Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Lady of the Decoration




Two of several llustrations for the novel by
Wakana Utigawa.




A popular topic around the internet at the moment seems to be old and forgotten books. With the present pressure on publishing,I wonder if this may reflect a certain fin de siecle nostalgia for the "golden age."

From my odd collection of books, this is one of my "keepers" -- partly because of the illustrations, the detachable kind reproduced on their very own page and protected by an onion skin overleaf.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1906 and written under the pseudonym of Frances Little (Fannie Caldwell),The Lady of the Decoration became a best seller in 19o7. The book's popularity is attributed in part to interest generated by the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, a conflict which is referenced in the novel. Apparently now in the public domain, the book is available from Project Guttenberg.

The charming and simple story, in the form of letters to a cousin, details the experiences of a wordly young American widow who has gone to Japan as a kindergarten teacher at a missionary school during the years 1901-1905.
The "missionary school," however, merely provides the raison d'etre. The novel contains no pious insistence on creed and dogma whatsoever, and is told, moreover, in a refreshingly modern, almost chick litty voice.

The letter form allows the reader to discern loss, exile, struggle -- and a love story -- between the lines. And the novel reflects a time in literary history when a certain innocent idealism was constant in theme and character.




34 comments:

laughingwolf said...

that's a treasure, for sure :)

Bernita said...

To me, anyway, Laughingwolf.

writtenwyrdd said...

The great thing about the Gutenberg Project is that so many great reads can be saved from obscurity by internet accessibility. I am apalled at how libraries, in order to keep their stuff current, are ditching really good old books to yard sales, and if that doesn work to the dump.


When San Francisco ditched about a mile's worth of shelves and their books because of the new library, I was apalled and heartbroken.

Bernita said...

I know, Written, but what elese are reading libraries to do? They are not museums of the written word - though I, in an agony of book veneration, think of them that way. They need space for books that are read.
One cannot praise this digitalization enough, really.

Sam said...

I love my old books, and can't bear to part with them. So there they sit, gathering dust, and every once in a while I'll take one down and read it, and it's like meeting an old friend.

I bought a bunch of books at the library sale about a year ago. More precious dust catchers.

There is something very positive to be said about e-books, lol.

Bernita said...

Dusting chore being one of them, Sam.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think the thing that I really disagree with, Bernita, is that libraries are dispensing with the stacks as too costly to keep. Those are important to my way of thinking, and project Gutenberg and other digitalization projects will not be able to keep up.

Maybe if the US endows the Library of Congress to digitize books, or it becomes normal to keep digitalized copies of new released and create them for older books?

Whirlochre said...

Great pictures, these.

They remind me of the beautiful plates residing between the covers of my 1913 MacMillan edition of Tagore's The Crescent Moon.

To my great shame, in my early 20s I threw away a box of my Dad's old hardbacks to make room for X-Men comics. He'd inherited these from my Grandad, and although many were mothball-fodder versions of classics like Ben Hur and Treasure Island — the kind of books that end up being permanent residents in 2nd hand bookshops — there was a cloth cover copy of Dickens' A Christmas Carol which I now wish I'd never parted with. This had colour illustrations too, and they were exquisite.

But — such is the folly of youth and the blind pursuit of novelty.

Bernita said...

A library without stacks, Written, strikes me as little different from an intenet cafe.

"the kind of books that end up being permanent residents in 2nd hand bookshops"
Some of them at stupendous prices, Whirl, depending on edition. Sometimes because of scarcity, sometimes because of the illustrator.

Demon Hunter said...

This is why I go to the libraries in my state. They give away some great books and only ask for donations. Some people don't even pick out the really good ones. A shame, really. I reap the benefits though. Thanks for sharing this, Bernita. Never heard of this one. I'll look for it. :*)

raine said...

I rather miss the epistolary form of writing. Very intimate, very subtle if well done. Quite out of style now. Have often had the urge to try it sometime...

Your book sounds like a treasure, Bernita.
GORGEOUS illustrations.

Bernita said...

Our small library always has a yard sale table, mostly of books people have donated that they (a) already have copies of, or (b) have no interest in shelving. Have found some lovely ones too.
My Demon, I wonder how many copies made a best-seller circa 1907.

Raine, anything "out of style" is sure to become the Next Big Thing.
I wanted to post the lot but refrained. The stone lantern is my favourite.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've seen those old kinds of illustrations and they are gorgeous. Not too long ago a publisher named Wandering Star tried to bring this kind of care to Robert E. Howard's books and the results were fantastic. Expensive but fantastic. I love the images you posted from the book.

kmfrontain said...

I love Project Gutenberg, and I also love Librivox.

Bernita said...

Charles, books like that make me sigh and say "This is a BOOK!"

Me too, Karen. Even found an obscure and out of print( naturally) family history on Project Guttenberg.

spyscribbler said...

I love the Gutenberg Project, writtenwyrdd! And Bernita, those are two gorgeous pictures. Love them!

Sarah Hina said...

The epistolary novel is an interesting device, although I think it can keep the readers at somewhat of a distance.

Dangerous Liaisions is another good example of the form. Thanks for the tip, Bernita! I'll have to check it out. :)

Bernita said...

"Distance " may depend on the form, Sarah.
This quaint example is composed entirely of her letters out without, ie.intimate first person.
A story told in the form of letters from several correspondents, in spite of the individual voice of each writer, might strike the ear as multiple POVs in third.

Bernita said...

should read "...without intervening exposition..."

laughingwolf said...

i love book bargains of library cast-offs and spend hours in previously-loved-books stores :)

Bernita said...

Me too, Laughingwolf - though it's a clear exercise in lust and greed.

ChrisEldin said...

I agree, Bernita--libraries are made for stacks. I remember the pure pleasure of researching one thing or another in college, and getting lost in the aisles, simply browsing and enjoying.

Beautiful pics.
:-)

Bernita said...

Yes, Chris. The mental wealth of it all, the sheer availibility of all those ideas and thoughts, experiences and theories, all made solid.

Rick said...

No one has mentioned the odor of old books yet, especially in rows of shelves. A rather pleasant mustiness. I think of it as the smell of knowledge.

Bernita said...

Rick,I've always thought the word "musty" unnecessarily pejorative.
"The smell of knowledge" is a nice conceit.

Rick said...

Bernita - 'musty' is an unkind term for a rather pleasant smell. I wonder why that is?

Bernita said...

Don't know, Rick.
Anti-"intellectual" transference?
A relic of days when books often were musty because they were stored in rooms inadequately heated by fireplaces and profuse with damp?
It does rain a lot in England I'm told.

BernardL said...

As others have mentioned, the smell of old books, and leather make a heady aroma. :)

haunted author said...

Thanks so much for sharing your treasures, Bernita. They are beautiful.

Ah, the smell of old books, and leather. Add to that strong coffee (Mocha? Latte?) and dark chocolate- sheer heaven on earth- who needs drugs?

The local library deed some heavy "weeding" of their stacks about 5-6 years ago when the library underwent extensive renavation. I bought tons. Now they are weeding again- they are "digitising" putting scanner codes on all the books. Ive bought tons more! Their stacks look awfully empty now, though. I'm sure they will fill pretty fast.

Bernita said...

Indeed, Haunted.
The smell of printer's ink, rag paper and leather.
I brake for library sales too.

SzélsőFa said...

I like old books too, but their smell makes me sneeze..

Books in a letter format reminds me books written as a diary...any one else sees connection?

Bernita said...

Szelsofa, I suppose the main difference is that the diary form contains the implication of privacy while letters have an intended recipient.

Vesper said...

Thank for sharing this, Bernita. Seems like a lovely book. I'll look for it on Gutenberg. Unfortunately, the charm that comes from your wonderful 1906 edition cannot be found on the Internet...

Bernita said...

Vesper, I think your tender heart would particulary enjoy the story.