19 August 2009

McClelland's Experiment, Newfeld's Art



Mad Shadows [La Belle Bête]
Marie-Claire Blais [Merloyd Lawrence, trans.]
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1960

An antidote to Friday's post.

Isabelle Hughes' review of The Double Hook has had me revisiting McClelland & Stewart's 'unusual experiment' of the late 'fifties and early 'sixties. Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature (note: not The Encyclopedia...) devotes a surprising amount of space to the venture in its entry on Sheila Watson:
In 1959 and 1960 the Canadian publisher McClelland and Stewart published its first two paperback originals, choosing two newcomers to advance the guard: the second book was Mad Shadows, the translation of Marie-Claire Blais's first novel, published a year earlier when she was 20 years old. The first, by a few months, was The Double Hook. Both books were designed by Frank Newfeld, who would become the first notable postwar book designer in Toronto, and they would openly declare the primacy of innovative book design.
These words, penned by George Bowering, aren't quite right. For one, they fail to mention that these titles appeared in simultaneous cloth and paper editions. I might also point out that Irving Layton's M&S debut, Red Carpet for the Sun (1959), hit the stores in both cloth and paper during the nine or so months that separated The Double Hook and Blais' Mad Shadows. Still, Bowering does recognize an important element ignored by Hughes – that being the creative contributions by Newfeld. The entry continues: 'Adepts might have thought about Wyndham Lewis and Marshall McLuhan. The proper text of The Double Hook begins after 12 pages of highly noticeable front matter.'

While there was nothing at all standard in Newfeld's designs – Red Carpet for the Sun began with six pages of colour illustrations – I find his approach unwaveringly reminiscent of being eased into a movie through the opening credits. Here, for example, are the first thirteen pages of Mad Shadows. It isn't until part way down the fifteenth page that the novel's first sentence – 'The train was leaving town.' – appears.

(My copy was signed by the gracious Ms Blais one fine chilly Vancouver evening in the autumn of 2001.)

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