Friday, November 16, 2012

Before He Was Anybody

A Beatrix Potter illustration of a rabbit tucked into bed so that only ears and paws are visible, while a larger rabbit in a dress and apron leans over the bed with a cup.
Peter Rabbit is one of the most famous characters in the world of children's literature. But he wasn't always that well known. In fact, as with almost every other author, Beatrix Potter was initially unable to find a publisher for her story due to the usual rejections and her own insistence on a specific format and quality. Instead of compromising her vision, she decided to have a small run of the story privately printed.

A cover for "The Tale of Peter Rabbit."
The first private edition ran to 250 copies and was printed by Strangeway's in London in December 1901. A second run of private printings was completed in February of 1902. Finally, later that year, the first commercial edition was published by Frederick Warne & Co. The Tale of Peter Rabbit quickly became a commercial success and paved the way for numerous additional tales set in the same world.

Rauner holds one of the original first printings from the 1901 private edition.  Ask for Val 827P849 X to see Peter before he was famous and read about his misadventures.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Playfully Morbid World of Edward Gorey

An illustration for "The Gashlycrumb Tinies."Edward Gorey described his mission in life as "to make everybody as uneasy as possible... I think we should all be as uneasy as possible, because that's what the world is like." As a writer and artist, Gorey has created his own uneasy world, through thousands of macabre illustrations. Gorey's world is equal parts morbid, silly, and exquisite. It expanded and evolved through books, pictures and even beanbags.

However, Gorey isn't for everyone. To find out if you find him delightfully creepy or just plain morbid, look at one of his best-known works, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It is a short book, styled on a traditional children's alphabet book. However, the rhymes and pictures within aren't suited for most preschoolers. Instead, the book details the absurd deaths of a series of children in alphabetical order. Gorey begins with a bang: "A is for AMY who fell down the stairs" and "B is for BASIL assaulted by bears." The alphabet continues all the way to Zillah (who drank too much gin). If you find the image of the toddler Zillah drinking with a skeleton in a dress more delightfully ridiculous than offensive, there are a few other works to check out in Rauner's extensive collection of rare Gorey works.

A valentine featuring a block of verse and an illustration go a girl and a small, flying demon.Gorey wrote over one hundred books, all striking a delicate balance between gruesome and playful. One standout is The Loathsome Couple, about two child murderers and their casually miserable marriage. The book contains the inner flap description, "This book may well prove to be its author's most unpleasant ever." Another Gorey classic is The Gorey Alphabet, arranged in a similar style as The Gashleycrumb Tinies (and, like many of Rauner's works, signed by Gorey himself). The 'B' in this alphabet reads: "The Baby, lying meek and quiet/Upon the customary rug/Has dreams about rampage and riot/And will grow up to be a thug." One of the Gorey's less structured works is F.M.R.A. Published in 1980, F.M.R.A. is a box containing a mishmash of everything from dark Valentines to an envelope full of tiny pictures. Dartmouth owns one of the 426 copies created, signed (as all copies were) by Gorey.

Gorey also illustrated a number of books by other authors including Freaky Friday by Mary Rogers and The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right Thing to Say on Every Dubious Occasion by Phypps Hyacinthe.

A set of Gorey-themed tarot cards.
Gorey's work is popular outside of the world of literature. Rauner has an Edward Gorey board game, if you want to play with some friends, as well as a "Fantoid Pack" if you wish to predict your future (warning: it will not be bright). If you’re tired of the typical cheeriness of Christmas cards, check out Rauner's Edward Gorey Christmas Cards collection. Or, if you’re too stressed to study, seek the company of one of the Gorey's cuddlier creations: cat and pig beanbags. Through his illustration, Edward Gorey has created a vast and nonsensical universe. Come to Rauner to live in it for a few hours.

A photograph of a beanbag shaped as a pig in a suit jacket.
Take a look at F.M.R.A., Illus G675fmr; Pig Beanbag, Realia 504; The Fantoid Pack, Illus G675fan; and The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Illus G675gas.

Posted for Kate Taylor '13