Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

Pulp fiction and off-the-shelf thriller plots

December 31, 2015
Miles Jupp on pulp writer William Wallace Cook and Plotto, his 'Master Book of All Plots'

Miles Jupp expounds on US pulp writer William Wallace Cook and Plotto, his ‘Master Book of All Plots’

Miles Jupp set out on BBC Radio 4 this morning to answer the question: How many stories are there in the world? In Miles Jupp and the Plot Device he investigates the ideas of William Wallace Cook, an American writer of pot-boilers and stories for pulp fiction magazines in the 1920s. According to Cook there were 1,462 plots and he laid them all out in Plotto, his ‘Master Book of All Plots’, in 1928.

Any writer stuck for inspiration could leaf through Plotto to discover plots like ‘a ventriloquist, captured by savages and threatened with death, makes an animal talk and is given his freedom’ or ‘a reporter, writing up an imaginary interview as fact, quotes a man as being in town on a certain day. The man, subsequently accused of a crime, establishes an alibi through an interview innocently faked by the reporter.’

Cook hailed his own book as ‘an invention which reduces literature to an exact science’ and it worked for him, turning out up to 50 novels a year. Perry Mason creator Earl Stanley Gardner is mentioned as having ‘borrowed liberally’ from Plotto and Alfred Hitchcock had a copy. Jub reckons that pulp plots cover just about every episode of both Downton Abbey and Mad Men.

Jupp enlists the help of crime writers Val McDermid and John Harvey in his investigation. Harvey has written more than 100 thrillers. McDermid – writer of 40 books – reckons thrillers are character-driven, rather than by plot, which is why Plotto falls down for her. However, she does reckon it has a role in prompting plot ideas.

Such writers filled the pages of the popular weekly and monthly magazines in Britain and the US for most of the 20th century; the serials were then turned into books (and the other way round when the writers became popular). Cook’s output pales into insignificance when compared with the most prolific British writers – Ursula Bloom (560 romance novels in her 91 years), Barbara Cartland (359 romances in 98 years) and King Kong inventor Edgar Wallace, regarded as the most widely read author in the world in the 1920s with 170 novels (but then he died while working on the film King Kong at the age of just 57).  Presumably, they just got on with writing and never read any books!

You can still hear Miles Jupp and the Plot Device on the BBC website. Or, better still, pop into the Edgar Wallace pub off Fleet Street for a New Year pint and listen to it on your laptop.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out 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

Racy pin-ups – Edwardian style

September 19, 2015
Racy centre spread pin-up in Photo-Bits in 1902 (October 18)

Racy centre spread pin-up in Photo-Bits in 1902 (October 18)

Photo-Bits was a racy men’s penny weekly dating from the late Victorian era. This is its centre spread from 18 October 1902.

The upper picture is captioned:

Sweets on a shelf… which any well-endowed viscount (K of K not excepted) can enjoy with the assistance of a wedding-ring and a brief but dignified ceremony at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Quite why K of K – Lord Kitchener of Khartoum – is referred to is unclear. The woman is not identified.

The lower image has the caption:

On Blackpool’s sandy beach. A delightful memory of a week at the delightful Lancashire watering-place.

The cover of Photo Bits, October 18, 1902. Note the masthead in the form of letters on pinned-up cards

The cover of Photo Bits, October 18, 1902. Note the masthead in the form of letters on pinned-up cards

Photographs were still a novelty in magazines, so the romantic kiss of the canoodling couple on the cover was just the start of 32 pages of pictures. The caption reads:

LOVE’S ANXIETY
SHE: Kiss me again.
HE: My dear, I’ve just kissed you seventeen times in seventeen seconds.
SHE: (reproachfully) – Harold, you love another!

The pinned-up cards of the title also set out the features of the magazine: ‘Up to date. Bright. Sketchy. Smart. Witty. Pictorial. Pithy. Original. Spicy.’ That mantra predates that of men’s monthly FHM ‘funny, sexy, useful’ – by 75 years.

Inside, the masthead announced copyright in Great Britain and Ireland.  It also noted the magazine was ‘entered at Stationers’ Hall‘. The Stationers, one of the City of London’s worshipful companies, had enforced copyright for hundreds of years with powers comparable with the Inland Revenue today.

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

 

 

Downton in search of the ultimate romantic kiss

April 11, 2015
Portraying the romantic kiss: a Laurence Olivier

Portraying the romantic kiss: a Laurence Olivier lookalike on the cover of Woman’s Own magazine in 1938

Mills & Boon has long been a book publishing brand synonymous with romantic fiction. While the men turned to war and adventure, it was in the hospital or among the country’s squiredom that many women readers sought their romantic escapes. And the same writers who produced the books also provided staple fare for the women’s magazines.

As an earlier post noted, though, illustrating the bliss of the kiss is tricky. Here is one attempt by Woman’s Own in 1938. The woman is all expectation as the man – a near likeness for Laurence Olivier, the great prewar heartthrob – approaches.

Downton's star-crossed lovebirds: Lady Mary in the arms of her cousin Matthew Crawley on the cover of ES Magazine in 2011

Downton’s star-crossed lovebirds: Lady Mary in the arms of her cousin Matthew Crawley on the cover of ES Magazine in 2011

After the war, photography took over, culminating in this ES Magazine cover promoting  ITV’s great Sunday evening attraction, Downton, in 2011. It’s a near copy of the Woman’s Own posing, though more artificial in the positioning of the characters for the camera.

The on-off love affair of the series was between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and her cousin, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and takes place after the Titanic goes down and into the 1920s. At first, she resents being passed over as inheritor of the family estate simply because she is a woman in favour of Matthew, a mere doctor. But she is soon smitten. Ultimately, they marry, have a child, but, of course, their love is doomed. Dramatic stuff, which this cover sets out to portray.

She is portrayed for the London Evening Standard‘s weekly supplement here as a cold, alabaster statue, more vampire than hot-blooded woman. The photograph is by Nicole Nodland, who has the sequence of Downton images for the magazine on her website.

 

 

 

Wwome’s magazines – and tthe book publishers such as

In search of the romantic kiss

March 29, 2015
Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood brought to visual life on the cover of Pearson's Magazine (1930) by Joseph Greenup

Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood brought to visual life on the cover of Pearson’s Magazine (1930) by Joseph Greenup

Fiction, in the form of short stories, serials or character-driven series, seems to have been a staple of magazines for as long as they have existed. Dickens, HG Wells, Conan Doyle and Rafael Sabatini are among those who made their name providing the weekly or monthly adventures, Christie and Edgar Wallace the crime, and Ursula Bloom and Ruby M. Ayres the romantic fiction. The Georgian and early Victorian works by the likes of Dickens were not illustrated, but the images of Sidney Paget for The Strand set the tone for the way Holmes has been portrayed, in print or on the screen, since they were first published.

To my eyes, depicting adventure is relatively easy – whether it be the Martian invaders for War of the Worlds or the piratical looks of Sabatini’s Captain Blood by Joseph Greenup – but romantic fiction is harder. Particularly in more prurient times, getting the balance right between love and lust is tricky. Artists, and later photographers, have striven to portray romance – and in particular the kiss. Here are two examples. The first is an illustration from ‘Honesty is the best policy’, a short story by Jane England in Woman’s Friend (22 May 1937). England started writing in the 1920s until about 1970, producing about 60 novels. Philsp.com lists England as the pseudonym of Vera Murdoch Stuart Jervis (1896-1967) and credits her with one serial and five short stories in five magazine titles:

  • ‘End of desire’, The Novel Magazine (May 1937);
  • ‘Knight-errant’, Lovat Dickson’s Magazine (Jun 1934);
  • ‘The last drift’, The Royal Magazine (Nov 1925);
  • ‘Old lamps’, The New Magazine (Oct 1926);
  • ‘Thin ice’, 20-Story Magazine (Feb 1933).

The drawing is signed, but this is not legible.

The youngsters steal a kiss in a short story from Woman's Friend (22 May 1937)

The youngsters steal a kiss in a short story from Woman’s Friend (22 May 1937)

Here is a detail of the painting, with the signature (which someone may be able to identify). Note the corner of the picture frame by the man’s shoulder, which seems to point to the courting couple like an arrow, and the file storage boxes on the shelf leaning into each other.

Detail of Woman's Friend romantic kiss illustration

Detail of Woman’s Friend romantic kiss illustration

Illustration signature

Illustration signature

The drawing was published by Woman’s Friend in 1937, while the photographic spread below dates from three years earlier. It was during the 1930s that the battle for dominance between artist and photographer in magazines reached its peak, and, after the war, it was the latter that came out on top. At least for the next 50 years.

How film stars kiss from London Life 30 June 1934

How film stars kiss from London Life 30 June 1934

The spread is from London Life, which specialised in reproducing risqué film stills. It is a montage of five film stills as the woman swoons in anticipation in the man’s arms. At the top left are Ronald Coleman, with, below him and the unidentified actress, Mexican actress Lupe Vélez in the grip of John Boles in Resurrection (1931); Jean Harlow is in a ‘caveman embrace’ in the centre; and while the oldest still of a couple in a similar embrace is not identified, the bottom right is a more light-hearted Maurice Chevalier and Anne Dvorak in Way to Love (1933). Note, though, that the actual kiss is not shown, possibly because it was very difficult to portray a kiss while still being able to see the faces of both parties in a recognisable way. But then, after all, this was film publicity – and anticipation was everything.