Sunday, April 3, 2011

Visions of the Jinn - Robert Irwin

From 1001 Nights

Robert Irwin has a new Nights book out called Visions of the Jinn that looks to shed some promising light on an under-covered topic.  The book is a bit pricey, 120 pounds, but looks to be a hardback oversized coffee table type book, making its price a bit more reasonable. 

Many thanks to Paul and Professor Z for passing this along.

Here is the Guardian's review, well more like a press release since it's also written by Irwin, with an excerpt pasted below.  It's well worth the read for its overview of the general history of illustrators of the Nights.

"Things changed with the publication in 1839-41 of Edward William Lane's The Thousand and One Nights in three volumes. Unlike earlier English translators, Lane, who had spent years in Egypt, translated not from Galland's French, but directly from the Arabic. Lane intended his translation to have an improving, didactic purpose and he seems to have thought of it as a kind of supplement to his pioneering work of ethnography, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836). He thought that the stories of the Nights could serve as an introduction to everyday life in the Middle East. (Never mind about the flying horse, the jinn, the Roc, the magic lamp and the Old Man of the Sea.) His copious endnotes furthered his didactic aim and so did the illustrations. William Harvey, a pupil of Thomas Bewick and one of Britain's leading engravers, did the boxwood engravings, but Lane stood at his shoulder, checking the look of things and providing previously published engravings of Egyptian and Moorish architecture for him to copy. In general, the purpose of the pictures was not to stimulate the imagination or supplement the storyline, but to introduce the British reader to the authentic look of the Arab world. Just occasionally Harvey was licensed to use his imagination, as with his marvellous depiction of the giant jinni in "The Story of the City of Brass", or the battle of magical transformations in "The Story of the Second Dervish".

Dalziel's Illustrated Arabian Nights Entertainments, published in 1865, was the most spectacular illustrated edition to be published in the Victorian age. A number of famous artists were commissioned to produce pictures for it, including John Tenniel, John Everett Millais and George Pinwell. But Arthur Boyd Houghton, a less well-known illustrator, produced the most compelling and atmospheric images – masterpieces of Victorian book illustration. Although his pictures have an authentic oriental look, the orient they conjure up owes more to India than the Arab world, for Houghton had spent his childhood in India and had relatives in the Indian army.

Though selections of the Nights whose texts were designed to be read by children had been published from the late 18th century onwards, little thought had been given to what sort of illustrations might appeal to children. Walter Crane (1845-1915) was one of the first to illustrate stories from the Nights in colour and also one of the first to consider the visual tastes of children: "Children, like ancient Egyptians, appear to see things in profile, and like definite statements in design. They prefer well-designed forms and bright frank colour. They don't want to bother with three dimensions. They can accept symbolic representations. They themselves employ drawing . . . as a kind of picture writing and eagerly follow a pictured story." Crane did not merely illustrate books; he designed them in such a way that there would be a perfect match between text and image. His Aladdin's Picture Book (1876) is ravishing and, since Aladdin's story is, however notionally, set in China, he drew on Chinese and Japanese imagery.

Lane's translation of the Nights, while certainly scholarly, had been excessively prudish, as Lane excised stories and incidents with erotic content. When Richard Burton produced his translation from the Arabic in 10 volumes with six supplementary volumes (1885-8), he went to the opposite extreme and not only kept the sex scenes in but exaggerated them, and he produced extensive notes on such matters as homosexuality, bestiality and castration. The first edition of Burton's translation, which was published for subscribers only so as to lessen the danger of being prosecuted for obscenity, had no pictures, but soon after his death in 1890, a young friend and devoted admirer of Burton, Albert Letchford, produced 70 paintings which served as the basis for the illustrations in a new edition of Burton's translation that was published in 1897. Letchford had trained in Paris as an orientalist painter and he had spent time in Egypt. While hardly a great artist, he did share Burton's taste for the erotic and so nudes feature frequently in the illustrations. Moreover, he had a taste for the fantastic and some of his demons and temples are very weird indeed. He was shy and no businessman and consequently he was usually poorly paid. While still a young man, he contracted a disease in Egypt from which he later died in England.

These days adult fiction is rarely illustrated, but in the 18th and 19th centuries it was normal, and novels by Trollope, Surtees, Dickens and other much less well-known writers carried pictures. But towards the end of the 19th century, for reasons which are not clear, adult novels were no longer illustrated as a matter of course and illustrators found themselves restricted to working mostly on children's books. In the opening decade of the 20th century, gift books aimed at children became fashionable. They were expensively illustrated (and referred to by the historian of children's literature, Brian Alderson, as "cocoa-table books"). The colour plates on shiny paper were usually covered by protective sheets of tissue paper."

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