Monday, 4 May 2009

An Exhibit of Woolf's Own. . .

On a recent buisness trip to Edmonton, I was able to pop into the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta and see their exhibit of Hogarth Press Books. Titled"Woolf's Head Publishing: The highlights and New Lights of the Hogarth Press", the exhibit has now been extended to May 28th.
Apart from the thrill of seeing so many original editions (I was salivating in front of a first edition of Mrs. Dalloway) and the range of books that the Hogarth Press published, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the accompanying catalogue was - a lovely addition to my Woolf book collection (alas, no first editions there). Written by Dr. Elizabeth Willson Gordon, it uses fonts, paper, and production elements selected, "with the hope of evoking something of the aesthetic feel of the Press books: colourful, exuberant, pleasurably tactile, pleasing to the eye without being precious". The catalogues costs $25.00 and while I don't know if the library will ship abroad, it's worth contacting them to inquire, as I can't imagine a Woolf fan who would not want to own this.

While it does not include a photograph of every book in the exhibit, there is an entry for each one giving some information about the author, the content of the book, the initial print runs, and sometimes a bit on the cover designer. There is also a brief introductory essay. I read the whole thing in one sitting after I returned home and gleaned many interesting tidbits such as:

* The Hogarth Press published 29 books in translation between the two world wars, from Russian, German and Italian.

* The first Hogarth Press book to have a dust jacket was Jacob's Room. The design was by Vanessa Bell and it was not well received. Leonard Woolf is quoted as saying the design, "did not represent a desirable female or even Jacob or his room, and it was what in 1923 many people would have called reproachfully post-impressionist. It was almost universally condemned by the booksellers."

* One of the more unusual books published by the Hogarth Press in 1937 was Diet and High Blood Pressure by Dr. I. Harris. This was part of the exhibit. The catalogue goes on to note however, that a second title by Harris was published in 1942 called The Calcium Bread Scandal. Now, that's the one I'd like to read!

* The Hogarth Press published many writers besides Woolf herself. Reading this catalogue got me interested in looking up the poetry of Joan Easdale, Nancy Cunard's long poem Parallax (I've always meant to read more about her and her own small press, The Hours Press), The Autobiography of Countess Sophie Tolstoi , Libby Benedict's 1938 novel, The Refugees (isn't that a powerful jacket?) and Different Days by Frances Cornford whose poems purport to "focus on the female view of academic life at Cambridge and the English landscape".
* And finally, is there anything more lovely than this page from the 1927 reprint of Woolf's Kew Gardens with its extra attention on melding art with literature? So, so beautiful.


Vintage Reading said...

Beautiful photos. I think the Hogarth Press published Katherine Mansfield, one of my own favourite writers.

Blithe Spirit said...

Yes, they published an edition of The Prelude.

_lethe_ said...

Gorgeous! Thanks for the tip, I'll definitely check out whether they ship abroad.

Blithe Spirit said...

Oh, I hope they do. I forgot to mention in the blogpost that the catalogues come wrapped in brown paper with what looks like a handstamped design on it. It's a nice touch.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing such interesting information and photos.