I spent September and October 2018 at the Houghton Library in Harvard, as a Library Visiting Fellow, thinking about leftovers and aphorisms (and aphorisms as leftovers) in Edward Lear’s poetry, diaries and letters.
My first name, Wystan,
Rhymes with Tristan,
But – O dear! – I do hope
I’m not quite such a dope.
For the last few days, I’ve been preoccupied by Shaun Tan’s illustrations for the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Tan created sculptures corresponding to 75 of the fairy tales, each photographed and presented alongside a snippet of the original narrative.
But first, Reader, I will give you a word of warning. This is a foot-off-the-ground novel that came by the left hand…. And if you are a foot-on-the-ground person, this book will be for you a desert of weariness and exasperation. So put it down. Leave it alone. It was a mistake that you made to get this book. You could not know. (Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper)
Today I’ve been thinking about feet in Edward Lear‘s illustrations.
In a review for the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post in 1958, John Betjeman wrote, ‘Stevie Smith is a delightful poet and writer; her sketchbook “Some Are More Human Than Others” (Gaberbocchus, 18s) owes much to Thurber.’
Betjeman wasn’t alone in comparing Smith’s doodle-art to James Thurber (1894-1961), who contributed stories and drawings to the New Yorker from 1930 to 1950. Like Smith, Thurber drew mobile, dynamic figures in pen and ink. His people are sketchy, distorted, holding themselves at insistent but unsettling angles.