Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Narrative of the Voyages Round the World, Performed by Captain James Cook by Andrew Kippis

Comprehensive exploration chronicle with biographical interludes
British navigator Captain James Cook made three famed voyages of exploration (two of them around the world) between 1768 and 1779. A comprehensive account of Cook’s life and journeys was published in 1788, written by Andrew Kippis, entitled Narrative of the Voyages Round the World, Performed by Captain James Cook. Kippis, a clergyman and professional writer, was not present on Cook’s expeditions but compiled his Narrative of the Voyages from previously published and unpublished journals by Cook and his crewmates.

Kippis’s detailed review of the sailors’ journals calls to mind the similar after-the-fact History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Elliott Coues and published in 1893. In both cases, the text is loaded with details of daily activities, some of which could even qualify as mundane, that in totality add up to a vivid recreation of the experience of the explorers. Both books are intended for popular audiences and therefore leave out much of the scientific data published in volumes intended for specialists. The most important and frequently covered topic in Kippis’s account is the English expedition’s interactions with the Indigenous inhabitants of the lands visited. Of second priority are details of sailing and navigation, such as the location of good harbors, the availability of provisions, and the geographic coordinates of landmarks. Of less prominence in the narrative are the botanical and zoological wonders encountered on the journey, yet occasionally there appears an exciting discovery like the first European sighting of a kangaroo.

Kippis also covers Cook’s life before and in between his three voyages, but not to any great extent. Most of Cook’s explorations took place among islands in the South Pacific, but he did venture farther afield as well. Cook did not discover Australia or New Zealand, but he more thoroughly explored those lands than any previous European. His biggest contribution to geography was the European discovery of Hawaii, which he named the Sandwich Islands. Cook searched for a rumored “Southern continent” but did not find Antarctica because too much ice forced him to turn back before he saw any land. The same is true of his search for the Northwest Passage, approaching North America from the West. He ventured North of the Bering Strait, where ice blocked his way, but he did explore the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Siberia.

Compared to the Spanish conquistadores, Cook was relatively respectful in his dealings with Indigenous peoples, but still inevitably imperialistic. His short-term goal was exploration and trade, not colonization. As the representative of Britain in foreign lands, however, he considered himself the law and dispensed justice as he saw fit, which in some cases included the killing of Natives when the Brits felt threatened or robbed. As part of his mission, Cook deliberately seeded the Pacific islands with European livestock and crops. We now recognize that these were invasive species that negatively impacted biodiversity, but at the time it was intended as a generous gift to the Natives and to prepare the islands for future settlers. The topic of sex between English sailors and Native women is brought up on several occasions in a surprisingly frank manner but discussed with a vocabulary of utmost gentility.

One unfortunate aspect of Cook’s travels that make them more interesting than most is that he died on his third voyage, killed by Native Hawaiians in a dispute over some stolen property. Kippis’s account of the series of escalating incidents that led to his death is harrowing and tragic. Kippis brings the book to a dull close, however, with excessive eulogizing of Cook, including the quoting of much mediocre poetry. As an exploration narrative, this is really a remarkable book, but Kippis gets rather carried away with the funereal epilogues.
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Monday, April 25, 2022

Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak

Interstellar castaway on a mysterious world
Clifford D. Simak was a prolific science fiction author whose writing career lasted from the early 1930s to the late 1980s. In addition to over a hundred short stories and novellas, Simak published 27 novels. Shakespeare’s Planet, his 19th novel, was published in 1976. Highly respected in his field, Simak is known for the consistent high quality of his works, and Shakespeare’s Planet is no exception.

Space traveler Carter Horton has just awoken from suspended animation. He left Earth in the 25th century as the planet was facing environmental and economic collapse. His journey was one of a number of scouting missions to look for habitable planets. He is now shocked to find that he has been asleep for over a thousand years, and his three human traveling companions died long ago. He is informed of the situation by his robot chaperone and by his sentient spaceship with whom he communicates telepathically. The good news is that after wandering over the galaxy for over a millennium they have now discovered a habitable planet. When Horton debarks on the planet’s surface, he encounters a being of an intelligent alien species, also a visitor to this world. This alien, a hunter and warrior nicknamed Carnivore, informs Horton that he is not the first human to visit this world. Carnivore had a previous acquaintance with an Earthling who facetiously referred to himself as Shakespeare. Though now deceased, Shakespeare left behind writings that can still teach Horton a thing or two about this world, which has its share of strange mysteries. The biggest puzzle facing Horton: Is there a way off this desolate world?

Shakespeare’s Planet is like an ingenious mystery story set in a far-flung star system. Simak expertly parcels out the clues to the mystery planet’s secrets while introducing innovative alien species and strange phenomena that question the very nature of time and space. Most outer space sci-fi stories revolve around conflict between different species or warring planetary factions. Simak’s fiction, however, more often than not hinges on friendship between humans and alien species. If we met intelligent life from elsewhere in the universe, how would we communicate with them? How could we help each other? What can we learn from one another? These are the questions that Simak explores again and again in his novels and stories. His works express a kind of interstellar environmental ethic: We should respect other worlds and their inhabitants just as we should respect the nature and peoples of Earth. Simak’s stories often exude a melancholy regret for mankind’s past rapaciousness but an optimistic faith in the future resilience of humanity. Shakespeare’s Planet is a perfect example of Simak’s passion for these recurring themes.

I have read at least three-fourths of Simak’s complete works, and I would count Shakespeare’s Planet among his best novels, though not quite on the same par with classics like Way Station or City. If you read enough of Simak’s works, you begin to notice certain elements and speculative ideas repeating themselves, so parts of this novel will feel vaguely familiar to diehard Simak fans, but rarely has he put such elements and ideas into an arrangement as compelling as this. Shakespeare’s Planet is a suspenseful interstellar adventure that keeps the reader guessing, reveals ingenious sci-fi visions, and provokes deep thoughts with its philosophical questioning of the future of mankind.
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Friday, April 22, 2022

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Flawed but important abolitionist melodrama
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
, published in 1852, was the bestselling American novel of the 19th century. As a well-intentioned muckraking condemnation of the institution of slavery, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist blockbuster has immense historical importance, though some aspects of the book have not held up favorably over time.

Tom is a middle-aged slave on the Kentucky farm of Arthur Shelby. By Stowe’s standard, Shelby treats his slaves well, but when he falls into debt he must sell some of his property, in this case human property, even if it means breaking up families. Tom is sold to a slave dealer to be taken South, along with a young boy slave named Jim. Jim’s mother Eliza, however, can’t bear to lose her son, so she takes the boy and flees North towards freedom. The mother and son are pursued by slave hunters, while Tom is loaded on a riverboat headed for a slave market in New Orleans.

The biggest surprise of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is how small a part Tom actually plays in the narrative. The book I expected to get—Tom’s persecution at the hands of the evil slaveholder Simon Legree—doesn’t start until two thirds of the book is already done. Prior to that, Tom is mostly just waiting in the wings while Stowe spends multiple chapters concentrating on the White people’s problems of the St. Clare family. Although Stowe is clearly anti-slavery, she goes to great pains to illustrate the difference between benevolent and brutal slave owners. In hindsight the amount of time spent sympathizing with the plight of the White masters comes across as misguided and antithetical to her abolitionist message, but Stowe wrote the book for a White audience, so she had to provide White characters with whom her readers could identify.

Stowe populates the book with a wide variety of Black characters, from the intelligent to the stupid, the industrious and the lazy, the noble and the shifty. Naturally, those who embody the negative side of those opposing characteristics come across as derogatory racial stereotypes. The Christ-like portrayal of Tom, however, is equally problematic. Through her depiction of Tom’s conduct, Stowe advocates passive suffering as a model of Black behavior. It’s hard to say how much of that is just fanatical Christian proselytizing and how much is calculated to make the book nonthreatening to White readers. To Stowe’s credit, however, the character of George Harris is a much more admirably drawn Black character with realistic emotions and aspirations.

From a storytelling standpoint, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is surprisingly compelling. Stowe deals the reader a satisfying mix of social realism and sensational melodrama. Although the book is often problematic, frequently over-romanticized, occasionally ridiculous, and relentlessly pious, it is never boring. Stowe has created an admirably sizable cast of varied characters and ably employs them in skillfully interwoven plot lines. One can’t help thinking that the subject matter deserved a harsher and franker treatment, but Stowe wrote the novel for the audience of her time, and it contains about as much violence, suffering, and guilt as they could handle. The essay portions of the book—George’s letter and the “Concluding Remarks”—are quite eloquently written and persuasive. Despite some unfortunate racial stereotypes and an overoptimistic faith in martyrdom, Stowe succeeds in conveying a strident abolitionist message that undoubtedly influenced the minds of many 19th-century Americans. Though Stowe was a White writer, it is not hard to imagine that her book helped prepare an audience for African American writers like Charles W. Chesnutt and Paul Laurence Dunbar. As Americans, we should be glad we had a book like Uncle Tom’s Cabin in our nation’s literary history, even if it does have its faults.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Emile Zola (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views), edited by Harold Bloom

Zolian lit crit from the profound to the arcane
Part of the Bloom’s Modern Critical Views series from Chelsea House Publishers, the book simply entitled Emile Zola was published in 2004. Harold Bloom, renowned and/or notorious literary critic and professor, is the namesake of the series as well as the editor of record for the book. Given that there are over a hundred books in the series, however, it is unclear how active Bloom actually was in the selection of the contents, but he does supply a three-page introduction. The book contains essays on Zola by 13 literary critics. All of the chapters were taken from previously published books and journals going as far back as 1952, but most selections are from the 1990s. As is often the case with scholarly edited collections, the contents are varied, including the good and the bad, the profound and the obscure, the obvious and the insightful. I am not a literary scholar, just a Zola fan who has read his complete works. At least half of the chapters in this book helped me to see Zola’s writing in new and interesting ways, so overall I consider the reading of this volume a productive learning experience.

The most interesting essays in the book take a broad view of Zola’s life and career, rather than focusing on the minutiae of a single work. William J. Berg’s chapter on “Zola’s Theory and Criticism” draws heavily on Zola’s nonfiction work The Experimental Novel and helps to enlarge the reader’s understanding of Zola’s conception of naturalism. A selected chapter from Frederick Brown’s 1995 biography Zola: A Life provides some much-needed contextual background on the genesis of the Rougon-Macquart saga, as well as addressing what Zola owed to Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo. Jonathan F. Krell draws some interesting parallels between the plots of the Rougon-Macquart novels and the mythical tales of Mt. Olympus, while Henri Mitterand makes a very convincing case for Zola’s naturalism as the precursor to surrealism.

Zola’s novels The Fortune of the Rougons, The Sin of Father Mouret, Nana, Germinal, and Le Rêve (The Dream), as well as his novella The Death of Olivier Bécaille are all singled out for inspection by individual chapters devoted specifically to them. Sometimes the focus can be quite concentrated, for example when Hollie Markland Harder uses one particular symbol of a statue to expound on gender theory in The Sin of Father Mouret. Others venture farther afield. P. M. Wetherill’s essay “Flaubert, Zola, Proust and Paris” is mostly about Proust and barely mentions Zola, making one wonder if the editor actually read the article before selecting it for inclusion (not that there’s anything wrong with Wetherill’s writing). Similarly, Nicholas Rennie’s piece on “Benjamin and Zola” does more to define Walter Benjamin’s thought than Zola’s. Anthony Savile’s chapter reaches beyond lit crit to delve into the conflicting aesthetic philosophies of Locke, Hume, and Kant.

As expected from literary criticism, the book is full of spoilers, but chances are if you are considering reading this book you’ve probably read many of Zola’s works already. Several of these chapters were taken from French Studies journals, so a knowledge of the French language is assumed. The chapters are written in English, but the quotes from Zola’s literature are often presented untranslated. I have roughly a high school knowledge of French, but having previously read Zola’s works (in English) I didn’t have much trouble keeping up with the French excerpts. I would recommend this volume to any serious student of Zola. Not all the essays are compelling reading, but many are interesting, and a few are fascinating.
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Monday, April 18, 2022

Three Novels: Hordubal, Meteor, An Ordinary Life by Karel Capek

The Czech master’s Noetic Trilogy
Novelist and playwright Karel Capek (1890-1938) is one of the most highly regarded authors in Czech literature. He is probably best known to English-language readers for his science fiction works R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) and War of the Newts, but his literary work extended far beyond that genre to include political and philosophical novels, travel writing, and more. From 1933 to 1934 Capek published three novels—Hordubal, Meteor, and An Ordinary Life—that formed what he called his “Noetic Trilogy.” Shortly after their Czech publication, these three novels appeared in English translation. An English-language collection of the entire trilogy in one volume, entitled Three Novels, was first published in 1948.

The three novels in the Noetic Trilogy do not share any common characters or plot continuity. They are only related thematically by Capek’s literary and philosophical objectives. The word “noetic” is derived from “nous,” a philosophical term going back to ancient Greece that denotes the faculty of the human mind that allows for rational thought and understanding. It has also been used as a synonym for insight, intuition, or common sense. Capek’s concern with nous involves the understanding of a human life, either through the consciousness of self or the memory of others. Each book in the Noetic Trilogy shows how the experience or impact of a human life is viewed and constructed differently through differing perspectives. Through the fictional biography of each protagonist, Capek shows that the sum total of an individual’s life is more a kaleidoscope of possible interpretations than a linear narrative.

In Hordubal, a Czech farmer returns home to his wife and daughter after eight years working as a miner in American, only to find that a hired hand has usurped much of his authority as landowner, husband, and father. The narrative of Hordubal is related partly through third-person prose and partly through Hordubal’s first-person interior monologue, as well as a portion of the story being told through the dry prose of a police report or legal briefing. Each relativistic account sheds new light on events and calls into question the reliability of any firm interpretation.

Meteor is the story of a plane crash survivor who fell from the sky in a ball of fire. Badly burnt and unconscious, the patient bears no indications of his identity, leaving hospital staff and other patients to construct one for him out of limited evidence and much speculation. The third novel, An Ordinary Life, purports to be exactly what its title suggests. A dying man sets out to write the autobiography of his “ordinary” life. As the narrative progresses, however, different aspects of his personality are revealed through which conflicting internal accounts of his actions emerge.

Although Meteor is not quite as outstanding as the other two novels, all three books are well worth reading. Three Novels also includes a brief afterword by Capek explaining how each novel fits into the Noetic Trilogy, but it is very brief and still leaves much open to interpretation. An introduction by William Harkins also sheds some light on the epistemological foundations of the trilogy. Like fellow Czech Franz Kafka (who wrote in German), Capek produced intellectually challenging literature that deals with deep psychological and existential themes. Three Novels is a formidable literary hat trick that proves his work deserves to be better known among English-language readers.

Works in this collection
An Ordinary Life 

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Friday, April 15, 2022

The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings, 1936–1941 by John Steinbeck (Library of America)

A watershed period in his career
Likely nine out of ten books that I read are on the Kindle, but when I want to buy a print book, and the author happens to be American, I find that no one puts together better volumes of classic literature than the Library of America. This nonprofit publisher puts great care and attention into the editing and production of their books, and their list of titles is like a comprehensive museum of American literary history. Take John Steinbeck, winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, for example. The LOA has published four volumes of Steinbeck’s writings that encompass all of his major works. Chronologically, The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings is the second of these four volumes. This collection was first published in 1996.

Obviously, the main attraction here is Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, one of the greatest novels in American literature. Even if you’ve already read that book, however, the remaining selections in the volume are worth the purchase price. The Grapes of Wrath is the fictional saga of the Joad family, farmers from Oklahoma who, having been displaced by the Dust Bowl, migrate to California to look for work. Prior to the publication of the novel, Steinbeck published a series of articles in The San Francisco Sun on the lives of California’s migrant farm laborers. These articles, grouped under the heading of The Harvest Gypsies, are include in this volume. This series of essays serves as a valuable historical document of the times and provides an interesting view into the journalistic research Steinbeck conducted as the basis for The Grapes of Wrath.

Another nonfiction work included in the volume is The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck’s account of a nautical expedition to Mexico with marine biologist Ed Ricketts. Given that Ricketts served as the model for the character Doc in the novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, it would have made more sense to group those three works in one volume. The labor novel In Dubious Battle would have made a better fit for this Grapes of Wrath volume, but the Library of America has divided Steinbeck’s career chronologically, which explains the choice of contents. Like a more modern, aquatic version of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, The Log from the Sea of Cortez is a scientific travelog in which Steinbeck digresses into numerous philosophical asides. As a mix of exploration narrative and literary license, it is good at both but great at neither.

The remaining book included in this volume is Steinbeck’s 1938 collection of short stories The Long Valley, a truly exceptional collection of short fiction that combines the naturalism of Jack London or Frank Norris with a sort of modern California gothic or noir atmosphere reminiscent of William Faulkner’s darker visions of the American South. Among the selections included here are the stories that would eventually make up Steinbeck’s novella The Red Pony.

Like all Library of America books, this volume includes a chronology of the author’s life, information on the original publication of the texts, and copious notes. The chronology provides a surprisingly detailed overview of Steinbeck’s life that makes me want to learn more. The LOA has done their usual bang-up job on this volume. Anyone looking for a quality hardbound compendium of some of Steinbeck’s best work can’t go wrong with this book.

Works in this collection
The Long Valley 
The Grapes of Wrath 
The Log from the Sea of Cortez 
The Harvest Gypsies 

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Monday, April 11, 2022

Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer by Ginger Baker with Ginette Baker

Sex, drugs, violence, car accidents, polo, firefighting, and rock ‘n’ roll
Widely hailed as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, Englishman Ginger Baker pounded the skins for the bands Cream, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, the Graham Bond Organization, and Nigerian jazzman Fela Kuti, among others. In addition to his prodigious talent, he is also known for his surly demeanor and volatile behavior. His autobiography Hellraiser, written with the help of his daughter Ginette, was published in 2009.

Rock and roll fans approaching this book hoping for insight into Baker’s years with Cream and Blind Faith are likely to be disappointed. He actually spends less time talking about those bands then he does his early jazz years, Graham Bond, or the Air Force. In a nutshell: He loves Eric Clapton, hates Jack Bruce. Thankfully, however, Baker led a fascinating life even after his rockstar fame diminished. His adventures in Africa, where he founded a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria, are certainly unique among his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame peers. Less interesting is his obsession with polo. Baker spent most of the latter half of his life trying to establish his own polo club, but every time he almost got his operation up and running, he would end up fleeing legal troubles and relocating to another country. Drugs are a recurring theme throughout the book, for which he expresses no shame or regret. It is amazing that he can remember the exact dose of heroin he took on specific days a half century ago, which gives you an idea of his priorities. Another surprising fact about Baker is that, although much of his behavior makes him seem like the most irresponsible man imaginable, he was an experienced volunteer firefighter.

Baker may have been an excellent drummer, but if this book is any indication he wasn’t a very good writer, and relying on his daughter for a ghost writer and/or editor probably didn’t help matters. On the plus side, the book has a real conversational tone that feels similar to sitting down and having a drink with Baker while he regales you with tales of his exploits. As far as the storytelling goes, however, there is no continuity, momentum, or suspense. It is just a rapid-fire string of one-paragraph anecdotes, one after the other, many of which go into details of importance only to Baker himself. The prose includes quite a bit of picturesque slang, which at times requires some thoughtful deciphering but lends an air of authenticity to the authorial voice. When Baker goes into extensive rambles on polo, however, he has no mercy on the uninitiated listener, so you better know your Argies and chukkas.

Despite his cantankerous reputation, Baker tries to make himself out to be a lovable bloke. If you want the dark side of his character, one has to read between the lines, or better yet, see the 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker. Baker married at a young age, but by his account he and his wife Liz seemed to have an open relationship, so he boastfully chronicles all of his sexual escapades. When Liz disappears from the book for several chapters, however, one can’t help but think he abandoned her and the kids while he went off to Africa to do his own thing. Baker admits to breaking the law on numerous occasions—not just drugs but also theft, tax evasion, immigration laws, assault, absconding on debts, passing bad checks—yet he always expresses amazement when he is beset with charges or lawsuits, as if he’s being unjustly persecuted. Baker does not come out sounding as likable as he or his daughter wished. The best thing that can be said about Hellraiser is that it does give the reader a glimpse into Baker’s personality, which is that of an overgrown man-child. From a literary standpoint, this book is a train wreck, but much like the life Baker led, it’s a train wreck worth watching.

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Marco Millions by Eugene O’Neill

Historical drama satirizing materialism
American playwright Eugene O’Neill, winner of the 1936 Nobel Prize in Literature, is best remembered as the author of tragic family dramas set in New England, such as Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Electra, or Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Alcoholism and the sea are frequent themes that reappear in his writings. One delving into the obscurities of his literary output, however, will find some surprising oddities in his body of work. Among these anomalies are two historical dramas about explorers of centuries past. The Fountain, a play about Spanish Conquistador Ponce de León’s quest for the fountain of youth in America, was completed in 1922. In a similar vein, Marco Millions is a historical play about the Venetian merchant Marco Polo’s journey to China to meet Kublai Kaan (the way O’Neill spells it). Marco Millions was published in 1927, and was first produced for the stage in the following year.

As the play opens, Marco Polo has reached an age where he is ready to play a decisive role in the family business, though he still has a lot to learn about the world. He accompanies his father Nicolo and his uncle Maffeo on an epic business trip to the East to trade with the great Kublai Kaan. In departing, Marco leaves behind his betrothed, Donata, vowing to remain faithful to her and marry her upon his return. Over the course of the trip, his youthful innocence gradually wears away as he acquires financial, political, and carnal knowledge. He is still naive in some ways, however, as demonstrated by the fact that he fails to notice that Kukachin, the lovely daughter of the Kaan, has fallen in love with him.

Marco may be the hero of this play, but O’Neill also makes him out to be rather a boob. Like a grandiose parody of an American middle-class shopkeeper, salesman, or bean counter, Marco’s eyes don’t see much beyond his business. His every action is directed toward profit. Rather than even noticing the exotic love and romance that is right under his nose, he is determined to make his fortune, win the respect of the folks back home, and marry his high school sweetheart. At times O’Neill makes the character so clueless that it becomes difficult to see what Kukachin finds attractive in him. In the end, the social commentary is pretty tepid, the cynicism hinders any emotional involvement, and the satire can hardly be called laugh-out-loud funny. The play ends with a brief epilog that delivers an odd meta-twist that breaks the fourth wall in a way (though nonverbally). While it may have been unusual and innovative for its time, this gimmicky device doesn’t really pay off by adding anything to the play.

Judging by the stage directions, Marco Millions would be a difficult and expensive production to stage. Although only about an hour in length, the includes scenes that take place in Italy, Persia, India, Mongolia, and China. The set specifications include palaces and ships, and some scenes require dozens of lavishly costumed extras. Bringing O’Neill’s elaborate vision of the play to life would require a tremendous amount of work for such a brief and relatively lighthearted affair. Some literary critics have described Marco Millions as “Shavian,” meaning similar in style to the plays of George Bernard Shaw, whose work was praised for its wittiness and its wealth of quotable bon mots. What may have worked for Shaw, however, doesn’t necessarily work for O’Neill. Marco Millions feels a bit like an overly built-up joke with a disappointing punch line or a somewhat pointless fable that’s misplaced its moral.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Landscape Sketching in Pen and Ink: With Notes on Architectural Subjects by Donald Maxwell

Great illustrations, but not enough preliminary sketches
Donald Maxwell (1877-1936) was an English illustrator who specialized in landscape drawings. Over the course of his career, he created hundreds if not thousands of scenic illustrations for newspapers and books, including many travel books that he wrote himself. Maxwell was enough of a recognized expert in the field to write his own how-to guide to illustration. Landscape Sketching in Pen and Ink was first published in 1932. I read the 2019 paperback edition from Dover Publications.

I admire Maxwell’s art, but this book was a disappointment. There just isn’t enough step-by-step insight into Maxwell’s process of illustration. The book is loaded with Maxwell’s beautiful, finished illustrations reproduced from previously published books. There are hardly any examples, however, of the preliminary sketches that led to these completed pictures. The “Look Inside” sample pages displayed on Amazon lead the reader to believe that the book is going to be composed of instructional, in-progress drawings. Examples of such preliminary drawings, however, do not appear beyond page 16. In the first chapter, Maxwell basically teaches you how to draw a brick wall and how to shade a cylinder. After that, he just discusses his finished illustrations, pointing out compositional considerations and variations in tone. There is some merit in these discussions—the book is not totally useless—but it doesn’t give aspiring landscape artists much of an education into how they are supposed to rapidly capture scenery on-site en plein air.

At the start of Chapter 2, Maxwell already assumes the reader is a professional illustrator. Of course, 90 years ago when this book was published, there were a lot of artists working in black and white line illustration, so he would have had quite an audience to address. There is an entire chapter, for example, on how to execute a drawing that will reproduce on a commercial printing press without detrimental loss of detail. Today, the professional audience for such trade secrets has unfortunately shrunk since book illustration has mostly been relegated to juvenile literature, mostly by cartoonists, while changing tastes and advances in printing technology have rendered pen and ink illustration nearly obsolete. To the artist interested in this style of drawing, Maxwell’s book now serves as a nostalgic time capsule of a golden age of book illustration. What a joy to have been an artist in Maxwell’s day, when representational landscape art and fine bookmaking were more widely appreciated by the general public then they are today.

While Maxwell’s writing is a disappointment, the book is beautifully illustrated. Chapters 1 through 4 showcase Maxwell’s own art, while Chapter 5 is a textless gallery of pen and ink drawings by Maxwell’s contemporaries, including Frank Brangwyn, Ernest Peixotto, and Otto Fischer. All the images are black and white, as one would expect of a book on this subject. My medium of choice is linocut prints, so I like to have examples of black and white art on hand in order to sample and compare other artists’ techniques for rendering trees, water, sky, etc. To that end, I think Landscape Sketching in Pen and Ink will prove a valuable sourcebook of instructive artworks, even though I didn’t learn much about pen and ink drawing from Maxwell’s text. Dover’s books are always inexpensively priced, and in this case the pictures alone are worth the money spent.

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