Wednesday, December 17, 2014

177. Charles Ricketts in an Art Nouveau Border

Last Wednesday, 11 December, a Dutch translation of Oscar Wilde's Poems in Prose with drawings by Charles Ricketts was presented in Rotterdam by the publisher, Nadorst. The venue was a bar, Café Vermeulen, which was opened in 1903, and still boasts of its period appearance with brown panelling, a high dark brown ceiling, and Art Nouveau stained glass windows. It was a calm night with only a small number of regulars, chatting about local politics, and drinking beer. At the back of the narrow room a pool table was surrounded by a dozen literary visitors. A box on the table held copies of the newly published book.

Box containing Poems in Prose (Rotterdam, 11 December 2014)
Around half past eight, the presentation by the translator Joris Lenstra began. Lenstra translated works by Jack Kerouac and Walt Whitman, this was his first Wilde book. He told the audience that he had rejected a translation of the early poems of Oscar Wilde that was proposed to him by a professor of English, as the poems were too elaborate and artificial. Wilde's Poems in Prose, however, offered exactly the mixture of storytelling, erudition, and surprise that characterized Wilde as a conversationalist. 

Lenstra read one of the Poems in English. Gradually, the regulars at the bar end of the room were getting restless, chanting slowly, "Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde", as if it was the name of their favourite football player, and it was time for him to appear on the stage. A phone rang, and one of the regulars, who had just ordered a new pint of beer, answered what seemed to be a call from his wife, and used the best excuse for a habitual drinker I can imagine. 'I am in the middle of a book presentation', he said. By now, the book launch had been interrupted, because the man talked quite loudly. After the call was broken off, the story about Wilde was resumed, and Lenstra read one of his translations. Finally, the box was opened and copies of the new publication could be acquired.

Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose (2014) with a drawing by Charles Ricketts

Two sketches by Charles Ricketts, published in Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose (2014)
The drawings by Ricketts are taken from the collection of Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust, and most of them have never been published before. A few additional sketches follow the poems, such as a slight sketch of three dancing figures (page 60) and a sketch for 'The Actor and the Mask'. 

All pages - including those with Ricketts's drawings - are contained within an art nouveau border printed in gold. Seven different borders occur in this book, none of them similar in any way to the borders that were designed by Ricketts. The origins of these are not English, but Belgian or French. The application of these borders comes from the wrong assumption, that Ricketts's drawings are art nouveau in style. They are not. They were drawn in the 1920s, and, like the drawings in Beyond the Threshold, published 1929, they should have been reproduced without a border.