09 May 2012

A Leo Orenstein Triptych

© The Estate of Leo Orenstein
Three more uncommon Leo Orenstein covers courtesy of the artist's family. I find J.-K. Huysmans' Against the Grain the most interesting if only because it was the novel that most influenced John Glassco's fiction. He first encountered the Decadent masterpiece in 1935, courtesy of a copy loaned by H. Burton Bydwell, the “fat little lecher” of Memoirs of Montparnasse.

After reading the novel for the first time, Glassco turned to his journal, describing the work as one of the finest things he’d ever read: "it even gave me a bit of a set-back – just a slight jolt – to see how thoroughly, conclusively, & beautifully the spirit of Perversity has found expression."

I'm certain that Orenstein's Against the Grain cover was done at some point in the 'fifties. Who commissioned the work I can't say. If it was published – I can find no evidence – the fifty cent price point would have been steep for the time.

© The Estate of Leo Orenstein
The remaining Orenstein covers are less mysterious... in a way. Bowdler, the foremost collector of early Canadian paperbacks, identifies both as publications of Toronto's short-lived Randall Publishing Company. How short-lived? Well, it would appear that they issued only two titles: Stuart Martin's Seven Men's Sins (1950; first published in 1929 by Harper & Brothers as Only Seven Were Hanged) and The Queen's Hall Murder by Adam Broome (pseud. Godfrey Warden James).

© The Estate of Leo Orenstein
How many copies of The Queen's Hall Murder are out there... and did they ever find that missing apostrophe? Bowdler has never seen a copy and neither have I.

A curious thing about Seven Men's Sins is that Randall lived long enough to reissue the novel with a garish cover by pulp regular Harold Bennett.

Less Dalíesque, but the influence is still apparent.

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