Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Wright Stuff

A year or so ago, while I was busy being lost on my trip to New York, I discovered a dark old secondhand bookshop lurking on a side street. I couldn't tell you precisely where it is, because I'm not sure. I can't provide a link to their website either, because they don't have one.

In fact, I don't think they were keen on visitors at all. My reception was a bit like this. "How did you find out about us?" the woman asked suspiciously, "we don't advertise, you know." After I reassured her that my visit was entirely by accident, she graciously showed me a few of the precious things. Most precious of all, an original copy of A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art by Thomas Wright, Esq., published 1865.

Obviously I fell on it like a desperate grad-creature and, after paying a princely sum, smuggled it back to my lair.

Strange that the title is printed differently on the spine: A History of Caricature and of Grotesque in Art.

The first few pages are a little bit moldy, as you can see above, however the inside pages are in good condition. This printing of the text uses the long s, which takes a bit of getting used to.

The book contains hundreds of illustrations by artist F. W. Fairholt (also Esq.); a significant portion of which involve caricatures of the rich and powerful, including politicians, clergy, royals and the military. Many of these sketches incorporate the hybrid anatomy characteristic of the early grotesque style.

(The pics have turned out a bit dark, as I had trouble finding good light. Ah well. I could have scanned the pages, but that would have destroyed the spine of the book.)

One of my favourites - The Boat of Pleasant Odours.

Wright explains that this image builds on early commentary on folly and the allegory of the 'Ship of fools': a vessel of clueless folk steered by an equally stupid captain. In this case, however: "a party of gay ladies are taking possession of the boat, carrying with them their combs, looking glasses, and all other implements necessary for making them fair to look upon" (p.223). There are a few different boats in this series, including "the boat of foolish feeling" and "the boat of foolish hearing." The one above is, of course, "the boat of foolish smelling." According to Wright, the story goes that the women would invite men to take a trip in their boats, then fleece them shamelessly. In the image above, "one of the gentle damsels... is picking the pocket of her male companion in a very unlady-like manner" (p.223). Plus they are all wearing Spirit Hoods, which is pretty great.

A few other images caught my attention in particular, because they remind me of the meme faces currently circulating the Internet.

Further proof that humanity's sense of humour has barely shifted over the centuries.

So much going on in this book... I might have to do another post on it.

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