Something About Eve


Although enhanced by the skilled, insightful, sometimes scurrilous, illustrations of Frank C. Papé, ‘Something About Eve – A comedy of Fig Leaves’ is not my favourite work of James Branch Cabell. I finished reading it yesterday evening.

I found it rather heavy going. The crossword setter in me was amused by the anagrams of the lands visited by our main protagonist in his journey from naive youth to mature age. These are Caer Omn (Romance), through Dersam (Dreams) and Lytreia (work it out for yourself) to Mispec Moor, where Compromise snags his search for the promised land. Eve comes in many forms, tempting and not so delightful. Gerald Musgrave tries them all in his sometimes thwarted efforts at copulation.

Finally, the book had not engaged me.

As usual the illustrations in this Bodley Head edition consist of tipped in plates, headers, end pieces, and vignettes among the text.


The golden engravings on the cover and the end-papers some up the essences of the tale.

I have chosen to present the frontispiece as it stands behind the protective tissue that covers each of these plates, the last of which shows our rake as a young man encountering his older self.

Here are one header and an end piece.

This morning Elizabeth drove us over to Mum’s, where we spent much of the day gardening. Jackie pruned needy shrubs, weeded rampant beds, and cleared the lawn edges, which, with a spade, I relined; Elizabeth cut the grass and tidied more edges.

After this, we repaired to The Wallhampton Arms where we partook of their excellent carvery. Jackie drank Amsrell, Elizabeth, Peroni and I, Flacks bitter.

‘Soul-Contenting Pictures’


Today’s title comes from James Branch Cabell’s preface to ‘The Silver Stallion, a Comedy of Redemption’, another of the splendid collaborations between the author and his illustrator, Frank C, Papé. This is the first illustrated edition of 1928 published by The Bodley Head.

The work is a splendidly rumbustious picaresque fantasy by a master of his field. This really is an impossibly nonsensical, yet un-put-downable escapade, rendered readable by Cabell’s flowing, poetic prose, full of lovely descriptions, perfectly positioned alliteration, barely concealed wit, and lascivious innuendo – all cleverly reflected in the elegant lines of his elegantly imaginative illustrator. Many of the author’s sentences are lengthy, yet gently undulate for the eyes to scan with no hesitation.

The numerous black and white illustrations consist of introductory pages to each of the ten books in the volume; tipped in plates; and line drawings at the end of each chapter. I have scanned twelve, almost at random.

The detail pays careful attention. How many riders are depicted here? The little boy stands protected among the frightening creatures concealed in the shadows. Can you spot the gaping-mouthed beast fashioned from the rock?

This little end-piece has sweat on the father’s forehead, a button bursting off his trousers, a hole in the boy’s onesie , and a missing shoe. The end of the chapter is repeated in the caption to the first illustration.

Note the protruding toes in this one. The artist portrays fingers and toes with such free-flowing accuracy.

Study the faces here, especially those in the peaks of the waves.

The artist’s take on the writer’s subtle lascivious humour is demonstrated by the young lady’s almost falling out of her sedan chair at the sight of what is suggested by the strategically placed leaf on the man’s shadow.

The paragraph above this end-piece suggests what is depicted in the dark clouds.

Papé’s mastery of line is represented in the two halves of this introduction to Book Five. Facial expressions indicate sanctity and devilry;

similarly the fluidity of his line is apparent in this drawing which captures the angry frustration of a father unable to control his impudently recalcitrant son.

Cross-hatching is used to good effect to provide a dark framework for this fearsome frolic. Look where the winged creature is aiming its sting.

The beauty of this liquid line may cause one to miss the dog’s sad, tearful, face.

The illustrator’s ability to pack immense detail into his frame. You may find much more, but I will draw attention to the wife’s taking on the disturbers of her sleep with fire irons and a broom.

The three faces in this end piece bringing up the rear tell a splendid story. In the form of the building overlooking the arch, Chad puts in an appearance.

Late this afternoon, Jacqueline brought Mum over for dinner. A pleasant evening ensued. Jackie produced vegetable soup; cottage pie with cabbage, carrots, and runner beans; and bread and butter pudding with cream or evaporated milk, according to taste. Jackie drank Hoegaarden, Mum’s choice was orange juice, Jacqueline’s, Ciro Bianco 2017, and Elizabeth’s and mine, Lellei Pinot Noir 2015.




Given that such matters are never completed until they are completed, I have not mentioned the sale of my French house before. Today, however, I must give voice to it. The first signings in the final process are due to take place on 12th. The solicitor is due to sign on my behalf. To this end a document was e-mailed to me by my agent a few days ago. This contained seven errors. A corrected version was promised. I have not received it. I e-mailed the agent yesterday. She replied that the solicitor says he sent it and receipt was confirmed by my son. I left the agent two voicemail messages and an e-mail explaining that this was rubbish (one son in Australia, one in New Zealand, and another elsewhere in England). I have heard no more.

Just to complete my morning, I received a letter from NHS saying that my appointment with an eye consultant has been cancelled. Patient readers will know that a date was first fixed in November. This would not be until April. In December this was cancelled and I was given another for later this month. Today’s letter (dated 4th) doesn’t specify which appointment has been cancelled, and invites me to make another. This I could do neither on the telephone nor on line without a password which I don’t have. I was advised to contact the person who referred me. This was my GP. There is no information in the surgery after November. I was promised a call back from the GP’s secretary. It hasn’t come.

So I did some ironing, accompanied Jackie to a dental appointment, and read a book.

The book in question, which I finished later, is James Branch Cabell‘s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice.

Soon after its publication in 1919 this humorous romp through the mediaeval period with references to Arthurian legend, and the eponymous hero’s trips to Heaven and Hell was charged with obscenity and banned in 1920 by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. The publisher, Robert M McBride and Company, brought to trial in 1922, was acquitted.

Now, there is absolutely nothing at all graphic about the original publication, which relies purely on phallic symbolism in the form of swords and lances; and such innuendo as can be gleaned from, for example, ‘exchanging pleasantries’ in the dark.

When an edition was produced containing Ray F. Coyle’s rather more suggestive illustrations in 1923, I suspect this may have been the publisher’s sweet revenge.

Like our own Aubrey Beardsley, the American Coyle died young. Beardsley was in the avant-garde of the Art Nouveau movement. This was followed by Art Deco, of which Coyle was a splendid exponent. The artist died of appendicitis soon after this work was published.


The very last word of this edition, repeated under the final illustration, is capable of two interpretations. ‘Explicit’, from the Latin, was used to indicate the closure of early books and manuscripts; modern readers will be well aware of its use to describe graphic sexual activity. Was this the author’s ultimate joke?

This evening we dined on pork, chorizo, and Jamaican pepper sausages from Hockey’s Farm shop; creamy mashed potato and swede; crisp carrots, and manges touts. I finished the Malbec



Magic And Witchcraft

Technology is fine when it works, but you really can’t trust it. Yesterday I discovered that O’Neill Patient had never received my complaints letter. Having paid the extra fee for tracking and recording delivery, it never occurred to me that I would not get what I had paid for. When the Royal Mail website indicated that the letter had been posted, but not that it had been delivered, it was with some difficulty that I found a telephone number which I rang, in the hope of speaking to a person. Of course I got a machine giving options which didn’t quite cover my situation. This meant waiting for an adviser and listening to music for 16 minutes. The person who eventually came on the line advised me, with profuse apologies, that the package had neither been delivered nor retained. I could claim compensation if there was anything valuable inside. I said I didn’t think they would compensate me for embarrassment, and I couldn’t  be bothered to claim back the postage. I e-mailed a copy of the letter to the solicitor.

Early this morning the solicitor phoned me to check that I had received his e-mail saying he had never received the letter. I replied that I had, and that I had e-mailed a copy. He had never received that e-mail. I sent it again. It bounced back. Eventually he did receive it, but couldn’t open the attachment because it was an iMac document and they run on Windows. He passed it to his IT team to see if they could convert it. They couldn’t.

Becky entered the fray and learned that in my earliest mail I had misspelled the firm’s name. She then sent the letter as a PDF document and Mr Bourke received and acknowledged it.

While I was in the mood, I telephoned BT sales department concerning our constant interruption of Broadband connection. I asked for an engineer visit. It was two hours before one was booked. Two hours spent on the telephone.

I went through the history of our problems with the first man. He tried to sell me Fibreoptic Infinity. I gave him the story of one of his predecessors assuring me, despite my questioning it, having sold me it. This had resulted in 5 different engineer visits. Only on the fifth was I informed that we were too far from the cabinet from which supply is transferred. We returned to the older system. He said he wasn’t technical and would transfer me to someone who could help. “Please don’t send me to India and have me put through checks I have carried out numerous times before”, I asked. He said he wouldn’t. With no further contact he sent me to India.

I was then subjected to the whole array of usual checks. Since the woman was very polite and patient, I was the same with her. I did, however, stating that I didn’t like saying so because I did not want to be rude, mention that her accent was a problem, for example when she asked me to take the plug out of the “ello” port on the back of the hub, I struggled to realise that she meant “yellow”. As a non-technical person, I had been seeking L O.

She also spoke about superfast broadband. Once more I carefully explained our experience with that. After 25 minutes she said that our contract only allowed for 1 megabyte, so we needed to increase this. She then wanted to do more tests which I declined when she assured me that the increase could be arranged with the old type of cable. There is now no doubt that something had been lost in translation.

Back I went to the sales department. The conversation I’d had with the previous adviser was repeated almost word for word, except that he said I would need superfast cable. He then offered to transfer me to a technician. I insisted it should be someone in England. He complied with this, and gave me the number to which he was referring me.

An English technician ran the checks and called me back when she had finished. She said that the usual tolerance they work to is 4 drops a day. We have 92. An engineer has been booked for the 18th. If it turns out to be our equipment that is at fault it will cost me £130. That was not the case the last time engineers visited. Fingers crossed.

Well, that took care of the morning.

What better antidote to wrestling with the 21st Century mystifying technical progress than to lose myself in a book first published in 1921, relating a mystical story set in the thirteenth century – publication before the internet was invented, and taking us back to a time when even printing itself had not been invented.

This afternoon I finished another book by James Branch Cabell illustrated by Frank C, Papé. This was the Bodley Head 1925 edition enhanced by Papé’s illustrations.

The work is ‘Figures of Earth – a Comedy of Appearances’.  Although containing some beautifully poetic descriptive passages this rather picaresque fantasy novel to my mind lacks cohesive direction. The ‘figures’ of the title provides an intriguing wordplay device for tracking the main protagonist’s journey through a life concertinaed by magic and witchcraft.  Manuel is dominated by his desires prompting him to make unwise choices. He suffers from the rather common ailment of attainment providing less satisfaction than the thrill of the search. As usual I will not betray the story. The are five sections to the tale, each one dedicated to a different literary friend who defended him against the charge of obscenity brought against his earlier novel, Jurgen. Perhaps the stork depicted in a couple of the images below was a an attempt to avoid further controversy.

Although the author clearly has his tongue in cheek, this novel lacks the lightness of touch demonstrated in ‘Domnei’, highlighted above. As always, Papé is in tune with Cabell, and produces brilliant illustrations. There are vignettes throughout and decorations on each dedication page.

I have chosen to feature the twelve main illustrations, and would draw attention to the way in which the artist depicts perspective by lightening his line where appropriate.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb chicken jafrezi, pilau rice and vegetable samosas. I drank more of the Malbec.


The Age Of Chivalry


Raindrops on window

Today began with leaden skies and raindrops on windows.

Garden through rainy window

Even owls, dripped on from branches above,  peered enviously inside.

Late this afternoon, when the rain had desisted somewhat, we took a car load of rubbish, that we had ourselves recycled once or twice already, to Efford Recycling Centre; and returned with two mirrors for the garden, a bar stool, and a Chinese rug.

Back in the early 1970s, I discovered the English book illustrator Frank C. Papé, and,  through him, the American writer, James Branch Cabell, in the illustrated editions produced by The Bodley Head in the early 20th century. I have already featured ‘The Cream of the Jest’, and today, as I finished reading ‘Domnei: a Comedy of Woman-Worship’, offer more information on the collaborators.

On the author, Wikipedia tells us:

‘James Branch Cabell (/ˈkæbəl/; April 14, 1879  – May 5, 1958) was an American author of fantasy fiction and belles lettres. Cabell was well regarded by his contemporaries, including H. L. MenckenEdmund Wilson, and Sinclair Lewis. His works were considered escapist and fit well in the culture of the 1920s, when they were most popular. For Cabell, veracity was “the one unpardonable sin, not merely against art, but against human welfare.”[1][2]

Although escapist, Cabell’s works are ironic and satirical. H. L. Mencken disputed Cabell’s claim to romanticism and characterized him as “really the most acidulous of all the anti-romantics. His gaudy heroes … chase dragons precisely as stockbrockers play golf.” Cabell saw art as an escape from life, but once the artist creates his ideal world, he finds that it is made up of the same elements that make the real one.’

There is much more information on his life and works on this link [1]’

Maybe I’m too gullible, but I found this work an enthralling fantasy of an imagined love story from the age of chivalry. There are a number of cynical characters, and we are invited to believe it is based on fragments of a Medieval manuscript. Obviously the source is spurious, and it is perhaps significant that the only uncut pages are the last two of the alleged bibliography. Nevertheless the romantic in me was enjoyably engaged with this readable story, details of which I will not reveal. The language is of the writer’s time, yet following the form of a 14th century geste. The descriptions of the natural world are beautifully done.

The artist is perfectly in tune with the writer, Clicking on the numbered highlight in the following paragraph will take you to the fuller Wikipedia page about him.

‘Frank Cheyne Papé, who generally signed himself Frank C. Papé (b. Camberwell, July 4, 1878 – d. Bedford, May 5, 1972) was an English artist and book illustrator. He studied at The Slade School of Fine Art, completing his studies circa 1902-04.[1] Papé was married to a fellow Slade student, illustrator Alice Stringer.’

Papé’s distinctive style ensured his popularity in the golden age of book illustration. He has a mastery of line and form.

Domnei, first published in 1913, underwent several revisions before the first illustrated edition of 1930, of which my copy is one.


Of the ten plates protected by tissue sheets, we begin with the frontispiece;


thereafter I have chosen samples of chiaroscuro elegance;


of drollery;


and of excellent composition, with an ability to indicate the effect of passing time on a still beautiful woman. We can well believe this is the lady in the second picture above.


Each of the thirty short chapters is introduced


by a framed picture illustrating its first page.


These are minutely faithful to the text.


I cannot elaborate on this without giving too much away.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s supreme lamb jalfrezi, savoury rice, and vegetable samosas. I finished the malbec.