Posts Tagged ‘Edwardian era’

"The Children's Store"I won’t lie and say that every book that we come across in the Tower is really exciting. Many of them are school textbooks or religious pamphlets that are less than exciting to look at. Once in a while though, we get something really pretty that we want to share (hence this blog!)

This week we found two books that fit this description. “The Children’s StoreChildren's Store and “The Doll’s Play-House” are books and toys rolled into one. When I was little I remember having similar books were you had to cut clothes for the doll out of paper and then dress her up. These books follow the same theme but take it to another level. As well as folding out into either a model home or a shop, they also come with paper accessories for the setting. As well as being a fun and nostalgic trip down memory lane, the books also give us some important information about the time period they come from.

 CharactersThe clothes the characters are wearing in the picture on the left tells us a lot about fashions in the Edwardian period. It’s easy to recognise the sophisticated lady customer and her daughter, the grocer or the butcher just from their costumes. They don’t seem to have changed much in the last hundred years but the pictures still provide us with a nice visual resource of what people were wearing in their everyday lives back in 1911.

The next few inserts show us the kinds of goods that would have beenWares sold in "The Children's Store" available in a general store in 1911.  These include general household goods, basic food provisions, clothes and dressmaking supplies. I always pictured people having to visit multiple shops in order to get everything they needed, unlike the convenience of the supermarkets which we have today. Based on “The Children’s Store” this isn’t true. These shops sold a wide range of goods and were likely to have been the hub of the community.

Doll's Play-HouseThe second book is a more traditional doll’s house. Whereas the Store could be played with by all children, the doll’s house is very much geared towards little girls. This was a time when, although things were beginning to change, little girls were still expected to be able to run a household as their primary duty when they grew up. Toys like a doll’s house would have been a good way for them to practice basic skills. This books includes a sitting-room, bathroom and bedroom as well as the more traditional cut-out-and-dress doll.

This kind of focus on the day-to-day lives of people in the Edwardian periodWares sold in "The Children's Store" is one of the things which makes books like these so interesting to read, and to catalogue. Books like this were made to be used and cut up, which would have destroyed them for future generations. Although these books weren’t designed as anything more than a child’s plaything, they provide valuable insights into social history. This is the type of history not often recorded in books of the time and this makes the work of that the Tower Project does so important. The books also provide information to those interested in children’s books and the history of childhood which makes it even more fortunate that the library has preserved them for all these years!

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As the long winter evenings loom ahead, I thought that it might be fun to share some ideas on amusements to keep people busy. Recently I came across a book on shadow puppets which looked like it could inspire hours of fun! 

Hand Shadows

Hand Shadows

Hand Shadows : the Complete Art of Shadowgraphy by magician Louis Nikola outlines the principles of shadowgraphy, an art that was popular in the  early twentieth century. Most people have an idea of how to make basic shapes such as a bird or a butterfly, but with a little practice people can make some really creative shadows.

The art of shadow puppets died out  due to the rise in popularity of entertainments such as the cinema. People were also more readily able to afford nights out, meaning that they didn’t need so many home entertainments. The invention of the electric lightbulb also didn’t help since electric lights don’t cast the same depth of shadow as candles. But never fear, there’s still plenty of fun to be had by those willing to try!

Each shadow in the book is accompanied by step-by-step instructions on how to make it. The book starts off with quite simple animals such as a rabbit or an elephant:





The book then moves on to people in preparation for putting on a shadow pantomime. Some of the characters need props to make them work which could be considered cheating, but it would be impossible to create some of these figures any other way!





A little play is provided at the end of the book for people to perform. There are multiple characters in the play and a few need props, so it’s not for the amateur. However, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunity to practice on those long dark nights before spring arrives!
Shadow pantomime

Shadow pantomime

 Hand Shadows : the Complete Art of Shadowgraphy: 1913.7.1578


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The nose is the most prominent feature of the face, and the art of reading character by the nose is one of the most interesting of human studies

Noses and What They Indicate is one of many books that were published on physiognomy, or the art of understanding personalities based on facial features. This blog has already covered books on moles and moustaches but this work obviously concentrates just on the nose.

Noses and What They Indicate

The author claims that the nose is the one facial feature which can’t be hidden (by either a large hat or facial hair) and is always on show for the world to see.  Therefore it is one of the most important indicators of character and its study should not be taken lightly.

Examples of noses

Examples of noses

The Roman nose is described as being “the nose of a conqueror” and people who have this type of nose often make natural leaders, with examples such as Queen Elizabeth and Gladstone. The cognitive nose is found “among men of all pursuits” but especially those who “gain the highest kind of excellence in every department”. Famous theologians Luther and Wesley are prime examples of this type of nose. Celestial noses, which are often slightly upturned at the end, are admired in the fairer sex but not very popular in men due to their somewhat feminine appearance.

 The book also points out the importance of nose breathing in order to prevent disease. It talks about the small hairs inside the nose which help to trap germs and can be particularly useful in preventing consumption. Proper and full breathing is advocated as is drawing water up the nostril, although to be honest I’m not sure that last one is very healthy…!

Although volunteers were sought from the Tower Project office to have their noses analysed, sadly there were no takers. Instead we’ve decided to look at some famous noses, based on the principles laid out in the book:

Barry Manilow: his slightly hooked nose indicates that he’s a talkative individual whilst the rounded tip equals a good character

Barbra Streisand: her famous nose indicates tenderness and shows that she’s a sensitive soul

Stephen Fry: the shape of his nostrils show that he has a high I.Q. whilst the wings of his nose show that he’s a curious individual

So far I would like to think that these books seem pretty accurate. Next time you are sizing someone up (for whatever reason!) maybe you should pay more attention to the shape of their nose. It could be telling you more than you think…

Noses and What They Indicate: 1912.7.3037

Image credits: ladybugbkt, JCT(loves)Streisand, lewishamdreamer on Flickr

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In our technology-crazed society it can be quite nostalgic to now and then think back to the time when communication wasn’t instant and mobile, and life seemed a bit simpler. Which is why I was fascinated to come across an advertisement brochure for ‘The Domestic Telephone Set’ which the library received in 1909.

 Although the cover of the brochure may not look very exciting, once opened the reader cannot fail to be impressed by the description of a product which must have been an extremely useful addition to larger households.

The set comprises two telephones connected with a flexible cord. Each set should be placed in the room in which it will be most convenient, and detailed instructions are given in the brochure on how to arrange the sets so that the cord is well hidden, including how to pass the cord through doorways: “cut the top corner nearest the hinge away with a pen-knife, this will allow the cord plenty of room when the door is shut and at the same time will not disfigure the door perceptibly”. I like to think that the members of the household were so eager to see the telephones set up and in use, any obstruction to the cord was simply hacked away with a pen-knife! How exciting and revolutionary these sets must have been, and what fun the Edwardians must have had with them, especially if children got their hands on them – I’m sure that endless pranks must have been played!

With the telephones well installed, lengthy directions then follow on how to make and receive calls. To call someone in another room in the house you must “take the combination receiver and transmitter off its cradle, holding it by its black handle, with the fingers pressing down the inserted ebonite press piece, holding the earpiece well against the ear.” In other words, pick up the phone and press the one button that is on the set to make the call! The convoluted instructions are a real eye-opener to the novelty factor these objects must have had at the time, especially when making and receiving calls is second nature to us all now. The party who answers the telephone is then given identical instructions, but they then have the added responsibility of saying “Yes!” into the mouthpiece, “for if you do not speak the party calling will not know that anyone is at the instrument at the other end”. I must remember to say that next time someone calls my mobile, although I’m sure it won’t go down too well with the person calling.

There was an amusing surprise on the final page of the brochure (or maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised after three years cataloguing Tower Project material), when arguably the most important use for the telephone set came to light. Images of a rather well-to-do looking lady of the house relaxing in bed with a book, using her telephone to call her maid below stairs! Now that’s what I call luxury. I wonder if you can still buy these phones anywhere? … Right, I’m off to check eBay.

  • The Domestic Telephone Set. Classmark 1910.12.56

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While recently cataloguing some of the larger sizes in the tower I came across some annual publications produced by the Royal Drawing Society. These were exhibition and examination papers which contained collections of children’s competition sketches, from different age groups. As I loved drawing as a kid, always hoping that my pictures would be chosen for the gallery on Hart Beat (they weren’t), I was intrigued.

I liked the drawings, which ranged from the fuzzy to the highly skilled, but what really interested me were the scenes that were sketched, the cars, trains, and boats, the outfits and situations. They presented Edwardian Britain in a really new way, from a child’s perspective.

Click on the images for a close up view.

Another interesting factor was the analyses of the pictures, these I thought prone to exaggeration …

This caterpillar by Betty Strickland earned the comment: “The caterpillar shows incipient power in using varied lines (surface description) to express different structural characteristics.”

W. Browning had apparently “a great fondness for military subjects”, his work at 3 1/2 is “enough to satisfy any martinet” but “at 8 years he feels his powers equal to the realisation of the dramatic incidents of a battle scene”.

The work of 16 year old B. Elliot was obviously inspiring. His drawings showed “strong feeling for the romance of travel and drawing of this sort might well become an incentive to active enterprise and adventure, and thus be a corrective to the coddling of the unfit in cities, and the enfeeblement of a race”.

Why were these explanations so over the top? The answer lay in the philosophy and ideals of the Society itself. The Royal Drawing Society was founded in 1888 in Great Britain by a Mr. Ablett, who found a keen supporter in H.R.H. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll and was aided by Lord Leighton, Sir John Millais, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Ablett’s aim was to develop the teaching of drawing for educational purposes. He believed that by focusing the eye and exercising the coordinating powers of the mind as it developed, intellect would increase. His plan was to encourage children’s impulse to draw and support their observatory skills in order to promote astute perception and retentive memory. This he thought could be found even in the most primitive stages. For example the picture here, apparently depicting a stream of water coming from a siphon, demonstrates the “delineation of movement”. He also found adult art study to be dull and unobservant and believed that by supporting the observing powers of children, their freshness of vision would carry through to adult work.

Large numbers of children took part in these programmes and competitions. At the 19th annual exhibition held in 1908, 15,000 drawings were exhibited in the Orangery, Kensington and many children won medals for their work. It is also true that some went on to artistic success as adults. Brian Hatton (1887-1916), Claire White (1903-1997), Edward Seago (1910-1974), Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979) and Robert Sargent Austin (1895-1973) are recognised artists to a greater or lesser extent. My favourites, however, still remain the hopeful unknowns and their squiffy caterpillars and off kilter sketches. I am glad they were supported and encouraged by the Society, even if a little over eagerly.

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When I came across a book with this title, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect: a novel (“motoring” novels were very popular at this time), a manual for women drivers, or maybe a book advocating the view that women should not drive?

In fact, the title-page indicates (slightly patronisingly) that it is a “chatty little handbook for all women who motor or want to motor.”  It was written by Dorothy Levitt, who was the first female motorist in England to drive a car in a public competiton and who went on to win numerous cups and medals for her driving. She was obviously an enterprising and sporting person, as she was a good cyclist and horse rider, an excellent shot and good with a fishing rod, as well as being able to drive a car and a motor-boat. She was also pretty and stylish, and lived the life of a “bachelor girl” in a flat in West London, with a housekeeper, a maid, and a Pomeranian called Dodo. All in all, she sounds like a most unusual woman for her time.

Dorothy Levitt’s advice on motoring for women is at all times practical, although the photographs that illustrate her explanations must strike the modern reader as amusing, since I very much doubt that anyone these days would attempt to repair a car wearing such a hat! The overall (of Dorothy Levitt’s own design) was indispensable as it ensured that no smudges of oil or dirt should stain the driver’s clothes if roadside repairs had to be completed.  The author most helpfully lists all the costs likely to accrue from the moment of purchasing a car and also gives a handy list of items that should be kept in the equivalent of the glove compartment, which was, at that time. a little drawer under the driving seat. 

“This little drawer is the secret of the dainty motoriste. What you put in it depends upon your tastes, but the following articles are what I advise you to have in its recesses. A pair of clean gloves, an extra handkerchief, clean veil, powder puff (unless you despise them), hair-pins and ordinary pins, a hand mirror – and some chocolates are very soothing sometimes!”

She continues her list with soap, and makes sure that the aspiring motorist realises that the handmirror afore mentioned is “not strictly for personal use, but to occasionally hold up to see what is behind you.” This was, of course, in the days before wing or rear-view mirrors became standard. Then, rather startlingly, given that the list was supposed to be for the “dainty motoriste” she continues: “If you are going to drive alone in the highways and byways it might be advisable to carry a small revolver.” The list is then, most fittingly for the sporting person Dorothy Levitt obviously was, rounded off with that absolute necessity to enliven all excursions: a dog!

Although much of her advice seems simplistic, it was designed for complete novice drivers, who had previously only been driven by chauffeurs, or whose families had never owned a car before. It takes the novice through all the necessary pre-drive checks of fuel, oil, brakes, gears and battery for a single-cylinder car, describes how best to drive, gives advice on routine maintenance and repair and explains the rules of the road (as far as they existed at that point).

I don’t know much (anything)  about old timers but the advice that the author gives appears to be clear, concise and logical, and she is obviously interested in promoting driving for women, although she realises that with all the costs relating to the car, the number of women willing and able to take on such an expense must be relatively few in number.

Given Dorothy Levitt’s “dainty” and positively glamorous appearance, it seems hard to believe that she can really have achieved all the sporting success that she could justly claim as her own. I very much doubt whether, in her place, I would have had the strength or the nerve to drive an old timer of this vintage, without power-assisted stearing, what I would consider adequate brakes, or any of the safety features of the modern car – and I certainly couldn’t have done it with Dorothy Levitt’s inimitable style and panache!

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Stubbed my cataloguing toe on another Edwardian gem recently; the ever so handy Moles and their meaning (1907).

This outlines the science of Moleosophy, which pertains to allow “the divination of the character and astral indications of persons of either sex by means of the moles they possess.

By using the handy ‘face-chart’ (above) to locate your own melaninal star with respect to the astrologico-facio-dermal firmament of this schema, you are gifted a glimpse at the influence of the planets over your life and thus, obviously, you can divine your fortune. Obviously.

The colour of a mole,” or so we are told, earnestly, “must also be carefully noted, for it is very significant.” Except, that is, if you are a woman, upon whose lives the colour of mole has “no significance.” Still if you’re an XY, whether or not the mole is honey-coloured or black “must be closely studied in diagnosing the character and future.” Fact. Oh those cunning astral powers, hiding such monumental clues in such minuscule chromatic aberrations!

Still, never one to dismiss something without first subjecting it to ridicule scrupulous investigation, we shall pit this bunkem bastion of ancient learning against the lives of a couple of celebrity guinea-pigs, for a lark as the only fair way to test the outlined hypothesis – although actually I’ll only be presenting the predictions, and will be leaving the ultimate determination of the truth of these prophecies to interested parties, or at least those of you out there who have more time/inclination towards trawling Google/Wikipedia…

Anyway, stepping up for the fairer sex: Cindy Crawford

I’m calling hers a 36′er. Her prospects? “If rich in youth poor in age,” and vice versâ. Is much attracted by those of the opposite sex much beneath her rank of life, which will subject her to much annoyance at the hands of unscrupulous persons.

Anyone care to comment on the accuracy?

And for the Gents: Enrique Inglesias

Now, I can’t decide if he’s a 53 or 54, but pretty sure it’s honey coloured, in which case if it’s a 53’er it denotes ‘contentious, indifferent, inconstant fortune.’ Shall be pardoned for a great offence against the law. Things are better but still not great if it’s a 54, where the position “denotes misfortune, but only at an advanced age. Youth and middle age shall be peaceful and prosperous.” There would be another upside for Enricky if it was a 54, as “this sign is specially favourable to the knowledge of secret and occult things – a marvellous and intuitive reader of human character.” Although I don’t remember Hero being an exceptionally deep examination of the human soul, so perhaps that sways his to being a 53…

Either way, he should be glad it’s not a black mole, in which case he should either “dread justice, and watch over his actions” or beware the “peril of a serious wound from thirty to thirty-five, accidentally inflicted by a friend.

Ominous stuff.

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And so to conclude our look at the weird and wonderful writers/tings of the early twentieth century… 

The Worm Ouroboros (1922) / Eric Rücker Eddison

“In publishing these pages I obey an inward conviction which tells me that the days of crass materialism are over, in which everything that was not quite patent to the commonest mind was ridiculed and called into question. There are now thousands and tens of thousands sufficiently advanced in thought to admit of a possible intercourse with an unseen world, and there are hundreds of thousands who are eager and intelligent inquirers into the conditions, hitherto wrapped in mystery, which would enable the dwellers upon this world to communicate with their friends upon the hitherto silent shore.” 

Not my own thoughts, but rather the beginning of Colloquies with an unseen friend (1907), the collected (by the intriguing Walburga, Lady Pageta) automatic writings of one Fidelio, a rather well-informed spirit (friends with Plato dontcha know!); a book I catalogued the other day and one which evinces the mindset of the potential audience for these strange fictions we’ve been meeting.    

So is it, as one modern commentator (call them A) on the period believes, that this strain of fantasy was to the mainstream literature of the day what psychic research is to science (capital S)? That is to say, if you are said modern commentator, that it produced nothing but “debased or sentimentalized supernaturalism, things that go bump in the night.” Bit dismissive there, A. Or maybe there is a more positive reading? Well, here comes commentator B who has this to suggest, that these works might represent “the most concrete, if somewhat vulgarized, manifestation of definitive trends in the major fiction of Lawrence, Joyce, Conrad, Hardy and Woolf: the fascination with darkness and irrationality, the focus on unorthodox states of consciousness and perception, the projection of apocalypse and chaos, and above all the preoccupation with the timeless ‘moments’ and ‘visions.’”       

The Worm Ouroboros (1922) / Eric Rücker Eddison

Well, to show my hand and start wrapping things up, I’ll borrow from Commentator B again, who posits a paradoxical positive feedback loop sort-of-thing by deciding that “what is sought after – the otherworldly – makes us realize how much we need the worldly; but the more we know of the world, the more we need to be rid of it.” And after all, this was a time when people’s feelings towards the world around them does seem to get pretty confused. It’s the anxious transitional period at the start of the new century, a period of social and political change as another siècle is fin. And while there are Belle Époques and Gilded Eras being lived, England and a large slice of the world will soon move from this era of relative peace and prosperity through to the horror of two great wars and into a modern world beyond.      

One final note to ring out though, and that is how unfortunate it is that both commentators agree to class these works as debasements and vulgarisations of something apparently finer, the implication of which is to ascribe them a throw-away nature. Alright, so some of them may be tosh, but to subordinate them  all, to ignore wholesale the ‘vulgar’, would be to miss the chance to get a better idea of a historical people, not to mention you’d miss a cracking yarn or two. Where would we be without such popularist material to study? he cries. Well, I’d be out of a job, but luckily the collection in the Tower with its odds and non-academic ends – including many of these works, waiting, their wyrd worlds trapped forever in their pages – gives us that chance. And me a job!       

The End…..? 

Yup. Finally.    



As Modern Commentator A:       

Samuel Hynes, The Edwardian Turn of Mind (London : Pimlico, 1991).        

and as Modern Commentator B:         

Jack Sullivan, Elegant Nightmares (Athens, OH : Ohio University Press, 1978).

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So, what can we learn from all these writers and their strange fancies?

Well, whilst realist literature attempted to provide an objective and impartial account of the world and its social ills and wrongs, the works of authors such as  Blackwood and Dunsany, as well as M.R. James, William Hope Hodgson, Oliver Onions (a brilliant name) and others reflect a continued and growing preoccupation with the paranormal and the occult, as well as being the medium for more quotidian, if no less strange, psychological speculations. Were they ghosts that turned the screw? Wo0O0ooo0Ooo…

Incredible adventures (1914) / Algernon Blackwood

Indeed, the start of the C20th was a heyday for bodies such as the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and other attempts to bring the methods of scientific investigation to the world of the paranormal. And on the flip side of this eerie coin we find the many faux-mystical associations of the time, such as the Ghost Club and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. And wouldn’t you know it, Algy Blackwood was a member of both, and in the Hermetic &c. Order he would find himself rubbing shoulders with the self-styled mystic and infamous libertine enfant terrible of the age, Aleister Crowley (who also bore the moniker … ‘The Great Beast.’ Yaaarghh the scandalous horror).

An interesting episode that knits these links together (and, thrillingly, will lead us towards a conclusion in part 4 of this blogseries) is the folkloric tale of the Angels of Mons, a popular (ca. 1915) legend which would have us believe that angelic beings came to the aid of the British army in their first encounter of Great War. The myth finds its origin in “The Bowmen,” a story written by Welsh weird fiction author Arthur Machen, also briefly a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Yawn and another singled out for praise by ol’ H.P. Sauce himself. The tale takes as it’s base the real David/Goliath achievement of the British in the Battle of Mons and then adds some etherial Agincourt bowmen to the fictional mix. Although presented as fiction, the story would mutate and reappear passing itself off as fact and would be investigated by the SPR. Though they’d conclude that the proffered accounts were *shock!* bunkem, the salient point as far as this post is concerned is that there was an environment which could support a straight-faced investigation of this sort of thing at all. Was the strange staining the straight-laced…?

Coming up next time: A conclusion is reached!

*Incidentally, there’re 5 Cambridge clues in there for all you budding Dan Browns or (depending your flavour) Iain Sinclairs out there, should you wish to join the dots to make a pentagram. Some are admittedly tenuous, but, hey, come on…*

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Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878-1957)

A Dreamer's Tale (1910) / Lord Dunsany

…or to use his mercifully abbreviated nom de plume, just plain ol’ Lord Dunsany, was another writer of strange fiction birthed by the 20th and newest century. Born into privilege, young Drax Plunkett would spend many of his early years at the family castle, and would attend Eton and Sandhurst for his education. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, family wealth and connections assisted his introduction to the literary scene, but he would fund the publication of his first work, The Gods of Pegāna (1905), from his own pocket.  

The book presents a collection of tales detailing the pantheon of demons and deities in the mythical land of Pegāna, Dunsany’s own Olympus, at the head of which is MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, the ur-god in whose head is the dream of all Pegāna (those of a more scholarly bent feel free to insert here any expatiations on the symbolism of writer as creator). Unfortunately for those pagan ol’ pegānites who may wish to pay appropriate tribute to MANA, he’s not to be praised, sacrificed to, or in any loud way revered for fear of waking him and thereby bringing about the End of Days.  Thus pantheism is strongly encouraged:  

“Let no man pray to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, for who shall trouble MANA with mortal woes or irk him with the sorrows of all the houses of Earth? Nor let any sacrifice to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, for what glory shall he find in sacrifices or altars who hath made the gods themselves? Pray to the small gods, who are the gods of Doing; but MANA is the god of Having Done—the god of Having Done and of the Resting.”  

The above lines, from the Sayings of Slid, bring us nicely to one of my favourite aspects of the book, being the names Dunsany bestows on his deities, which have a t’rific onomatopoeic quality to them. Take for examples:  Mung - Lord of all Death , Sish – Destroyer of Hours, and indeed the aforementioned Slid – Whose Soul is by the Sea, which for me conjure up thoughts of thick azoic muds, sand passing the waist of an hourglass and, well (bathetically), sliding on a wet surface.  

Anyway, owing a lot no doubt to the Celtic Revival occurring at the time, the book proved a great success. The fact that his subsequent efforts, not all set in Pegāna but certainly of a similar vein, including Time and the Gods (1906), A Dreamer’s Tales (1910) and Fifty-One Tales (1915), were published by large, well established publishing houses attests to the popularity of such works.  


A couple of addenda then…  

The Ghost Pirates (1909) / William Hope Hodgson

The illustrations on this page are by one Sidney Herbert Sime, a personal favourite, and an illustrator in whom Dunsany found a kindred creative spirit. Beginning with The Gods of Pegāna, the pair would often work together providing what seems to have been mutual inspiration. The library holds several of the first editions of the Dunsany/Sime works as wells as modern volumes which collect Sime’s illustrations, which are all well worth a peruse.  

Oh, and the second addenda, Lord Dunsany’s younger brother had an even longer, and more incredible name. A prize (well….) for the first one to find it!  


Coming up next time: A pattern forms in the background…  

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