18 November 2018

James Montgomery Flagg Does Reverend King

On this Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, an addendum to

Of all the Basil King books I own, my favourite by far is The Contract of the Letter (New York: Harper, 1914)It's not the author's best novel, but it is his most beautiful. Credit goes to James Montgomery Flagg, who provides the illustrations.

I've sung Flagg's praises here before; he was, I think, the finest book illustrator of his day. Where I a wealthy man, I would reissue Arthur Stringer's The Wine of Life – by far his best novel – in an edition featuring the two-dozen illustrations Flagg provided when it was published in syndication.

Flagg's artwork also graces King's 1917 novel The Lifted Veil, but with The Empty Sack the honour goes to lesser-known artist J. Henry, about whom I can find nothing.

It pains me to write that Henry was the right choice. Comparisons are easily made as Flagg was commissioned to illustrate The Empty Sack in its initial six-month run in Cosmopolitan. Gone are the artist's fine lines, often replaced by a cartoonish crudeness.

Curiously, one of the weakest illustrations depicts an artist, Hubert Wray, urging Jennie Follett to pose nude.

I can't account for this change in style, though I do wonder whether it was imposed by the magazine. Either way, despite the disappointment, it is interesting to to see the novel's characters, settings, and situations through another mind's eye. The living who have read The Empty Sack will find the following of interest. The living who have not read The Empty Sack will find spoilers.

I'm told that Cosmopolitan no longer publishes fiction in serial format.

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