Like wine, there is much to be said about a captivating book cover that leaves a thread of something lingering in your mind. I’ve always said that my favourite book publisher is actually Hesperus, self-proclaimed ‘independent publishers of neglected and translated classics’ – and my first Hesperus book was actually Turgenev. The size and font of their little novels are just right for me, and I love they way they have taken an oblique angle on some of the classics. And I adore the Goya like art and the little french flaps! Some of the works they have published are as below:
Zastrozzi: A Romance (by Percy Bysshe Shelley, foreword by Germaine Greer)
The Double: A Petersburg Poem (by Fydor Dostoevsky, foreword by Jeremy Dyson)
Hyde Park Gate News (by Virginia Woolf, foreword by Hermione Lee)
On Travel (by Charles Dickens)
On War (by George Bernard Shaw, foreword by Phillip Pullman)
Amos Barton (by George Eliot, foreword by Matthew Sweet)
Carlyle’s House and Other Sketches (by Virginia Woolf, foreword by Doris Lessing)
A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire (by Charles Dickens, foreword by D.J. Taylor)
The Popular Girl (by F. Scott Fitzgerald, foreword by Helen Dunmore)
The Dream (by Émile Zola, translated by Andrew Brown)
Sanditon (by Jane Austen, foreword by A. C. Grayling)
But I admit it, perhaps it is just because Hesperus published Zola and Pirandello and some of the darker authors. Coffee book romances.
The current Hesperus book I am now bringing around is Loveless Love by Pirandello, which sounds like that Billie Holiday song but isn’t. I have always had a soft spot for Pirandello, since we performed Six Characters in Search of an Author for my theatre examinations – and have always sought to find translations of Pirandello, and was really excited to find this version thanks to JC. When I saw it was Hesperus, I was even happier (I am superficial like that) and am currently am in the middle of the first tale of love and possession. The preface was very simply written (I was reassured, and I loathe indulgent and over-promising prefaces):
Loveless Love is a collection of three remarkable, but slightly chilling, stories, all dealing with ‘sterile, frozen love’. In his Introduction, J.G. Nichols reminds us that Pirandello was more or less contemporary with Freud (1856-1939) and although there is no suggestion of any mutual influence, he notes that they were both involved in ideas and ways of thinking about ourselves which dominated intellectual life in their time and still continue to do so. ‘They are concerned with revealing the motives of human conduct, and not only the motives which we hide from others, but also those which remain hidden from ourselves.’
While Freud’s purpose was to heal his patients by formulating theories which he hoped would clarify some of their hidden motivations, Pirandello, being an artist rather than a psychiatrist, is not concerned with theory but presents his characters in concrete situations; he just shows us what happens and what is said. It is worth noting that a great deal of the narrative is delivered through dialogue, anticipating the plays which are now considered to have been Pirandello’s greatest achievement.
The question implicit in all Pirandello’s stories is: What is love? His answers come in different forms, but none of them make love sound conventionally rosy. His characters are not much swept off their feet by pure, irrational passion – there are always underlying currents and motivations, usually destructive.In The Wave, a young, well-to-do man regularly rents out part of his property and makes a habit of flirting and falling in love with his female tenants, but never with serious intentions towards them. His contracts with his tenants are only for one year so he always has an easy way out of any involvement. This situation only changes when one of his female tenants proves totally indifferent to his advances because she is in love with someone else. When she is jilted, he first falls in love with her misfortune and finally is in love with what he regards as his triumph over his former rival. In the end, the pleasure he hopes to gain from this somewhat perverse form of devotion is undermined; marriage, and especially pregnancy, have deprived his wife of her youthful beauty. ‘Her condition did not allow him to achieve a complete victory, since by this stage [she] could perhaps no longer inspire in that man [i.e.his rival] the torments of jealous love.’
In A Friend to the Wives, a woman attracts advances, then repels them, so that eventually her would be suitors find wives elsewhere. Why she is so determined to reject all aspiring lovers is never made explicit, but having done so she then deliberately sets out to prove herself to be such a capable and accomplished woman, befriending the new husbands and wives in every possible way, that the husbands fall in love with her, or rather with the unattainable ideal which she represents. But her own underlying motives can only be guessed at: what is she in love with? With power? With the desire for revenge? With being loved?
These are not comfortable stories. J.G.Nichols sums them up as ‘ bleak narratives of mistakes and frustrations.’ He goes on as follows: ‘Why then are they so enjoyable? The answer is, I think, that, even if we cannot know ourselves, we are still creatures with an irresistible urge to know, and we even enjoy getting to know that we cannot know. Pirandello’s birthplace was Cavusu, which in Sicilian means “chaos”. It is a kind of chaos of which he writes, but his way of doing so is both controlled and calm. We can enjoy in art what we would find unbearable in life.’
Hello all, from the newest addition to the Hesperus team! I have been interning at your favourite publishing house for the past few months and I’m really delighted to have been welcomed as an honorary Hesperette. My time here has been somewhat of a learning curve but I feel as if I’ve really gotten to grips with the goings-around the office. It is a pleasure to be able to contribute even just a little to publishing the interesting and exciting titles Hesperus is renowned for. I was particularly excited to be offered a pass to the London Book Fair and was looking forward to being initiated into this most important of publishing events. But with the news that Iceland’s oh-so-temperamental (and unpronounceable to those without a good grasp of the Icelandic language) volcano would be throwing tonnes of ash into the world’s flight-paths for some time, the book fair seemed to be doomed. Publishers around the world were at the mercy of Eyjafjallajokull, with hundreds of aeroplanes grounded and flights cancelled. With representatives from international publishing houses both large and small unable to travel to London, Earls Court felt a little like a literary ghost-town.
Having recently moved to London, I am very rapidly becoming acquainted with the mixture of horrors and joys which daily commutes contain. There is the urgent need to lunge for a seat, elbowing everyone out of my way in the process, or if standing, to avoid the armpits of sweaty men. For me the stress of such activities is only relieved by my habit of vicariously reading over my fellow passengers’ shoulders. Whatever my companions may be reading, be it War and Peace, a trashy novel or even the Metro, it always looks infinitely more interesting in their hands. Am I alone in the world in this obsession? (I call it obsession because the urge to turn over their page for them is sometimes almost overwhelming.)
So, certain in the knowledge that I will soon be arrested for stalking someone fresh off a train in order to read the last line of a particularly interesting thriller, I thought I would come clean about my parasitic reading habits. But these musings have got me thinking that trains and undergrounds should be equipped with recordings of short stories, or perhaps weekly instalments taken from a thick Russian classic. It could resemble an interactive ‘Poems on the Underground’ or a diurnal version of the ‘Book at Bedtime.’ It didn’t take me very long to figure out some pretty serious flaws in my amazing plan, not least the fact that such a system would no doubt cause countless people to stay on beyond their customary stop in order to discover how a particular story would culminate.
Nonetheless, undeterred, I researched my fabulous idea on the internet, assuming that in Japan there must be an ultra-modern entertainment system for public transport, even if it doesn’t include literary classics or promising new fiction. However my search turned up nothing, so from now on I shall be mentally constructing a list of Hesperus books suitable for soothing and entertaining the masses on their way into work. I think we could lead the way with some beautiful La Fontaine fables perhaps? Or perhaps a quick piece of Jack London dystopic writing first thing in the morning, based on which one could envisage the world emptied of the hordes that are currently cluttering up one’s personal space in a railway carriage. So many options… Well enough of my strange musings, the real world calls, in which one has to read one’s own books, without companionship and turning one’s own pages.
On another note on book covers (and this entry has to get a little crazier and twisted), I came across a version of a book clutch by Kate Spade at Raffles Place tonight – The Great Gatsby! It was love at first sight – laminated silk twill – blue/white sailor interior and a little gold clasp – it was utterly stunning. I fingered it longingly for such a long time but the price simply is prohibitive. A dream clutch. The photograph simply doesn’t do it justice. Kate Spade, I am in awe and this is the first time I really loved something by them.
Checked out Etsy, and saw this adorable blue bow Jane Eyre book clutch by Suburban Graffitti (http://www.etsy.com/shop/suburbangraffiti)!
And Herajika’s self-made book clutch, which I simply adore. She is always coming up with such pretty creations. I haven’t seen her for some time since I left London, and it is a pity I missed her when she came to Singapore to visit!
What do you think about book clutches? Blasphemous? Pretty ironic that they often can never fit a book. But then, I never let the size of my clutches determine the book I am reading. The truth is, some of my favourite books have frightfully terrible publishers with strange ideas of book art.
A funny memory – Animal Farm was one of my texts in high school, and my mother actually threw away my carefully annotated copy because of the child-friendly cover of happy pigs and the mare. It is often difficult to explain to my mother why I would rather keep Animal Farm on my shelf, and give away books with prettier and more ornate covers (which can be pretty boring). But now I know, to ward off the questions, I can always transform them into book clutches (there again, book blasphemy!)