Thursday 30 July 2009

Book deal

Thanks to my spendaholic parents, I ended up in Kingston's Oxfam bookshop the other day, where I met a well-informed and talkative bookseller who showed me some of their best deals on offer. I soon fell for The Complete Poetical Works by Alexander Pope, published by Bradbury and Evans in 1849, a small hardback volume with gilt edges and the most addictive paper on the planet.

The great thing about this book is, apart from its production values, a hand-written inscription and a pencil note that read: "Malvern Wells, July 1874, Prize awarded to A.E. Brooke – first in Second French Class – first in IIa Euclid (?) Division" signed by H.W. Gadger (or something like that) and the pencil note: "A.E. Brooke was Provost of Kings College Cambridge. I heard him lecture on 1st Epistle of John".

All this for £7.99 – what a deal (another copy is on sale on Abebooks for £40.). But there's a sting in the tail (or tale). As the title page declares, the book was "revised and arranged expressly for the use of young people" – in modern terms, Bowdlerized. My heart sank when I saw that – how can you "edit" Pope? Pope is so polished that he's uneditable by definition. And he's hardly the most risqué of authors. . .

I looked at The Rape of the Lock and searched for the naughtiest bits. For example, Canto IV, 53-54 – my OUP edition reads: "Men prove with child, as powerful fancy works, / And maids, turned bottles, cry aloud for corks." The Bradbury & Evans has it "Men mothers prove, as powerful fancy works, / And maids, turned bottles, cry aloud for corks." I would have thought that the second line was far more dangerous than the first one – but what do I know about mid-Nineteenth-century sensibility?

* * *

Tonight I spent a lovely evening with our author Sean Ashton. We had a seven-course meal at the local, Falty-Toweresque Japanese restaurant – a rite of passage for Westerners' taste buds – followed by readings from Dante's Inferno and Pope's works at my place round the corner. We ended up drinking Strega liquor to the dregs (courtesy of my parents again) and coming up with interpretative theories about an eighteenth-century engraving in which men at the foot of Mount Vesuvius appear to be drowning dogs.

Well, I think I must have given you one of the worst mental images in weeks, so . . . good night for now.


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