Tag Archives: Aldous Huxley

‘visions and revisions’ : T. S. Eliot and Alport

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table

– T. S. Eliot (‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917.)

In 2003 a Univ finalist researching an extended essay on the prose of T.S. Eliot came across the rich seam of Eliot material in the Alport Collection. Whilst looking through the first editions, many of them with inscriptions to Alport from Eliot, Rachel Oakeshott discovered a copy of Poetry magazine from June 1915 in which appeared Eliot’s first published poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Looking through the fragile pages of this ephemeral publication, she noticed that Eliot’s poem had been corrected in black ink. The annotations included the excited exclamation, ‘damn!’ next to the misprint ‘spot’ where the poem should have read ‘soot’. Rachel’s research led her to meet with the poet’s widow who confirmed that the corrections were T. S. Eliot’s own.

Poetry, vol. VI, no.III. Seymour, Daughday and Co. : Chicago. June 1915.

Cover and the beginning of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ with Eliot’s corrections in Alport’s copy of Poetry, vol. VI, no.III. Seymour, Daughday and Co. : Chicago. June 1915. Click image to have a closer look.

‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ was dedicated to a medical student, Jean Verdenal, with whom Eliot lodged during his postgraduate year at the Sorbonne in Paris, and who died age 26, a casualty of WWI. It was the title poem in Eliot’s first collection of poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations (The Egoist : London. 1917). Only 500 copies of this book were printed, one of which Alport acquired.  

Prufrock and other observations. The Egoist : London. 1917.

Peter one of Univ’s accountants examines Alport’s copy of Prufrock and Other Observations outside the Treasury; dedication and lines from ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in Prufrock and Other Observations. The Egoist : London. 1917.

The number of inscriptions from Eliot in Alport’s collection implies that the two men knew each other, but where they met, in Oxford, Germany or London, and how they became acquainted, through friends, perhaps, or literary interests, remains unknown.

Ariel Poems

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

O my daughter.

– T. S. Eliot (Marina, no. 29 of The Ariel Poems.)

Some of the most attractive objects in the Alport Collection are the five poems that Eliot contributed to Faber & Faber’s Ariel Poems series. The thirty-eight pamphlets in the first Ariel Poems series combined the work of authors and illustrators with striking effect.

Marina, no. 29 of The Ariel Poems. Faber & Faber : London.

Illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer and inscription from Eliot to Alport in Alport’s copy of Marina, no. 29 of The Ariel Poems, by T. S. Eliot. Faber & Faber : London.

Each pamphlet has more or less the same simple, fragile structure; one sheet of paper folded and sewn inside a coloured paper cover. A black and white artist print on the cover and a coloured print inside are followed by a poem. T. S. Eliot’s poems are illustrated by Gertrude Hermes (Animula, no.23) and E. McKnight Kauffer (Journey of the Magi, no. 8; A Song for Simeon, no.16; Marina, no. 29;  Triumphal March, no. 35).

Animula, no. 23 of The Ariel Poems. Faber & Faber : London.

Illustrations by Gertrude Hermes and text from Alport’s copy of Animula, no. 23 of The Ariel Poems, by T. S. Eliot. Faber & Faber : London.

Eliot worked for Faber as their Literary Editor as well as a writer. He left his job in a bank in 1925 to join the publisher where he was successful in signing and promoting new writers from W. H. Auden to Ted Hughes. His entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography goes as far as to see his work at Faber as ‘defining the next forty years of British poetry’.

Triumphal March, no. 35 of The Ariel Poems. Faber & Faber : London.

Illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer and inscription from Eliot to Alport in Alport’s copy of Triumphal March, no. 35 of The Ariel Poems, by T. S. Eliot. Faber & Faber : London.

Thoughts after Lambeth and Four Quartets

…it is not to anybody’s interest that religion should disappear. If it did, many compositors would be thrown out of work; the audiences of our best-selling scientists would shrink to almost nothing; and the typewriters of the Huxley brothers would cease from tapping. Without religion the whole human race would die…solely of boredom. – T. S. Eliot (Thoughts After Lambeth. Faber & Faber : London. 1931.)

After his baptism into the Church of England in June 1927, which took place at Finstock, not far west of Oxford, Eliot placed religion at the centre of his life. In 1931, Eliot gave Alport a pamphlet in which he reflects on the outcomes of a Report of the Church of England’s Lambeth Conference. Some of the issues Eliot was discussing in the 1930s seem very current today. Substitute Richard Dawkins for Aldous Huxley and passages about the perceived differences between older and younger generations and the relationship between science and religion could almost have been written yesterday.

Thoughts After Lambeth. Faber and Faber : London. 1931.

Front cover with inscription, and text (p.8-9) from Alport’s copy of Eliot’s Thoughts After Lambeth. Faber and Faber : London. 1931.

Religion, in a broad sense,  permeates Eliot’s later poetry. In the Alport Collection are early printings of three of the poems that make up Four Quartets. Alport kept the second poem in the series, East Coker both as it appeared in the 1940 Easter number of The New English Weekly and as it was published (as a stapled pamphlet) by Faber and Faber in the same year.

Four Quartets montage

Three of Eliot’s Four Quartets from the Alport Collection: ‘East Coker’ in The New English Weekly, vol. XVI, no. 22. Easter number 1940 ; East Coker. Faber and Faber : London. 1940 ; ‘The Dry Salvages’ in The New English Weekly, vol. XVIII, no. 19. 27 Feb 1941 ; Little Gidding. Faber and Faber : London. 1942.

You can hear T. S. Eliot reading his poems (including passages from Four Quartets) on The Poetry Archives website.

If you’d like to find out more about T. S. Eliot or read some of his poems look on the first floor of the Library at class mark YIK/ELI.

Sources used in this post were:

Bush, Ronald. “Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1888–1965).” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. OUP : Oxford. Accessed 23 Oct. 2012 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32993&gt;.

University College. ‘Leading the Field’ in Univ Newsletter. Issue 16. Michaelmas 2003.

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‘crass, hairy and evergrim life’

Alport’s science fiction

When Hugo Gernsback coined the term ‘science fiction’ in 1929, he defined it simply as ‘a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision’. Fascinating may be a better word than charming for some of the science fiction in the Alport Collection. The examples of the genre that Erich Alport bought and read span the best part of the century and demonstrate that the genre has been used not only to write about ‘scientific fact and prophetic vision’ but also to make social commentary and explore the human condition in unusual circumstances.

The Invisible Man

You are the only man…who knows there is such a thing as an Invisible Man… Help me – and I will do great things for you. An Invisible Man is a man of power. – Griffin (The Invisible Man : a grotesque romance, H.G. Wells, 1897)

Alport probably bought his first edition of The Invisible Man whilst he was in Oxford for ten shillings and six pence. It still bears the signature of its original owner, the sociable Orientalist and Freemason, Arthur Cowley, who was Bodleian Librarian from 1919 until his death in 1931.

H.G. Well’s story of an inventor who discovers a way to make his body reflect no light has ancient roots in Book II of Plato’s Republic. Plato uses the story of ‘The Ring of Gyges’ (a ring that gives its wearer the power of invisibility) to consider whether people would be moral if they did not fear detection and punishment. Griffin, the anti-hero of Well’s story, uses his invisible state to commit theft and, through fear of detection, murder.

The Invisible Man : a grotesque romance by H.G. Wells. Pearson : London. 1897.

Cover, bookseller’s price, signature of A. Cowley and extract from p.75 of Alport’s copy of The Invisible Man : a grotesque romance by H.G. Wells. Pearson : London. 1897;

 

Transition Stories

The attempt to arrive at a complete denial of reality by way of a consistent and dogmatic exploration of the subconscious remains one of the important actions of our creative life. – Eugene Jolas (Preface to Transition Stories: twenty-three stories from ‘transition’, 1929)

This selection of stories from the early twentieth-century literary journal Transition looks to modern eyes like a 60s production rather than the 1920s artefact it is. This is partly thanks to the mechanical design printed on the boards, created by typographer Albert Schiller who combined pre-cast metal type elements to make his image.

Transition Stories : twenty-three stories from “transition” selected and edited by Eugene Jolas and Robert Sage. Walter V. McKee : New York. 1929.

Extracts from the Preface and James Joyce’s ‘A Muster from Work in Process’, title page and front board design from Transition Stories : twenty-three stories from ‘transition’ selected and edited by Eugene Jolas and Robert Sage. Walter V. McKee : New York. 1929. Click on the image to read the texts on a larger version.

Transition’s editors published poetry, prose and artwork by contemporary avant-garde movements such as surrealists, Dadaists and modernists. The preface to Transition Stories explains their mission to reject bourgeois forms of literature including purely descriptive writing and challenge the domination of pure reason.

Among the writers published in Transition Stories are Gertrude Stein and Franz Kafka. Perhaps the most famous work to appear in the magazine was Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, which appeared in segments under the title ‘Work in Progress’.

Toborrow and toburrow and tobarrow! That’s our crass, hairy and evergrim life! We may come, touch and go, from atoms and ifs but we’re presurely destined to be odd’s without ends. – James Joyce (‘A Muster from Work in Progress’ in Transition Stories: twenty-three stories from ‘transition’, 1929)

Brave New World

But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin. – the Savage (Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932)

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World questions the scientifically managed future societies of H.G. Well’s utopian novels. In Huxley’s dystopian world state human beings are given their social status before birth and conditioned from then on, by a mixture of drugs and nurture, to accept their place. The inhabitants of Huxley’s novel are content but when a ‘Savage’ is brought to London from his home on a New Mexican Reservation his outsider perspective reveals the incompatibility of individual freedom and a scientifically created trouble-free society.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Chatto and Windus : London. 1932.

Chris from Univ’s Development Office going back to the future with Alport’s copy of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Chatto and Windus : London. 1932.

 

The Naked Lunch

The study of thinking machines teaches us more about the brain than we can learn by introspective methods. Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets. Ever pop coke in the mainline? – Doctor Benway (The Naked Lunch, William Burroughs, 1959)

In his dedication to Howl and Other Poems Allen Ginsberg named William Burroughs as the author of Naked Lunch for the first time in print. He described Burroughs’ book as “an endless novel which will drive everybody mad”.

Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg. City Lights Books : San Francisco. 1956 (14th printing, 1965)

Cover and dedication from Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. City Lights Books : San Francisco. 1956 (14th printing, 1965)

 The ‘endless novel’ was a long time in gestation. It circulated in manuscript fragments between the author’s friends, correspondents, publishers and editors, and appeared in periodicals before finding a publisher. This communal writing process may have had some influence on the organic, mosaic nature of Burroughs prose which is picked up on by a contemporary review:

The literary notion of time as simultaneous, a montage, is not original with Burroughs; what is original is the scientific bent he gives it and a view of the world that combines biochemistry, anthropology, and politics. It is as though Finnegans Wake were cut loose from history and adapted for a cinerama circus titled “One World.” – Mary McCarthy (‘Déjeuner sur l’Herbe’ in The New York Review of Books, 1 February 1963)

Alport bought a copy of The Naked Lunch first published in 1959 in Paris by The Olympia Press. This edition has a cover designed by Burroughs himself and a ‘the’ in the title which Burroughs did not intend. Naked Lunch was controversial in both subject matter and language. Its American publisher, Grove, waited until 1962, and the favourable outcome of a court battle over the censorship of another of their authors, to publish it.

The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. Olympia Press : Paris. 1959

Cover design and extract from The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. Olympia Press : Paris. 1959.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Naked Lunch Columbia University Libraries have created an online exhibition of their Burroughs collection which includes recordings of Burroughs reading from his novel.

The library has reading copies of some of the novels mentioned:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (YIO/HUX)

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (YIK/JOY)

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (YIK/WEL)

Other sources used in this post were:

Ashley, Mike. Out of This World: science fiction but not as you know it. The British Library : London. 2011.

Birch, Dinah (Ed.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. OUP : Oxford. 2009. (ZC)

Cloud, Gerald W. ‘Naked Lunch’ : the First Fifty Years. Online exhibition from Columbia University Butler Library, Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Accessed 16 Oct. 2012 <https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/nakedlunch&gt;.

Tomlinson, Steven. “Cowley, Sir Arthur Ernest (1861–1931).” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. OUP : Oxford. Accessed 16 Oct. 2012 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32598&gt;.

Wikipedia contributors. “The Invisible Man.” in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 Oct. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invisible_Man&gt;

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