Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Little Tramp Goes to War. . .

I've been reading and enjoying Glen David Gold's new novel Sunnyside, which follows three Americans - one of them Charlie Chaplin - during the last years of the First World War. The novel begins with a surreal event - hundreds of apparent Chaplin sightings are reported all over the U.S. including one by a lighthouse keeper, named Lee who tries to rescue him in a storm.

Chaplin spent part of the war touring America to help raise money for liberty bonds, but he also made the silent movie Shoulder Arms in 1918. Having enjoyed Blackadder's take on the trenches, I was curious to see what an early comedy would make of the war. The movie is packaged with other shorts from those early days - including Sunnyside - on a DVD entitled The Chaplin Revue. While studio execs worried that the movie would be negatively perceived as making fun of the soldiers and the carnage, Chaplin was such a star that he could pretty well do whatever he wanted. And I quite enjoyed the movie's portrayal of the absurdity of war. There are scenes of Chaplin trying to keep pace with the marching soldiers while in tramp shuffling mode, scenes dealing with all the rain and mud in the trenches and a hilariously silly episode where he is sent to infiltrate enemy lines disguised ridiculously as a tree. In his dreams he captures the Kaiser and saves a beautiful woman.

There's another connection between Hollywood and the First World War that is revealed in this entertaining novel: the original Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a bombed building in France during the war by Lee Duncan, an American serviceman (and character in Sunnyside) and brought to America where the dog also became a huge Hollywood star. I'm always interested in contemporary fictional takes on the war and Gold's novel was original, well-written and fascinating in terms of its look at American war propaganda and the part that the rising film industry played.

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.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Cool German reading campaign. . .

Reading and walking (but not at the same time) are two of my favourite activities so I love this German campaign that combines the two, and uses the legs of famous authors to publicize it. Read more about it here in English at the blog love german books, or if your German is a lot better than mine, lesen gehen here.