10 February 2017

The Beautiful, Very Desirable Stephen Leacock (and the bloody severed head of Orpheus)

Behind the Beyond was dropped by New Canadian Library during the post-Ross purge. Anyone familiar with the series today knows better than to expect its return. Fortunately, used copies are both inexpensive and plentiful.

The ugliest NCL edition can be bought online for as little as two Yankee bucks, but at nine dollars and up what you really want is the 1913 Bell & Cockburn.

I won't pretend to have seen every edition of every Leacock, but feel confident in holding high this particular one as the most beautiful Leacock of all time. Credit goes to English illustrator A.H. Fish (1890-1964), whose century-old Vogue and Vanity Fair cover illustrations have become a bit of a cash cow for Condé Nast. Premium gilsee prints begin at US$125.

Miss Fish provided decorations, dust jacket and no less than seventeen plates for Behind the Beyond. Here are three favourites:

Those afflicted with an aversion to old books – I once knew such a person – will take heart that Behind the Beyond is available from a volt of print on demand vultures. The discriminating buyer might what to consider that "published" by Dodo Press, if only because it soars above the rest as the most competent. The cover of its "Illustrated Edition" – they have no other – features an illustration I've not been able to identify. It is not by Miss Fish, though her other illustrations feature.

Print on demand publisher PAP offers this strange looking thing...

... but I recommend the one offered by Library of Alexandria (of California).

Gustave Moreau's Orpheus seems a curious choice, does it not?

I'd like to say it's a nod to "Homer and Humbug", but that would be giving Library of Alexandria too much credit. Besides, Orpheus is never mentioned in Homer.

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