Beautiful Books: Pinocchio


Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio (1883; Limited Editions Club, 1937)

Growing up, I was lucky to have a few books illustrated by Richard Floethe: Ballet Shoes and Circus Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, as well as Pinocchio. Floethe’s strong, minimalist images were very striking to me, with their clean lines and simple shapes. Like many who develop a relationship to an illustrator in childhood, it’s hard for me to see these books illustrated in any other way.

 

Richard Floethe was a German-born, Bauhaus-influenced artist who studied with Kandinsky and Klee. After moving to New York city in 1928, he worked in advertising and as a freelance illustrator and portrait painter. The commission to illustrate Pinocchio for the Limited Editions Club came when he was only 36 years old.

 

 

The linocut technique (a modern variant of woodcut printing) was fairly new at the time, and Floethe employs it masterfully. Areas of color are beautifully composed and complemented with the negative white space to create lively but perfectly balanced images.

 

Pinocchio is often a dark and even frightening tale, and some of the images are slightly disturbing, as when poor silly Pinocchio burns his feet off in the fire. . .

 

. . . or starts to turn into a donkey.

 

 

But in the end Floethe’s jaunty puppet comes through all his adventures unscathed, still in his cheerful outfit of blue, coral and brown. These images will always be “Pinocchio” to me: amusing, stylish, and slightly abstract.

 

There are two editions available: the original Limited Editions Club publication, limited to 1500 copies and signed by the artist, and the lower-priced, mass market Heritage Press edition. The HP version has much thinner paper, is missing a few illustrations, and most importantly the colors are not as bright and distinct. But if you can find a copy in good condition, it’s still a good alternative to the higher-priced LEC edition.
In whatever form you view them, I hope you’ll agree that Floethe’s pictures are a very fine artistic approach to Collodi’s classic tale.
Image source: eBay
Be sure to visit the Pinocchio readalong and Children’s Literature Event at Simpler Pastimes.

More of Richard Floethe’s very interesting and diverse work can be viewed in this gallery.

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Beautiful Books: Picturing Jane Austen, Part Three

Austen Folio Heritage LEC

After a brief hiatus, we’re back to Jane Austen with the third part of a series looking at different illustrated editions of her six novels. (Click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.) Today’s volumes under consideration are not as striking as some of the others, but they have a quiet charm of their own.

The Folio Society edition of Mansfield Park is part of a complete set illustrated with wood engravings by Joan Hassall. This set remained Folio’s standard edition for quite a while, as it was first published in 1960, reset in 1975, and reprinted numerous times since then (mine is the tenth printing, from 1991).

I resisted buying this edition for a long time because I was not so impressed by Hassall’s Austen illustrations. While finely crafted, they seemed to me to lack the wit and verve of Austen’s prose. However, I find that they go quite will with the quieter, more inward drama of Mansfield Park. I am most impressed with the illustrations that play with light and shadow, such as the ones shown below. The lighting of a nighttime interior is very finely rendered in a challenging medium, and the stark black-and-white images point to the moral underpinnings of the story.

Austen Mansfield Park spread


The font, Monotype Fournier, is a 1924 version of a typeface originally cut in 1742. It’s a squarish, compact font that gives an old-fashioned feel while being perfectly readable. The page layout is very simple, with no headers, centered page numbers, and continuous running text interrupted by the chapter headings, which lend a touch of visual interest through the different ornaments used to set off the chapter numbers. Together with the similarly ornamented spine and the pretty wallpaper-like pattern covering the boards, this gives it a feminine, domestic quality, more appropriate perhaps for Fanny Price’s unambitious nature than for some other Austen heroines. I find it a very pleasant volume to hold and to read, although a whole set would be a bit monotonous.

Austen Mansfield cover title

The Heritage Press took a completely different approach with Persuasion, Jane Austen’s final novel. With its bright green cloth binding decorated with an Art Nouveau floral design, it seems to be trying to break out of its era into some alternate reality.

Austen Persuasion cover title

The illustrations by Tony Buonpastore (about whom I could find no information) are a bit cartoonish, which sometimes works to their advantage, and sometimes not. Sometimes the sketchy pen-and-ink vignettes appear refreshingly naive; sometimes they just look amateurish. The full-page “color” illustrations, including one double-page spread for Louisa Musgrave’s critical fall, are in fact monochromatic, with one wash of color for each image (various sober tones of ocher and gray-green) drawn on with black ink and highlighted in what looks like white chalk. Here again, the drawing style takes some getting used to. There is more freedom and less fixity than with the carefully composed Hassall engravings; this edition seems to be trying to bring Austen into the modern age by loosening up some of the conventions that have accrued to her works. It’s an admirable attempt, though it doesn’t always work for me.

Buonpastore color Austen illustration

 

Austen Buonpastore Heritage

Care has been taken over the typography, with some nice details. The display font, Elizabeth, is the only one we’ve met so far in this series that was designed by a woman — Elizabeth Friedlander, in 1938. As a modern interpretation of calligraphic tradition, it has a pleasant blend of the traditional and the innovative. The text is set in Bembo, yet another classic book font. It has a particularly elegant, delicate look that harmonizes well with the decorative initial caps, which are daringly indented to the center of the page, directly under the chapter numbers which are rendered simply as Roman numerals. Balancing this are the page numbers and running footers, which are justified to the left and right margins. This gives a more dynamic feel than a purely centered layout, while retaining a classical balance. Although the illustrations are perhaps the weakest among my six editions, the beauty of the presentation redeems this volume.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series; I certainly have, and taking a closer look at my Austen acquisitions made me appreciate them even more. Each different treatment brings out some important aspect of the novels, so as a whole my collection helps to represent the range and depth of this great author. I would love to hear your thoughts about these or any other editions; please let me know if you have a review and I’ll gladly link to it.

Summary of book details:

Mansfield Park
Published by the Folio Society, London, 1960, reset 1975 (1991 printing)
Introduction by Richard Church
Illustrations by Joan Hassall
Set in Monotype Fournier
9 x 6 inches, 378 pages
Printed on Bulstrode Wove paper and bound in buckram with printed paper sides designed by the artist

Joan Hassall’s Austen Illustrations on Jane Austen’s World¬†

* * *

Persuasion
Published by The Heritage Press, Norwalk, CT, 1977
Introduction by Louis Auchincloss
Illustrations by Tony Buonpastore
Set in Monotype Bembo with Elizabeth display
10.25 x 6.75 inches, 241 pages
Printed on cream-toned antique stock and bound in cloth with a stamped design

Beautiful Books: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927)

When I moved to New Hampshire a year ago, I found out that I was entering the land of Our Town. Thornton Wilder’s classic play was written in and based on the town of Peterborough, NH, 15 minutes away from my new home. My memories of the play are vague, mostly based on seeing that TV version with Paul Newman in high school, but Wilder also wrote one of my favorite works of fiction, Theophilus North. I determined to read all of six of his other novels to see what else might be gleaned from them.

Well, they certainly are a diverse bunch. Some are set abroad, in modern and ancient Rome (The Cabala and The Ides of March) and ancient Greece (The Woman of Andros). Others explore explicitly American themes, with one about a peripatetic salesman/preacher (Heaven’s My Destination), and another concerning a multigenerational mining family saga – slash – murder mystery (The Eighth Day). All are definitely worth reading, and reveal what The Paris Review once called “one of the toughest and most complicated minds in contemporary America.”

 

The one that touched me most, though, and immediately became another of my favorite books, was his very early The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I’m not alone–when it was first published, it was a huge bestseller and remains extremely popular. Wilder’s writing in this book is simply brilliant and should be studied by all aspiring writers of fiction. He has the ability to artfully turn a poetic phrase in a way that is always lucid and conversational, never pretentious or contrived. In a brief narrative (not much more than 100 pages), he manages to bring to life a whole world of distinctive characters, from aristocrats to peasants. He sets his story in 18th century Peru, but his people, while convincingly of their place and time, are also universal in their struggles with the great questions of life, death, love, and fate.

The Limited Editions Club and its mass-market arm, the Heritage Press, put out a lovely edition that brings the perfect marriage of form and content to Wilder’s words. I have the less-expensive Heritage Press version, which can easily be had for under $10. I find it a spectacular example of bookmaking for that price. The two-color binding, stamped in black and real gold leaf, is a striking and beautifully simple evocation of the characters’ journey to the fatal bridge. I love the font choices (Albertus and Plantin), which like Wilder’s writing are classic, eminently readable, and distinctive, and the typography is impeccable. The accompanying lithographs by Remy Charlot have a sculptural simplicity that also perfectly complements the text.

If you’re interested in beautiful writing and beautiful book design, I highly recommend you hunt down this edition. If you can’t find it, though, do read the Bridge in whatever form is available to you. It’s a lovely book.

 

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