Wednesday, November 28, 2018

383. A Simple Story by Charles Shannon

The first number of The Dial contained one story by Charles Shannon - I don't think he ever again tried to write a literary contribution for a magazine, or a book, and that the only genres he explored were diaries and letters. 

The story was called 'A Simple Story', and the first word of the text was embedded in an illustration: 'Batilda': 'Batilda had risen earlier than usual, for this was the long-expected day when the Holy Father Hilarion would stop and bless her hearth.' (See my blog about the initials in The Dial, No. 1: blogpost 381: The 2018 Alphabet: T.) Charles Ricketts made the drawing and signed it in the upper left hand corner. 

The story is about a visit of the bishop, the Holy Father Hilarion, to an island. One remembers that some of Shannon's earliest drawings were of saints. Hilarion came to the island for work: 'There were two couples to marry and their little children to baptise; three quarrels to arbitrate, and much kindliness to teach'. The Saturday Review (14 September 1889) said it was 'gracefully written'. The Athenaeum (23 November 1889) judged otherwise: 'There are touches - we were going to write splashes - of intense local colour in the terribly confused and confusing narrative Mr. C.H. Shannon calls "A Simple Story," but all there is to tell might have been given in ten lines.' In 2009, David Peters Corbett saw 'A Simple Story' as an example of 'an intense registration of experience that either is exotic or is allowed to be banal or abject in order to reveal or evoke unspecified but resonant meanings and emotions located beneath the surface of events'. In his 1977 thesis, Richard Harold Quinn remarked that the story witnessed Shannon's interest in colour and light, quoting many examples, such as a polished wreath, a red cross, but also a pale blue sky, a green sea turning silver towards noon, and a violet horizon.

Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda' (The Dial, 1889)
The illustration of an interior house shows features mentioned by Shannon in his story. There is a 'wreath of polished ivy leaves', but other elements such like 'a cross painted in red above the hearth' are lacking. However, a lamp said to be placed at the foot of the cross is present in a niche. 

There are small birds on the roof top, garlic is hanging from the door post, a bundle of sticks lies next to the house. Inside, Batilda sits in front of the hearth, anxiously drying her tears. In the room are three other people, probably her girls, Matilda and Basine. In their midst is probably their younger brother Felix in the bath tub before he runs out to see if the bishop has arrived already - the washing scene is not in the story.

This was a reproduced drawing by Ricketts, and the original drawing is in the private collection of Vincent Barlow, who kindly procured an image of it, which is reproduced below.

Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda', original drawing (collection of Vincent Barlow)
In wood engravings, Ricketts frequently forgot to reverse his initials; in this case there was no need to pay attention to mirror effects. Obviously, the lettering of the word 'Batilda' is rather clumsy, and awkward. Some of the letters look like they should have resembled printed letters, such as the 'A' and 'T'. But the large letter 'B' doesn't seem to belong to the same family, and the splitting of one name over three lines is unusual. However, in print, the earliest Vale Press books displayed a similar - debatable - arrangement of letters and words over several lines. 

The original drawing looks like a finished sketch for the slightly reworked definitive drawing which may not have survived, some details have been touched upon later. Look at the birds!