Fahrenheit 451

The Folio Society’s recent publication Fahrenheit 451 is a stunningly illustrated edition of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novella.  Written in the aftermath of World War Two, and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s persuit of those with “UnAmerican Activities”, it is a potent reflection about the powers of the State and, apart from a few, the acquiesence of the citizens  to support the State. The populace come to accept a life without challenge, and distrust and are frightened of  those who question the status quo.

Mortag, the principal character of the book, is a fireman. In this novel, homes have become fireproof, and the fireman’s role has changed from protecting homes from fire to burning books. Books have to be burnt so the people have no sense of the past heritage, and loose the capacity to think critically.

Mortag has started to secretly accumulate some books. He does love his wife, but she leads a mind numbing existance, and they rarely communicate. Mortag comes to question what his life has become, and what his job entails.

There are two events which shake Mortag in this novel. One is his chance meeting with a young free-spirited neighbour, Clarissa, and the other is the death of an elderly woman who refuses to leave her books as they are burnt.

Mortag’s wife reports him to the authorities for having books, and he finds himself being called to burn his own house. He kills his superior and becomes a fugitive. He is persued by the mechanical hound, a robotic like machine, with a strong sense of smell. During his run from the authorities he nearly compromises Faber, a dissident former University lecturer, who shares his love of books and has taught him of their importance.

Mortag escapes from the city, and meets with a group of itinerants who have memorised the major works of literature. It becomes clear that these memories are held by other loosely connected groups throughout the land. The itinerants and other small communities are saved from the destruction caused by nuclear bombs released on the American cities  by an unamed enemy as the novel concludes.

A longer plot summary, and some more information is contained on Wikipedia

The Author

Ray Bradbury was born in 1920. He still seems to be doing a good job of staying alive. He started off by writing short stories for Sci – Fi magazines, and Fahrenheit 451 is based on one of these short stories, The Fireman. He first came to attention with The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories about the colonisation of Mars by humans. Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953.

July 2012 – Hope I didn’t put a hex on him. Ray has now shaken off his mortal coil.

The Illustrator

Sam Weber illustrated this novel. It is a magnificent job. The link shows all the illustrations for the book. Some details about the creative process are here

The Book

Set in Adobe Caslon, printed on Abbey Wove paper by Martins the Printers Ltd and bound in buckram by Hunter & Foulis of Edinburgh. Published in 2011. The end papers are bright red, and the buckram binding “ash gray” .

The book is introduced by Michael Moorcock, who provides some background information about Bradbury, his influences, and the adaption of this book into a play. Ray Bradbury’s 2003 Introduction is also included. This is a fifty year reflection on a book which seems to have taken on a life of its own.


Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

IMGOf the early FS books this is one of my favorites. The juxtaposition between good and evil is captured in the minimalist illustrations.

The Book

Published in 1948, this was the 12th book. It was designed by Charles Ede and printed by Mackay. The black/gold theme which starts on the dustjacket continues throughout. The front board has the DJ image reversed in a striking impressed version.



IMG_0014The  Story

There is the premise that we each have good and evil within ourselves, Dr Jekyll undertakes a series of experiments which separates these qualities into different physical entities.

The story is well known, and is summarised here

The Illustrator

This is the first book that Mervyn Peake illustrated for the Folio Society. Droll Stories, published in 1961 was the only other book he illustrated for the Society. He was perhaps best known as the writer of The Gormenghast Trilogy, which the Society published in 1992.

The Illustrations






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The illustrations were printed in black and yellow from relief blocks.

Forthcoming books will include The Golem, a recent publication and also The Earliest Chemical Industry which is the last of the 1948 books. There were 9 books published in 1949 so that will be my 2012 project.

Rupert Brooke’s Poems

IMGThe Book

At this stage I do not have the 1948 1st edition, I have the 1955 edition (Item 86.5 in Folio 60). The 1948 edition is Item 9. The differences between the two editions seem to be related to the typeface and the dustjacket. Indeed the 1955 edition is labelled as 1948, but has an italic typeface in the text, whereas the original did not.

According to Folio 60 there was 2nd impression of the 1948 original in 1950, and several other impressions of the 1955 edition.

My copy is set in Bembo italic and printed and bound by Mackays at Chatham.

The Poems

Since starting on this project I’ve learnt that I cannot read poems one after another!

Of the early poems I’ve read much seems to be about the ecstacy and transience of love.

I did like one or two of the poems, and I’m sure there are others I’d appreciate, but there was a lot of dross there as well.

The Poet

Rupert Brooke was born in 1888 and died in 1915 during WW1 transport. It would seem that he would attract the attention of both men and women during his short life. We will never know how much the poetry would have matured had he lived longer.

The Illustrator

John Buckland-Wright was a New Zealand born illustrator. The illustrations in this book are produced by the scraper-board technique. Charles Ede said, in Folio 21, that the result was “one of the artist’s less happy efforts”.

I quite like the illustrations. What do you think?

JBW also did the illustrations for The Odyssey (book 11), which were copper engraved. That book is coming up soon.

Illustrations and some text

IMG_0001The frontispiece

I will let the other illustrations speak for themselves.

I think that these are quite inspired illustrations, particularly “The Fish”, “War” and “The Dance”

Next time

The Odyssey  is next on the list in the first 100 stream, but I’m also reading Cover Your Face, which is a more recent book.

The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

IMG I know that Rupert Brooke’s Poems was supposed to be the next publication under consideration. I have started on it, and there is a chance that I may warm to it, but it’s on the backburner at present, so to speak.

The Brooke’s book that I have is actually the 2nd edition which was likely issued in 1955 (item 86.5 in Folio 60), so I can rationalise leaving it aside for the time being.

So the subject of this post is The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard. It was first published in French in 1881, and, published in 1948, is the tenth Folio Society book.

The Book

Printed by W. S. Cowell in 10/12 pt. Plantin. Illustrations printed by Cowell. Bound by Mackays of Chatham. There was an Introduction by the translator.

The Story

The book is divided into two separate stories. The first is called “The Log” and the second “The Daughter of Clementine”.  Bonnard is the central character in both books, but it takes a little while to understand the other connections between the stories. Bonnard is an academic bibliophile who lives in an apartment in Paris surrounded by his books. He has never married. His closest companions are his cat Hamilcar and his world wise, but joyless housekeeper Therese.

In “The Log”, Bonnard takes pity on a neighbouring young impoverishered couple and child and gives them wood to put on the fire for Christmas. This little act of kindness is repaid years later. The father dies and  the widow remarries a rich aristocrat. A book, which Bonnard has long coverted, is given to him by Madame Trepof, his former neighbour, as a gratitude.

The next section of the book is entitled “The Daughter of Clementine”. We learn more of Bonnard’s background. In his youth he had fallen in love with Clementine, the daughter of one of his father’s friends. The friendship between the father and friend broke down over a matter of politics, and Bonnard never saw Clementine again. She married a banker and they had a daughter Jeanne. Although once rich, Clementine and her husband die impoverished while Jeanne is still a child. By chance Bonnard meets Jeanne at the estate of the de Gabry’s where he is to catalogue the library. Bonnard becomes determined to take an interest in the child and arranges to make regular visits to the school where she boards.

During these visits it becomes apparent that Jeanne is treated more as a servant than a pupil. Eventually Bonnard’s vists are stopped after he rebuffs attempts by the Mme Prefere, the head of the school, to marry. He later learns that Jeanne is being treated badly and Bonnard rescues her from the school. However this is a crime because Jeanne is underage according to the laws of the time and he would be liable to be charged with abduction and corruption of a minor. Fortunately for Bonnard, Jeanne’s legal guardian has suddenly left France after defrauding his clients, and no charges are laid.

Bonnard becomes her legal guardian and she lives with him in Paris. There she becomes reaquainted with a young man whom Bonnard was mentoring. Their love grows and they become betrothed. To give Jeanne a dowry, Bonnard decides to sell all his books, barring those given to him as souvenirs, including the book given to him by Madame Trepof as a mark of gratitude for his kindness when she was a new mother. However, while the rest of the household is asleep, he adds another rare volume to his already sequestered keepsakes, thus committing another “crime” by reducing the value of the dowry.

The book ends with the death of his young godson but with Jeanne and her husband still much in love and old Bonnard’s wishes for God’s blessings blessing upon them and their children and their children’s children.

The Author

Like the central character, Bonnard, Anatole France (1844 – 1924) was a bibliophile. He worked in his father’s bookshop, and later as a librarian. As a writer The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard brought him fame. This and other works led to a Nobel Prize in 1921. The presentation speech is here

The Illustrator

Harold Hope Read (1881 – 1959) provided the illustrations. He lived a precarious Bohemian existance in a flat in Tunbridge Wells with Hilda, his housekeeper, mistress and model. This is the only book he illustrated for The Folio Society.

The Illustrations

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.

A memoir Of the Forty-Five

Number 114 in the list of Folio Society publications. Again I got this at “Much Ado” in Alfriston. It is a memoir by James Chevalier de Johnstone, a son of an Edinburgh merchant, of his involvement in the Jacobite uprising to reestablish the Stuarts to the throne. The first half of the memoir is about the uprising and the battles, the second half is about his evasion of the retribution of the victors. It is a well written account which concentrates more on the personal consequences of victory and defeat than the politics of the time.

The front binding is decorated by a fine herringbone pattern incorporating the Scottish thistle.  It is probably worthwhile tracking the book down for the cover alone! The front end piece is a map of Scotland, the maps are by George Tuckwell, and there are reproductions of contemporary engravings.

Here are images of the cover, the maps and the engravings

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I should now be back on track, and “Trilby” should be the next book to be reviewed.