A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

IMG One of the Folio Society’s 2011 publications, this is Eric Newby’s best known book. First published in 1958 it is an account of a journey to a remote mountainous region in the north of  Afghanistan by Newby and his companion Hugh Carless.

The Book

Printed on Abbey Wove Paper, bound in cloth blocked with an illustration of the peaks in the Hindu Kush. Within the book, the illustrations are photographs from Newby’s collection. There is an introduction by Richard Grant, and an afterword by Hugh Carless.

The Story

In 1957 Eric Newby and Hugh Carless arrange to go on an expedition to Nuristan, one of the remote areas of Afghanistan little visited by Europeans. Hugh is a young man in the British diplomatic service and Eric is a salesman in the family fashion business.

The focus of the expedition becomes an attempt to climb to the summit of Mir Samir, a previously unclimbed peak  19,880 feet tall. Hugh had made a previous attempt in 1952, but had to return 3000 feet below the peak. Prior to the journey neither Newby or Carless had much mountainering experience, but did a few days instruction in the Welsh mountains before departure.

The next part of the book chronicles the expedition, driving from Instanbul through Persia to Afghanistan, and then recruiting some locals for the trip to the Hindu Kush.

The bulk of the book follows, which is an account of the journey towards Mir Samir, the failed attempt to reach the summit, and the chance encounter the two have with Thesiger, a legendary explorer. The book concludes with Thesiger’s words as he sees Hugh and Eric blowing up a couple of airbeds “God, you must be a couple of pansies”

This is a most engaging book. Like so many great books, both fictional and nonfictional, it’s about the journey and not the destination.

During the journey in the Hindu Kush Hugh and Eric had three main local companions, Abdul Ghiyas, Shir Muhammad and Badar Khan. At times the relationships were fraught but without these intermediaries the two Englishmen would have had an impossible trip. Travelling to Nuristan meant negotiating with ethnic groups of different backgrounds and customs.

As the journey progresses there are wonderful descriptions of the country, the inhabitants, the weather, and the barriers (physical and psychological) to the goal. Some historical background is interwoven throughout. No doubt some of the descriptions of the inhabitants would be regarded as inappropriate these days, but they do anchor this book in a certain cultural context.

Throughout the book Newby portrays himself as a somewhat effete amateur. There is humour aplenty, but its of the self depreciating wry school. There is the notion of “innocents abroad” right throughout the book. This belies his real life which I’ll expand in the next section..

The Author

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush was Eric Newby’s second book. The first was The Last Grain Race. Eric Newby was born in 1919 and died in 2006. During WW2 he was a member of the SBS (Special Boat Section), an elite unit. He was captured, escaped and then recaptured again during that time. None of this deering-do is alluded to in this work, but that background demonstrates his metal.

Newby wrote several other travel books, but none matched the fame of this account

Next book

Probably Rupert Brooke’s Poems. I have been putting this off, but I need to get back to those older books to maintain my focus. After that The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard. I would like to get through all the 1948 books by the end of this year!



A Month In the Country

IMG A wonderful short novel. Written by J.L. Carr and published in 1980. The Folio Society published it in 1998, and I have the 2nd printing (2010). It is item 964 in Folio 60.  It was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 1980, but was pipped by William Golding’s Rites Of PassageEarthly Powers was another strong contender for the prize that year.

The Book

Set in Monotype Caslon by Gloucester Typesetting Services. Printed on Abbey Wove paper. Quarter bound in buckram with paper sides. Introduction by Ronald Blythe. Illustrated by Ian Stephens.

The Story

Miss Adelaide Hebron has left a considerable legacy to a church in the small Yorkshire village of Oxgodby. The strings attached to this legacy are that a medieval wall painting in the church which has been whitewashed over is uncovered and that the grave of Piers Hebron be discovered if possible. This forebear had been excommunicated for some unknown reason and buried outside the Christian graveyard.  Birkin, the narrator of this novel, is appointed to restore the wall painting and Moon is appointed to explore for the grave. Both Birkin and Moon are outsiders and veterans of World War 1. Each has suffered their own private hell on the battlefront and in their private lives. Birkin’s wife has left him, and he saw this opportunity as a way to make a fresh start in life.

On the day that he arrives, Birkin meets the awkward and somewhat hostile Rev Keach who makes it clear that the only reason that the project is taking place is to satify the requirements of the bequest. Birkin lives in the bell chamber of the church while he undertakes the restoration. He soon strikes up a friendship with Moon who lives in a tent in the grounds.

Kathy Ellereck, the young teenage daughter of the village stationmaster, starts to visit the restoration and gradually Birkin starts to become involved with her family, attending chapel, sharing the Sunday meal and even singing at family get-togethers.

Alice Keach, the vicar’s young wife also starts to visit the restoration and sits and talks with Birkin. He is taken by her beauty and starts to yearn for her. There is a nuance by nuance attraction between the couple which culminates in Alice pressing her breasts for more than a moment  against Birkin’s chest as they look out of a window from the bell chamber. The moment that could change their lives is not seized and they never see each other again.

At a visit to a neighbouring town to purchase a new organ for the chapel Birkin runs into an old army acquaintance and learns that Moon, a medal awarded hero, was discovered in a homosexual relationship with his young batman and subsequently court martialled and imprisoned during the war.

As the story progresses we learn more and more about the painting as the wall is uncovered. The unamed artist was very skilled and used expensive colours. The revealed painting was a major work  and Birkin marvelled at its beauty and the intimacy he shared with it. Its final revelation connects the painting to the grave which Moon was seeking. Moon and Birkin discover that the excommunicated forebear had converted to Muslim during the Crusades and this was why he could not be buried in Christian ground.

Their jobs now done, both Moon and Birkin depart..Moon for perhaps a career in archaeology…and Birkin to remember those days, the moments of happiness and pain  in a memoir written half a century later.

This short novel is beautifully constructed. It explores various sorts of hell.  Some of these hells are horrifying, yet short lived..though the effects will remain forever..such as Birkin and Moon facing the horrors of WW1. Another sort of hell is more about a feeling of shame which never ends..Moon being exposed as a homosexual in a wartime environment… and Birkin’s wife running off with another man…. in the sense  that there will be always whispers around the corner Another sort of hell is regretted choices. We wonder why the much younger Alice married the vicar and we almost wish that Birkin had brushed his lips against Alice’s at the window instead of doing and saying nothing.

Another summary and review  I’m sure that there are many ways of looking at this novel.

The Author

J. L Carr was in his 60s when he wrote this book. It draws heavily from his background. He was a station masters son from a Wesleyian family from the north of England. As an adult he was involved in attempts to preserve a small parish church , the echoes of which can be seen in this novel.


The illustration on the cover is exquiste. For me, some of the others don’t work quite as well. I like the illustrations of the ferry, the picnic, and Birkin and Alice gazing out the window.

Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities

IMG Jorrocks’ was published in 1949, the 18th book on the list.  Although originally intended to form a series with Walton’s  The Compleat Angler, the Society later decided to publish the remaining Surtees novels in a similar jacket design, and the link to The Compleat Angler was removed and the Surtees novels became the first single author series published. Charles Ede came to regret the decision to publish the series as the later novels were less popular. Nevertheless I have all of them, and provided my fortitude remains, each will have a post. The next in the series was Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour (1950), and the last was  Hillingdon Hall (1956).

The mystery 1952 issue

Folio 50, the first truely  comprehensive bibliography of the Folio Society intriguingly raises the issue of a possible second edition published in 1952. This is item 44.5 and the bibliographer, Paul Nash, provides the following note..

” As the first edition of 1949 (item 18) but reset throughout. A typed note pasted into the Folio Society library copy of the first edition notes the existence of this second edition. However, no copy has been traced and it may be a ghost, or, in more reality, a reference to a second impression”

10 years later, Folio 60 provides some extra information to this item…

“A variant dust-jacket (blank on the rear where the original bore an advertisement for The compleat angler) may possibly have been produced for the edition. The copy of this jacket was, sadly, not wrapped round anything”.

In my project to collect the early publications of the Folio Society I must admit that I was quite skeptical about the existence of item 44.5.  Firstly it had never been sighted by the Folio Society librarian, and secondly there was never a 1952 publication date for the book  in all of the internet book  searches I made.

Sometime fate lends a hand.

I did want to obtain copies of the early Folio Society publications, and bought a copy of Jorrocks’ over the internet. It came without a dust-jacket despite  its presence being listed. It was so inexpensive that it was not worth returning and I subsequently got another copy with a dust-jacket. The jacket had the advertisement for The compleat angler on the rear. The inside flap had a price of 21s. Clearly this was a copy of the original 1949 edition.

Over the next couple of months I got the rest of the Surtees novels. Some of the dust-jackets had advertisments on the rear for Jorrocks’, but a price of 25s. This did make me think that the book may have been republished, or at the very least, a new dust-jacket published with different price to the original.

Since I had 2 copies of the book, albeit one without a jacket, I decided to compare. Both books had a publication date of 1949, but there were definite differences. The colour plates in the book with the jacket were printed on thicker paper than the other and the cloth covers had different weaves. In addition I found a loose insert in the unjacketed book with an advertisement for the published and pending books in the series. Handley Cross (1951) had been published and Mr Facey Romford’s Hounds (1952) was pending. Jorrock’s was listed in the ad with a  price of 25s.  I suspect that the insert was issued with the book I was examining. The advertisement also includes the information that all the books in the series have silk headbands. My book with the jacket did NOT have a silk headband, whereas the one without the jacket DID.

I emailed Paul Nash with some of this information and he sent an interesting reply. Firstly he stated that he always believed that there was an issue of Jorrocks in 1952 but was not absolutely sure whether it was a reissue, another impression or a new edition.

I thought that the cherry on the cake would be be to get get a copy of the book with a jacket showing the new 25s price. By now I knew that copies advertised as 1949 could be from that year, or could be from 1952. An enquiry to an internet  bookseller about the price on the inside flap of another copy  was answered with “the flaps are blank, there is no price printed anywhere”. Around this time another book collector commented on a post about this topic on a discussion board that he had three different dust-jackets for this book, one with The compleat angler ad, one with a blank rear cover and blank flaps, and one with some ads for others in the Surtees series on the back with a price of 25s on the inside flap.

The cover with the blank rear and inside flaps seems likely to be the orphan referred to in Folio 60. The third cover has not been previously documented.

In the last few weeks I have obtained copies of the book with the other two variant jackets. I am much obliged to the booksellers who went and checked the jackets for me.

Reissue, another impression or new edition?

As I understand it, a reissue would be a  new binding of already printed letterpress sections along with the colour plates, whether those plates were reprinted or not.

Another impression  is another printing derived from the original monotype punch tape of an edition.

A  new edition was generated when the text is reentered at the keyboard to generate a new tape. The type is then said to be “reset”. When I first compared the text between the 1949 and the 1952 copy I could spot no obvious differences, and thought that the 1952 version was a reissue in a new binding. However….

A comma and its 180 degree companion, the opening quotation mark

As part of this prolonged sidetrack into collecting Jorroks’ I decided that I should at least read it. My reading copy was the one without the jacket, which was a presumed 1952 copy. On page 213 the last line of the second paragraph starts with a typographical error, namely a comma, rather than its inverted relation, the opening quotation mark.  I grabbed the 1949 issue and found that this  error was not present in that copy, but was present in all three 1952 copies. Knowing little about the monotype print setting machine I was not sure whether or not a single opening quotation mark could have fallen out of the printing plate and be replaced incorrectly. I obviously had to go in search of other differences. After a time I found another typographical error on the second last line of page 169. The 2nd sentence on that line starts as “The Countess’s costume was…”. In the 1952 issue this reads as “The Countees’s costume was…”. Note the different spelling Countess’s/Countees’s.




This is an image of the text at the bottom of page 169 in the 1949 edition, and below in the 1952 edition. Note the different spelling of Countess in the 1952 edition in the second last line.







Now from page 213 the text on the left is from the 1949 edition and the one directly below is from the 1952 edition. On the second last line note the opening quotatation mark before “Here’s the Yorkshireman”, and the comma on the corresponding line in the other image.


As I have had a more thorough look some other differences have come to light. The contents page and the illustrations list page of the 1949 edition has a period after “MR”, whereas the 1952 edition does not.

IMG_0007 The 1949 Contents page…










IMG_0003 The 1952 Contents page..

Note that there is no period after the “MR” in this edition

There is one other typographical difference in the “List Of Illustrations”. In the 1952 edition there is no opening quotation mark  for the title of the  last illustration.

IMG_0008 The 1949 edition

IMG_0005 The 1952 edition

On page 12 there is a circumflex above the “u” in the word “Deum” in the 1949 edition. This is not present in the 1952 edition.

IMG_0009 1949

IMG_0006 1952

There may well be other typographical differences but I do not have the time or the motivation to seek them out!


There are three confirmed dustjackets for this book. Distinguishing marks

1. Ad for The compleat angler on the rear of DJ. This jacket was issued with the 1949 copy

2. Rear cover blank. Issued with 1952 issue

3. Rear cover has ad for Handley Cross and Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour. Also covered the 1952 issue

IMG_0001 The 1949 jacket

IMG The 1952 jacket (variant number 3)

I have not shown an image for variant 2, as it has a blank back cover.



There are at least two bindings.

The 1949 binding has no silk headband and the colour plates are printed on thicker paper that the letterpress. Its jacket has an ad for The Compleat Angler on the rear

The 1952 binding has a silk headband, and the plates are printed on similar thickness paper to the letterpress. It either has a jacket with a blank rear or on ad for Handley Cross and Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour.

I would like to acknowledge very helpful information regarding dustjackets in a post by “mboyne” on the “Folio Society devotees” group on http://www.librarything.com and encouragement from “drasvola” in the same forum to get to the bottom of this mystery. Also thanks to Paul Nash for his thoughts and additional information.

The Book (1949 edition)

Composed in 11/12 Imprint type, printed and boundby Mackays of Chatham. Colour plates printed by Van Leer of Amsterdam.

The Stories

There are 13 stories in this collection. They were first published in  The New Sporting Magazine in the 1830s. They all have John Jorrocks as the central character. Jorrocks is a London grocer who is a member of the Surrey Hunt. He is a buffoon who invariably manages to make a fool of himself in these linked stories. “The Swell and the Surrey” is the first story and introduces Jorrocks and other characters associated with fox hunting. Other stories include Jorrocks being hauled to court for his toe committing a trespass, a visit to the horse races at Newmarket, and trips to Margate and Paris. Disasters of one variety or another always seem to accompany him and he always seems to be preyed upon by crooks and conmen (and women).

The stories are lighthearted and dated. The audience would seem to be the landed gentry of a bygone era. I’m sure they could be adopted into a nice period BBC TV series!

The Author

R.S. Surtees (1805-1864) was born into a well to do country family. Trained as a lawyer, his heart was more given to hunting, rural life and literature. He wrote several fictional works, all of which were published by The Folio Society, except for the unfinished Young Tom Hall. This, and his non fictional works are available from The R.S. Surtees Society

The Illustrator

Henry Alken was a member of an artistic family. He was a painter and engraver, best known for sporting and hunting topics

Here are scans of the plates.


Although I do love the illustrations I’m no great fan of the genre to which this book belongs. However I now have four copies of Jorrocks’ which have to some extent resolved the existence of the 1952 edition of the book. In my ambition to collect the first 100 books published by The Society I was very skeptical that this edition existed, but now have three copies of the 1952 issue and one of the 1949! I think there is enough evidence to call the 1952 issue a second edition.

There are still some questions I’d love to know the answers too..

1. Was the 1949 tape lost or destroyed, or was it just damaged and the 1952 edition is only partially reset?

2. Were the colour plates in the 1952 edition printed by The Chiswick Press, and not by Van Leer as the colophon in both editions  states?

3. Why was the jacket with the blank rear cover issued? Was it a “rush job” to meet demand while the third variant jacket was being prepared?

The answers to these questions will probably never be known!

The next book I’ll turn my mind to Is “A Month In the Country”, a relatively recent publication and well worth a read.

Update (14 Oct 2011)

Paul Nash has been kind enough to to look at the information on this page. It is his view that the evidence strongly suggests that the 1952 issue is another impression, and not another edition. His opinion is that it is likely that the 1952 issue was printed from the same tape as the 1949 issue, and that the differences that have been noted were detected, and altered by hand after the type was cast, before the 1949 version was published. When the 1952 impression was proof read the errors on the tape were not detected and subsequently were incorporated into the published work.   Paul makes the point that otherwise the pages are otherwise very similar, and that there would be no reason to reset the text into an almost identical version unless the original tape was damaged or otherwise unavailable.