -- Figbash acrobate -- La Malle Saignante -- The izzard book.

Yes, long before there was Lemony Snickett, long before there was Tim Burton, there was Edward Gorey, whose first book came out in 1953. And before Edward Gorey, there were Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. There are a few clips of Edward Gorey floating around on youtube, mostly from interviews made in preparation for a documentary which as far as I can see never got made, which does seem to fit with the Edward Gorey spirit. Here's one where he talks about the nonsense line of the English literature family tree. You're in for a surprise, unless you expect Gorey to have a strong American accent, and to be wearing a yellow slicker rather than a velvet, perhaps threadworn, suit:

And at you can read such gems as "Growing up Gorey": Maurice Sendak, Alison Lurie and Andreas Brown all agree, Gorey is a Good Thing for the Kids.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00


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