Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Social Call

Joseph Conrad:
Razumov had been admitted twice to that suite of several small dark rooms on the top floor: dusty window-panes, litter of all sorts of sweepings all over the place, half-full glasses of tea forgotten on every table, the two Laspara daughters prowling about enigmatically silent, sleepy-eyed, corsetless, and generally, in their want of shape and the disorder of their rumpled attire, resembling old dolls; the great but obscure Julius, his feet twisted round his three-legged stool, always ready to receive the visitors, the pen instantly dropped, the body screwed round with a striking display of the lofty brow and of the great austere beard. When he got down from his stool it was as though he had descended from the heights of Olympus. He was dwarfed by his daughters, by the furniture, by any caller of ordinary stature. But he very seldom left it, and still more rarely was seen walking in broad daylight.

Under Western Eyes
Edward Gorey created covers for several Anchor Press editions of Joseph Conrad's books, including Chance, Victory, and The Secret Sharer, but as far as I can tell he never did this novel, which is shown here in a design by Diana Klemin, Anchor's art director, which was issued in 1963 as part of a serious of uniform editions with introductions by Morton Dauwen Zabel. The passage above, with its jumble of forlorn objects and wraith-like women, seems tailor-made for him. Laspara and his daughters play no great role in the plot of the novel, but Conrad seems to have enjoyed describing them.

Klemin chose two photographs corresponding to the two cities in which the novel is set. One shows the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the other includes, at right, the tiny Île Rousseau in Geneva, where Razumov goes for a bit of privacy when he wants to do some writing.


Michael Leddy said...

“Wraith-like” is right. I’d like to see a drawing to go with “He was dwarfed by his daughters, by the furniture, by any caller of ordinary stature.”

Some writing seems to immediately suggest an artist. I’m reading Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines, whose more improbable entries seem to be made for Gorey or Glen Baxter.

Chris said...

I have to look into Félix Fénéon. I remember reading Luc Sante's piece on him, which is probably the intro to the edition you're reading.

Michael Leddy said...

It is, yes.