Archive for the ‘literary magazines’ Category

Flann O’Brien, Goldfrapp and the BBC

December 6, 2017
Flann O'Brien

Flann O’Brien shown on the TLS website in a 2011 article

Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory chose Flann O’Brien as the subject of Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 yesterday (you can still hear it on the BBC’s iPlayer). Astoundingly,  Matthew Parris said he did not know the Irish writer and his masterpieces, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman.

Carol Taaffe, who has written about O’Brien, explained that the books were only hailed as literary masterpieces after the author’s death. O’Brien worked as a civil servant and wrote under three pseudonyms – Brian O’Nolan, Flann O’Brien, and Myles na gCopaleen, the last of these for his satirical columns in the Irish Times newspaper, which he wrote in Gaelic.

Town, the mainstream men’s magazine, ran a profile of O’Brien in its September 1965 issue, a year before O’Brien’s death. The Times Literary Supplement celebrated O’Brien on his centenary in 2011 and the Irish Times ran an O’Brien homage in 2015.

Advertisements

This month in magazines: Bentley’s Miscellany 1837

February 2, 2017
The opening of is Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist in Bentley's Miscellany from February 1837

The opening of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in Bentley’s Miscellany from February 1837

I’m delving into my archive of 40,000 magazine images to show what publishers have been producing in the month of February over the past 150 years. It runs the gamut from Dickens’ Boz to Oz, from Good Housekeeping to Sublime, from Madonna to green jelly.

Today, it’s some pages from the second issue of Bentley’s Miscellany from 1837. The February issue marked the publication of the first part of Oliver Twist, a serial that was published in Bentley’s until April 1839. Charles Dickens was the first editor of Bentley’s and filled it with stories, poetry, humour and gossip (though he would ‘have nothing to do with politics’).

Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, under his pseudonym, Boz, and each issue was illustrated with an engraving by George Cruikshank. The first image was of the scene where Oliver asks for more gruel.

George Cruikshank's picture of Oliver Twist asking, ‘Please sir, I want some more’

George Cruikshank’s picture of ‘Oliver asking for more’

Note that this was not the serialisation of a book that had already been written or published. Dickens started writing Oliver Twist as it went along. At the end of each year, the issues were collated and bound in one volume. The covers – then called wrappers – and advertising pages were discarded and a title page and index of the year’s articles added.

The whole of Oliver Twist was published as a three-volume book in 1838 by Richard Bentley, the magazine’s owner.

Dickens resigned from the post after two years, and struck up a publishing relationship with Bradbury & Evans, the publishers of Punch. Bentley’s continued until 1868.

Oliver Twist was not the first example of the prolific Dickens’ work in magazines. His  stories had already been published in Monthly Magazine, the Morning Chronicle newspaper and other periodicals. His first published work was A Dinner at Poplar Walk in Monthly Magazine in December 1833. This was republished as Mr Minns and His Cousin along with other early stories in a serial starting on 8 February 1836, and in an 1839 single volume, Sketches by Boz.

After Bentley’s, the next main vehicle for Dickens was Master Humphrey’s Clock, a weekly that he edited and wrote himself for 18 months in 1840 and 1841. He then became the publisher, editor, and main writer for Household Words (1850–1859, Bradbury & Evans) and All the Year Round (1858–1870, Chapman & Hall). The latter was founded after he fell out with Bradbury & Evans and was ‘conducted’ by Dickens.

Dickens left All the Year Round to his eldest son Charles Dickens, Jr. Mary Dickens also contributed to this and it continued until 1895.

Dickens’ friend and agent John Forster inherited the original manuscripts of nearly all of his novels, as well corrected proofs. These are now held by in the Forster Collection of the National Art Library at the V&A Museum. I show some of these in my book, A History of British Magazine Design.

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 


‘L’Inconnue’ – a death mask with many a story to tell

October 22, 2015
John Gwynn's poem 'A Death Mask' in the Strand magazine appears to have been inspired by a drowned woman in Paris

John Gwynn’s poem ‘A Death Mask’ in the Strand magazine appears to have been inspired by a drowned woman in Paris

John Gwynn’s poem ‘A Death Mask’ in the Strand magazine of January 1901 appears to have been inspired by a drowned woman in Paris. But this mask has many other tales to tell.

Although he does not mention Paris in the poem, the story of ‘L’Inconnue‘, ‘the Unknown Woman’ who was picked out of the Seine and whose death mask was a popular exhibit in artists’ homes, undoubtedly  inspired this and many other literary works.

She has been described as the Mona Lisa, Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot of her age, a face that launched a thousand ships. However, a more prosaic ‘launch’ can be seen in London’s St John’s Gate, at the Museum of the Order of St John, for, in 1958, the face was used in the prototype ‘Resusci-Annie’ mannequin, made by Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal and crucial to the First Aid training provided by St John Ambulance ever since.

The St John’s Gate building has been used by the order since about 1890, but it is also of interest to literary and magazine history because 30 of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed there. Also, in the 1700s, it was used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth – and then from 1731 by Edward Cave as the printing house for The Gentleman’s Magazine – the first periodical to use the word ‘magazine’ in the printed context. The museum has a volume of the magazine on display. Doctor Johnson wrote for the Gentleman’s Magazine and used it in his definition of ‘magazine’ in his Dictionary. Later still, it became a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet.

Apparently, the first story about a UFO to appear in the press was in a 1762 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine and the museum it running workshops in commemoration of the event on October 28 and 29.

A 2013 article by Jeremy Grange on the BBC’s website ‘Resusci Anne and L’Inconnue: The Mona Lisa of the Seine‘ is fascinating for the tales it has to tell – including the many stories of people who claim to know who the woman was. The one he heard at Edward Chambre Hardman’s photographic studio in Liverpool is very poignant. I particularly liked it because I used to clean the windows of doctors’ offices in that very street.

Death mask in porcelain of L'Inconnue de la Seine at the museum of the Order of St John in London's Clerkenwell

Death mask in porcelain of L’Inconnue de la Seine at the museum of the Order of St John in London’s Clerkenwell

A rare sighting of Grub Street

June 6, 2015
London's 18th century Grub Street as part of illustration showing literary hack

London’s 18th century Grub Street in a Robert Spence illustration showing a literary hack at work

I reviewed the book Revolutions from Grub Street last year for the Financial Times and on this blog, but it’s rare to come across the term Grub Street except in academic circles. I saw it in this column title for ‘From London Town’ in the first edition of Northern Counties Magazine, an issue that dates back to 1900.

Grub Street was a real London road near the present-day Barbican. It was where aspiring writers lived and plied their trade – Samuel Johnson among them until he went up in the world and became a hack living just off Fleet Street in Gough Square.

The romantic poet Thomas Chatterton dead in his Grub Street garret with a view of St Paul's - centre of England's publishing industry - through the window The Pre-Raphaelite painting ‘The Death of Chatterton’ by Henry Wallis, used as the cover to Peter Ackroyd’s Chatterton, gives an idea of the sort of lodgings such hacks would have had. It was painted in a garret in Gray’s Inn with a view of St Paul’s – centre of England’s publishing industry not far from both Grub Street and Brooke Street, where the Romantic poet committed suicide with arsenic in 1770.

The term Grub Street would have been known to Thomas Chatterton. The Oxford English Dictionary has it in use by 1630, and gives the following explanation:

The name of a street near Moorfields in London (now Milton-street), ‘much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems’; hence used allusively for the tribe of mean and needy authors, or literary hacks.

The Northern Counties engraving by RS – Robert Spence – shows one of these ‘mean and needy authors’ scribbling away with a quill pen while two men about town peruse his books. The engraving portrays the building as built of stone, which is unlikely. The Tipperary pub in Fleet Street claims to be the oldest building around there because it was built of stone and so did not go up in flames in the 1666 Great Fire of London like the rest of the area. It also seems unlikely that Grub Street would have been cobbled. Note the unusual typeface with its extravagant swashes.

 

 

 

John Cassell, Quiver and the Aldeburgh lifeboat

April 8, 2015
Lifeboatman in 1908 on the cover of Quiver magazine from a photograph by Swinburne, Aldeburgh

Lifeboatman on the cover of a 1908 Quiver magazine from a photograph by Swinburne, Aldeburgh

Take a trip to the seaside town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk and one of the sights, alongside the Adnams in the White Hart, the fish and chips and the Moot Hall, is a modern-day lifeboat station. The photograph of this lifeboatman with his bulky cork lifejacket on the cover of a 1908 copy of Quiver magazine is credited to ‘Swinburne, Aldeburgh’. I thought it was James Cable, who was associated with the lifeboat for 50 years, 30 of them as coxswain, from 1888 to 1917. However, Catherine Howard-Dobson, a volunteer curator at Aldeburgh Museum, which is in the Moot Hall, tells me it is probably of another lifeboatman, Charlie Mann, who took over as coxswain and then did this legendary job until 1929. In fact, Charlie’s father, William Mann, was awarded a Silver Medal with Cable in 1891 for their heroism in rescuing the crew of a Norwegian barque, Winnifred of Laurvig. William Mann was then assistant coxswain, and Charlie took over from him in the post in 1903 when his father died.

The original photograph of lifeboatman Charlie Mann used for the Quivermagazine  cover is held by Aldeburgh Museum

The original photograph of lifeboatman Charlie Mann used for the Quiver magazine cover is not on display but can be seen at Aldeburgh Museum

Incredibly, the museum actually has the same photograph of Charlie Mann, and she sent me the image seen here. Note that the background has been removed on the Quiver cover and replaced so the flat colour can be extended up under the magazine’s masthead. Also, Mann’s shoulder on the cover is wider to the right than the photograph. This would certainly have been possible for the magazine’s in-house touch-up artists (and so many people today think image manipulation only came in with  Photoshop!).

Catherine has tried to find out about the photographer, but nothing precise has turned up. However, she has a theory: ‘There was a family living in Snape with the name Swinburne in 1911. The father was a retired inspector of schools and the son a priest. I imagine these to be the kind of people who would have the time and equipment to take photographs in 1908; this is only conjecture.’ Without jumping to conclusions, Catherine’s idea rings true because the religious leanings of the family chime with the religious bent of Quiver.

Quiver carried appeals to raise funds for various good causes – and a particular favourite appears to have been the lifeboats. John Cassell, in his history of the company, mentions that by 1922 its readers had contributed £15,000 to various funds, including the biggest sum, £2,662, to the Lifeboat Institution.

Quiver was a fiction-focused monthly from book publisher Cassell, which was based at La Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill, just down from St Paul’s Cathedral. Cassell had moved into the 15th-century building during the 1850s, but the former inn was demolished in 1873 to make way for a railway viaduct, with the company building new premises behind.

John Cassell, the company’s founder, came up with the magazine’s concept and strategy in 1861:

I have got the title, the Quiver — a case for arrows, and we can have long arrows and short arrows — arrows, however, which shall wing their flight and tell their tale, all coming from this quiver of ours.

It was described as:

John Cassell’s New Weekly Journal, designed for the Defence and Promotion of Biblical Truth and the Advance of Religion in the Homes of the People. [The Quiver] will be evangelical and unsectarian in its character, having for its grand aim the intellectual, moral, and spiritual improvement of its readers. Its staff of contributors will include some of the ablest writers in the sphere of religious literature, irrespective of denominational differences.

The magazine changed its format several times over the years and fewer of the contents had a religious theme, though the magazine never forgot its roots. Quiver closed in 1926.

The Story of the House of Cassell by John Cassell (1922)

The self-referential magazine cover

April 1, 2015
The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904

The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904

Self-referential magazine cover covers are a not-so-subtle form of marketing and are pretty rare, but they do crop up, seemingly more often on weekly magazines than monthlies. It’s a brand marketing strategy, though that is not likely to have been a term on anyone’s lips at the time the front cover above was published.

This is the earliest one I’ve noticed, from 1904. It plugs not only itself but its sister magazine from publishers Cassell, the monthly Cassell Magazine, which cost 6d. This strategy of having a cheap weekly and upmarket monthly was common for publishers in the Victorian and Edwardian era. The Penny Magazine had been founded in 1898 as the New Penny Magazine, shortening the name in 1903 and continuing until 1925. The story-based sister monthly was published under various titles from 1853 to 1932. Other magazines shown or partly visible are three titles for children,  Chums (1892-1934), Quiver (1861-1926) and Little Folks; and Cassell’s Saturday Journal (1883-1924) again all from Cassell.

The black-and-white cover illustration with its red spot colour is not a particularly well-crafted image, but then most of these penny weeklies were pretty cheap. It is signed  E Lander, probably Edgar Lander (1872–1958). The quality of some titles improved as sales grew for those titles from the likes of Newnes and Harmsworth that were able to achieve very high sales.

penny_magazine_1904sep17_edgar_lander.jpg

Illustrator Edgar Lander’s signature

Lander worked for several better-produced magazines, including  Harmsworth’s Boys’ Friend comic and  Royal magazine. He was married to another artist, Hilda Cowham (1873-1964), whose signature character was a flighty young girl in a black pinny and white bow with a black cat who appeared in magazines such as Home Chat, Home Notes and Pick Me Up. She did cuter, more homely girls who were used on pottery and for London Underground posters. In The Strand of August 1913 (US edition) Cowham wrote and illustrated an article ‘Amusing Children I Have Met’ in which she talked about receiving letters from ‘mothers saying that they have dressed their little ones like a Hilda Cowham girl’.

Lander’s drawing portrays a railway bookstall of the kind run by WH Smith and Wyman & Sons. No actual cover is shown on the stall, just the magazines’ titles. The uniformed lad with his sales tray looks like he may be selling maps and guides. Note that the Penny Magazine describes itself as being for travellers and commuters – ‘for rail, road, river or sea’.

Cassell is a name that dates back to 1848, when the company was founded by John Cassell. The magazines were an offshoot of his book publishing and were probably regarded as a way of developing writers and promoting established names. Cassell ceased being an independent publisher in 1999 – a decade of concentration in book publishing – when it was bought up by Orion Publishing Group, itself owned by the French group Lagardère. Today, Cassell is an illustrated imprint of Octopus Publishing.

Magazines for collectors at London book fair

May 27, 2014

I was at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair in Olympia on Saturday and saw magazines for sale on several stands – most prominently Biblioctopus offering a set of the 75 Holmes stories in the Strand for £55,000.

But even £55,000 is peanuts if you want to get your hands on the two Holmes stories, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, that predate the Strand. Scarlet was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887. This is one of the rarest magazines in the world and probably the most expensive. (The wife of the publisher Samuel Beeton, was the Mrs Beeton of cookery book fame.) In 2007, a repaired but complete copy of the Beeton annual sold for $156,000 at Sotheby’s in New York.

The Sign appeared in Lippincott’s Monthly, a US magazine, in the February 1890 edition, which was published in both London and Philadelphia. (Lippincott’s also published Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in its July 1890 issue.)

Neither story was particularly successful and it took George Newnes and his groundbreaking Strand to make a household name of Sherlock Holmes and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle with the short stories, starting with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in its launch issue of 1891.

My visit to the antiquarian book fair came about because of the boom Magforum is seeing in the level of interest in collecting magazines. In the past year, Magforum’s collecting page has established itself as the most popular of the site’s 200 pages, pulling in 1700 visits last month. It is the top Google result to searches such as “collecting magazines”. Two years ago, the page was not even in the top 10. So, I’m seeing big growth in interest in collecting magazines.

Ebay has driven the boom and both buyers and sellers have moved upmarket – as have the prices. Ten years ago, copies of Town could be had for £5; five years ago it was £10; now, the starting price is a tenner and many fetch £100. It’s a similar story with all the classic titles – and fans of the everything from the latest celeb such as Benedict Cumberbatch to the Man from Uncle prepared to pay £133 for a cheap 1966 magazine are continually pushing up the prices of all sorts of titles.

Another book fair item that caught my eye was a nice copy of Brassai’s first book, Paris de Nuit. Sixty of his images were printed in stunning gravure in this 1933 work over 74 pages. The copy was described as: ‘Cover slightly rubbed at corners. Spiral binding intact binding.’ The price was £1650. The Belgian bookseller Deslegte was also offering a ‘very fine copy’ of Robert Doisneau and Arthur Gregor’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 children’s book from 1955 for £525.

London’s Harrington Books had more copies of the Strand on offer, such as a set of the first 44 bound volumes for £2,750. However, it’s complete unbound copies that fetch the best prices, such as an issue carrying Conan Doyle’s The Land of Mist for £750.

The Dark Knight rises in a London library

July 7, 2011

On Tuesday, I was in the Gotham City Library, today I’m sitting in a vaulted Tudor room in Hadleigh trying to write a book about British Magazine Design. But it’s so distracting … there’s a cupboard door in the wall that I can open and admire the wattle & daub (one of those great terms that sticks to you like glue from history lessons). Hadleigh is where 5 of the men who translated the King James Bible came from, so an exhibition in the church of St Mary tells me, and I’m hoping for inspiration. Yesterday, the town beat off an attempted invasion by Tesco (been trying to destroy this ancient Suffolk wool town for 16 years apparently). In terms of seeing people off, the town has form – Guthrum, King of the Danes, is said to be buried in the grounds of St Mary’s, since being defeated  by King Alfred in the C9th.

And if Gotham City sounds far fetched, just look at these covers from 1904 and 1927 – don’t they put the much later Bat-man artwork  to shame:

spring_heeled_jack_1904

Penny dreadful – Spring-Heeled Jack

Tatler cover from summer 1927

The reason I was in Gotham City was for a meeting of contributors to the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain (vol 7) at the University of London. It turned out the place was being used as a location for the next Batman film – The Dark Knight Rises – due out in 2012. Take a look the libraries page and you’ll see why. Apparently, an ‘evil ball’ had been seen in the building, some very strange plants, as well as Christian Bale.

Journalists: writing their own obituaries

January 23, 2011

‘One of the troublesome things about being a journalist – as I have been all my working life – is that a considerable part of our time, these, days, is devoted to writing our own obituaries. This is not exhilarating work … We are, in the nicest way, dinosaurs. Just as the old iron-founders were superseded by technology, and the flint-knappers and the ploughboys, so we are superseded by new methods – better ones, quite often; new media, like the one I am using now.’

No, this is not from a blog, but from a talk by Picture Post legend James Cameron, ‘Letter from London’ broadcast on the BBC World Service in January 1979 (the ‘new media’ he refers to was short wave radio). It was reported in the Listener, a BBC magazine that closed a few years later.

Wasafiri founder awarded MBE

December 31, 2010
susheila-nasta

Susheila Nasta, founder and editor of Wasafiri magazine

Susheila Nasta, founder and editor of Wasafiri magazine, has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours. Wasafiri was one of the first magazines to promote African, Caribbean and South Asian writing. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009, when Nasta was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.