the book examiner

As time goes on I’ll be posting about books that I’ve read. There will be information about the books, the authors, and, for illustrated books some images and further information.

Many of these books will be from The Folio Society. I’ve started collecting the first 100 books it published and will try to write each of them as time goes on.

I’ve imported posts from another blog which cover the first 14 books ( a few others) from The Folio Society. It will take me a while to rearrange things. Resizing the images and making the text flow is somewhat painful


A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

The 14th book published by The Folio Society, and the second of the 1949 issues. It was designed by Charles Ede, set in 11/14 Baskerville type and printed by W.S. Cowell of Ipswich.

Cowell invented the “Plastocowell” lithographic process which the illustrator used in the book.

The Author

Laurence Sterne was born in 1713, and died of consumption in 1768 shortly after this book was published. He trained as a cleric, but became a full time writer with the publication of his most famous work, Tristram Shandy. This was published by the Folio Society in 1970

The Illustrator

This was the first Folio Society book illustrated by Nigel Lambourne. He illustrated several others, including Moll Flanders in 1954. His last involvement was in 1983.

The Story

The novel is a series of linked episodes of the travels of Yorick through France. He is an unashamed flirt and will try his luck with titled ladies and chambermaids. He travelled without a passport, which was a risk as England happens to be at war with France at the time (The Seven Years War). He manages to obtain a passport through the good offices of a French Shakespeare lover. Although, in terms of plot, the novel never really goes anywhere, we learn of Yorick’s love of life, love of meeting people and love for womankind in general. On the rare occasion he treats someone harshly, he very soon regrets it and makes amends.

Yorick never gets to Italy, Sterne’s sickness and death probably getting in the way of this extension.  Sterne’s close friend John Hall Stevenson, decided to continue this fictional travelogue in a book called Yoricks Sentimental Journey Continued. (Warning…large PDF file of the entire sequel)

The Illustrations

These were printed by the “Plastocowell” lithographic process. As far as I can understand it each colour layer is drawn on separate plastic sheets, and then transferred to a nickel plate for printing. I like the illustrations very much

List Of Illustrations

List Of Illustrations

Title Page

Title Page

All in all a very pretty book. The binding has a wonderful floral design . Each chapter in the book begins with a large pink capital. Although the dustjacket of my copy is a little grubby and worn, the interior is in great condition.

The School For Scandal

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The School For Scandal was published in 1949. It was the 13th book, and the first drama for the Folio Society. The book was printed and bound by Mackay, and illustrated by Cecil Beaton.

The dustjacket on my copy does show the ravages of age, but otherwise the book is wonderful. There is no foxing and the illustrations retain their vibrancy.

The Play

First performed in 1777, the Folio Society version is based upon a version produced by Sir Laurence Olivier.

Lady Sneerwell is a wealthy widow and the play starts with an exchange between her and Snake, an heirling and fellow mischief maker who likes spreading gossip.

Sir Peter Teazle is the informal guardian of the brothers Charles and Joseph Surface who are nephews of an old friend, Sir Oliver.  Sir Peter also has a ward, Maria. Joseph Surface, the older brother, is regarded as a pillar of society while Charles, the younger is thought to be an extravagant libertine. There is an expectation of a match between Lady Sneerwell and Joseph, but Lady Sneerwell tells Snake that she thinks Joseph is all pretence, and that her heart is really set on Charles. She also knows that Joseph is attracted towards Maria, but that Maria has an affection  for Charles.  Joseph knows too well that Lady Sneerwell feels more attachment to Charles and is happy to participate in the schemes to derail the Maria – Charles relationship so that his ambitions with Maria may be realized.

As the scene develops there is much gossip about various characters and we learn that Sir Oliver may be returning from the East Indies and that Charles is in a precarious financial situation.

Sir Peter Teazle is then introduced. Once a seemingly confirmed batchelor, he married a much younger woman. Lady Teazle regards this arrangement as an opportunity to spend Sir Peter’s money and become a member of the social set. Lady Teazle is feisty and intelligent and  feels no shame in exploiting her position. She develops an attachment towards Joseph.

Sir Oliver returns from the East Indies, and is bemused that his old friend Sir Peter has taken a young wife. Sir Oliver learns of his nephews reputations and decides that he will test them in disguise.

Sir Oliver ( disguised as Mr Premium), and Moses, a jewish moneylender, meet Charles at his house. Charles is in need of money. There is little left to sell apart from the family portraits and Sir Oliver buys all that are offered. There is one painting which Charles will not sell, which is a portrait of Sir Oliver who he thinks fondly of as his benefactor.

Lady Teazle visits Joseph, and as they are flirting with each other, Sir Peter is announced. Lady Teazle hides behind a screen and Sir Peter tells Joseph that he suspects his wife is having an affair with Charles. Next on the scene is Charles. Before he enters the room, Sir Peter entreats Jospeph to question his brother about the matter, and hides himself in a closet to overhear the conversation. Sir Peter almost discovers his wife behind the screen, but Joseph tells Sir Peter that it is a floozy who rushed to hide herself as Sir Peter came into the room.

Charles denies outright that he has had any relationship with Lady Teazle and that his affections are for Maria. In turn he then says that he is aware of of an attraction between Joseph and Lady Teazle. Joseph tries to silence him and then tells him that Sir Peter is in hiding and can overhear all. Charles calls Sir Peter out, and Sir Peter is relieved that the rumours of an affair between his wife and Charles are incorrect. Little does he realize that his wife is hidden in the same room and that she has been having an affair with Joseph.

A servant comes and quietly tells Joseph that Lady Sneerwell has arrived. Joseph goes out of the room to talk to Lady Sneerwell and while he is out Sir Peter and Charles talk and Sir Peter tells Charles that his brother is not as morally upright as he seems, and has a wench hidden behind the screen in the very same room. Charles decides to reveal the girl, and throws down the screen as Joseph reenters the room. Lady Teazle is revealed.

Charles leaves, somewhat gleefully. Joseph tries to explain away the situation, but Lady Teazle rebukes him and reconciles with Sir Peter, whose words  showing his feelings for her, she overheard.

The fifth act opens with Joseph receiving Sir Oliver, who is disguised as Mr Stanley, a poor relation seeking financial assistance.  Joseph tells this character that Sir Oliver never gave him any significant assistance and he is not in a position to help him.

Meanwhile rumours and gossip are spreading about the affair which culminates in a story that Sir Peter is dangerously wounded in a duel with Charles.

Eventually Sir Peter, Lady Teazle, Charles and Joseph meet at Joseph’s house. Joseph’s hypocrisy  stands against  Charles acknowledged faults.  Maria and Charles make marriage plans.  Lady Sneerwell is revealed as a mischief maker who used an accomplice, Snake, to forge letters between Charles and Lady Teazle in order to derail a match between Charles and Maria. Charles will become Sir Oliver’s heir, and Joseph is left with the company of his co-conspirator, Lady Sneerwell.

It is an amusing farce, and the scene where both Sir Peter and his wife are hidden, unbeknownst to each other in Joseph’s library is something which would only probably work on the stage, or a Marx brothers movie! Both Joseph and Lady Sneerwell get their “just deserts” in the end through exposure and humiliation. That this play continues to be performed is a tribute to the skill and imagination of the playwright.

There is another plot summary here

The Illustrator

Cecil Beaton was mostly known for fashion photography but also designed sets and costumes for plays.

The illustrations in this book are part of the costume designs and stage settings of the related tour of the Olivier produced play. The Folio Society continued this theme of the illustrations reflecting a stage production for some years to come, most famously with the Salvador Dali plates in “As You Like It” in 1953.

The Illustrations

All the women have impossibly narrowed waists, but I do like the designs!

Lady Teazle


Sir Peter Teazle

Charles Surface

Mrs Candour

Sir Oliver Surface

The Golem

IMG (Small)The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink, was published in 2010.

It’s a beautifully designed book with haunting illustrations.

The Introduction, by Iain Sinclair, makes some interesting comparisons between this book, and Kafka’s writings.

The pages were printed on Abbey Pure Paper. The book is three-quarter bound in buckram with a paper front.







The Story

Originally published in serial form in the early 20th century, the story is set in the Jewish ghetto in Prague. The central character, and narrator is Pernath, a gem engraver. As the story progresses we sometimes do not know whether he is dreaming, deluded or is engaged in mystical time shifting. There is an associated carnival of characters  which reminded me of the inhabitants of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” – there’s a red haired child prostitute, a deaf mute, a junk seller, an impoverished medical student, a travelling puppeteer, an aristocratic woman engaged in an adultrous affair, Miriam, the wise daughter of a scholar, and other shady characters. The Golem lurks in the background. In Czech and Jewish folklore the Golem was an object made of base elements which could be brought to life by magical words written on a scrap of a paper. In the story, every 33 years the Golem seems to become more active and more disturbing events occur.

Pernath is accused of murder and is imprisioned. He never goes to trial and is eventually released, but by that time the ghetto has been torn down, and his friends have disappeared. He searches for Miriam hoping that she is still alive. Eventually he finds her, but she is in a building with another version of Pernath, and the gates close against him.

This is a very atmospheric novel. We just don’t know the relationship between reality (in the novelistic sense) and fuge. There is a recurring motif in the novel about the similarities, and the differences, between a stone and a lump of fat. One can look like another, but it’s hard to grip onto a lump of fat as you are plunging into some sort of depth.  Then again, with the smoothness of age, a stone can be so weathered that it can provide no more grip than a lump of fat.

The Author

This was Gustav Meyrink’s first novel. It borrowed heavily from his interest in mysticism and a spell in jail.

The Translator

Translated by Mike Mitchell . This is a translation from 1995, originally for Dedalus. I would be curious to compare how the “low brow” dialogue which occured when Pernath was in jail was variously translated.

The Illustrator

Vladimir Zimakov provided the wonderful illustrations. They are haunting and suit the mood of the book.


Just a couple more. There are 10 altogether.









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Coming Up for 2012

The plan is to cover all the 1949 books, with a few more recent ones as well.

A School For Scandal should be next




The Earliest Chemical Industry

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This book was commissioned from the Society by Peter Spence and Sons to commenorate the centenary of founding of that firm. It was published in a limited edition of 1,100, with one hundred of these bound in full red morocco. The remainder were bound in buckram. The book was written by Charles Singer, one of the leading scientific writers of the time. This book is given the  item number 12.5 in Folio 50 and Folio 60, and was the last book published in 1948.

The Book

An absolute sumptuous production. It is large and heavy. Monotype Baskerville type. Printed on Arnold mould-made paper at The Chiswick Press. The colour plates werer printed by Alinari of Florence. The costs of preparation and  production of the book were met by Peter Spence & Sons. My copy is bound in buckram, but there were a hundred copies bound in red morocco by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, and signed by Charles Singer and Derek Spence.

My copy is 907 of 1100.

The Text

A couple of images from the opening pages



Alum is a chemical which, among other properties, allows fabrics to take up dyes more avidly, and paper take up print. It has been known about since ancient times. This book was commissioned by Peter Spence & Sons to celebrate the foundation of the firm 100 years before. It is a remarkeable book which explores the use of and trade in alum from antiquity to modern times. Although alum is the core topic of the book, it is a fascinating book which covers many fields – linguistics, history, commerce, traditional skills, politics, science, geology,  inventions, and the development of an industry. There are over 150 illustrations and 350 notes.

Unlike most other Folio Society books it had never been published in any previous version.

The Author

Charles Singer was trained as a medical practitioner.  His natural curiosity led him into a study of the history of diseases and medicine. From this there was a natural step  into the broader history of science and technology. To the greater audience, his best known work is “The History Of Technology”.

Here is a fine summary of his life and contribution to the history of science.

The Illustrations

The book is amply illustrated with historical pictures, maps, diagrams and magnificent colour plates. A brief selection is posted.


A unique and wonderful book. An amalgam of techology, history, commerce and art.

This is the last of the 1948 books. There were 9 books published in 1949, one of which, Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities has already been posted. Sheridan’s The School for Scandal is the first, and I’m also looking forward to reading  Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey and Walton’s The Compleat Angler. I am halfway through the recently published The Golem so that is likely to be the subject of the next post.

Cover Her Face

IMGThis is the first of the Adam Dalgliesh crime novels written by PD James. It was originally published in 1962 by Faber and Faber.

The Book

Set in Bembo, printed on Abbey Wove paper at Vicenza, Italy. Bound in cloth with a design by the illustrator. 224 pages with 7 colour illustrations.

The Story

This is a murder mystery set in the 1950s in a rural village outside London. I will be going through the entire plot so read no further if you intend to read the book and be kept in suspense!

Sally, an unmarried mother, is given a position as a live in domestic servant at Martingale, the home of the  Maxie family. The head of the family is Simon Maxie who is bedridden and be nursed by his wife Eleanor and Martha, the housekeeper. Simon and Eleanor’s widowed daughter Deborah also lives there, and their son, Stephen a trainee surgeon visits often from London. A family friend, Catherine Bowers, is a frequent visitor, and imagines herself as becoming married to Stephen.

The annual church fete brings Stephen, Catherine and Felix, a friend of Deborah, together at the family home for the weekend.

While the family is having the the evening meal after the fete, Sally announces that Stephen has asked her to marry him. Eleanor, Catherine and Deborah are aghast.

The next morning Martha cannot get any response from Sally, late for domestic duties, when she knocks on her locked door. Eventually Stephen and Felix get into the room by fetching and climbing a ladder.  Sally is discovered dead in bed with evidence that she has been strangled.

Naturally the police are called and Adam Dalgleish comes from London to lead the investigation. The remainder of the book takes us through statements of the various characters, Sally’s background, and puts us on a few false trails.

It turns out that Sally was an orphan and was brought up by her uncle and aunt. Sally was intelligent but also a manipulative schemeer. She had secretly married prior to coming to Martingale. Her husband was working in Venezuela and they corresponded using Derek Pullen,one of the young men of the village, as an intermediary. She had asked her estranged uncle for money and he had come to meet her on the day of the fete. He agreed to bring her the money that night. Late that night he entered  the house. He went into her room and found her dead in bed. Hearing footsteps in the corridor outside he bolted the door, and made his exit through the window, but injuried himself climbing down a drainpipe. He made his way home, but altered the clocks so his wife thought that he had returned around midnight rather than two hours later.

Martha had been secretly lacing Sally’s evening hot drink with sedatives to cause her to be late to arise in the morning, hoping that this would get her dismissed for tardiness. When she learnt that Sally had been found dead she feared that she had killed her and hid the bottle of sedatives which the Police later found.

During the final meeting with Dalgleish it becomes apparent that each of the characters has suspected each other in some sense, but as the meeting goes on, each are eliminated as the murderer. That is until Eleanor states that she is the one who strangled Sally. She did this in a fit of rage when she went to talk to Sally in her room the night of the murder. Sally had taunted her and told her that she was expecting Stephen’s baby. She had decided to not admit her guilt until her husband had died as she had promised him that she would look after him until that time. His death released her from that bond.

Here’s another plot summary. It’s always a little bit interesting to compare them.

This is PD James first novel, and introduces Adam Dalgleish to her readers. Although it is about the crime and its solution, it’s also about trust and suspicion between close friends and family.

The Author

PD James  (born 1920) is a prolific writer, best known for the Dalgleish crime novels. She has had a long writing career, and remains active. This is a recent interview which I found interesting.

The Illustrator and Illustrations

Jonathan Buton illustrated this book and the Douglas Adams’ books for the Folio Society. This is his website and here are the illustrations for the text and a blog about the background to the illustrations.

I do like the illustrations. Burton has read and understood the text and picked out some key moments. There is the sly impertinent look from Sally to Alice Liddel at the dinner with which the novel begins, the scene at the church fete where Sally wears an identical dress to Deborah, the overhead view of the body and the investigators (a wonderful perspective), then a couple of illustrations linking the gloved hand to Sally’s uncle, Mr Proctor..a visual clue that adds to the text, an illustration with Sally and the cup of cocoa and then the final image where Dalgliesh revels the process of his investigation.

When thinking through the plot I would have liked to see an illustration of the moment when Sally tells the guests at the dinner table that Stephen has asked her to marry him, and maybe one at the graveside as Sally is buried with Mrs Proctor in the backgound and the group dynamics of the principal characters gathered together.

Future Posts

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will definitely be next, and then The Earliest Chemical Industry will finish off the 1948 books. Cover Her Face was published in 1962, and by the end of that year, since inception, the Folio Society had published around 175 books. By now there are well over 1600 books. It would be an impossible task to cover them all. I will be lucky to realise my aim, which was to obtain and read the first 100.




The Odyssey

IMG_0001One of the foundation stones of literature, The Odyssey was published in 1948, and is the 11th publication from The Society.

It is a selection from the epic. Over the years the society has published this work in other editions and translations. This particular edition is in series with The Iliad (item 26)  which was published in 1950.

The Book

Printed by Waterlow and Sons with engravings reproduced in  collotype by Van Leer of Amsterdam. The illustrated pages are thicker than the textual pages, which has also been noted in other books where Van Leer were involved, for instance the 1949 edition of Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities.

The Poet

Homer is traditionally regarded as the creator of the The Iliad and The Odyssey. When and whether he existed is another matter.

The Translator

F.L. Lucas was a Cambridge academic. He was also a teacher, writer, critic, and essayist and led a most interesting life.

The Illustrator

John Buckland-Wright originally provided these copper engravings for another publisher (possibly the Golden Cockrel Press), but that book was never published and the Folio Society acquired them. Buckland-Wright was a prolific illustrator in a variety of media

A synopsis of his life and career and copies of many of his works is here . It’s well worth a read.


The Odyssey is over 2000 years old, and has been studied and analysed to death. I doubt that I can bring any new insights.

The Illustrations

















































































Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was the next book published, illustrated by Mervyn Peake. I’m looking forward to reading it and posting some of the illustrations. However it may not be the next book in the blog as I am reading Cover Your Face at present, and will probably make that the next post.