The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe (1930)
LEC #5/1st Series V. 5 in 1930
Artwork: Designs by René Clarke
Introduced by Joseph Wood Krutch
LEC #735 of 1500. Heritage Press Reprint available.
Click images to see larger views.
Front Binding – We return to the First Series with its fifth publication, the first from one of America’s premiere writers, poets and genre definers in Edgar Allan Poe. We have covered two of Poe’s Heritage reprints in the past on this blog; his Tales of Mystery and Imagination and his poems, both of which are high on my list of LECs I wish to acquire as I do enjoy Poe’s writings a great deal. The linked post on his Poems provides his LEC bibliography, which isn’t too much longer, sadly. As for this particular novel, the sole example of the form from the noted short story pioneer, it’s a seafaring adventure of a stowaway named Arthur Gordon Pym who undergoes several ordeals that cross over from realistic to surreal multiple times in the narrative. Poe himself didn’t look back on it fondly, calling it a “very silly book.” It is a bit of a gruesome tale (fitting for Poe, who brought the macabre into the medium with incredible brilliance), featuring cannibalism and intense violence, and was not reviewed favorably upon publication. However, it had a lasting legacy and inspired other masters such as Jules Verne, Herman Melville and Charles Baudelaire.
It must be noted that in a modern context the book is quite racist in its depictions of African and Native American characters; Toni Morrison’s criticism in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination of the book observes that “no early American writer is more important to the concept of American Africanism than Poe,” which is right on the mark. The “otherism” that Poe implies throughout is very symbolic of racial tensions going on in America around the time of its writing, and while the book was a critical flop, its depictions of such characters captures the animosity prevalent in many white individual’s heads in the 1800s towards people of color.
Moving on, its illustrator, René Clarke, who Macy gives praise for his distinctive line drawings within this book’s pages, delivers a striking set of illustrations heavy on black ink to create a strong, bold rendition of the horrors Pym witnesses. This impression led to a second commission to illustrate the legendary Goethe drama Faust in 1932, but it seems Macy rued that decision as his comments below do not give praise for this particular job, and Clarke would not return to produce additional books for the LEC or Heritage Press. In fact, the Heritage edition of Faust would become an Exclusive for that printing press featuring reproductions of Eugene Delacroix’s illustrations over the ones he had received from Clarke. Ouch.
Clarke’s main calling was as an advertising illustrator who, shortly before the LEC was founded, received Harvard University’s Edward Bok medal in 1928, which certainly would have caught Macy’s attention. He climbed up the ranks at Calkins and Holden, the ad company he resided at for much of his career, up to its President around the time Macy wrote his comments in the Quarto. It seems Clarke would not have been the sort to hold a grudge, however, as he was viewed as an especially gracious, unselfish and encouraging individual who would prop up other’s work over his own if he felt it was stronger. He passed away in 1969. Thanks to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame for the help fleshing out his background.
Design Notes – Per the Quarto, Fred Anthoensen of the Southworth Press handled design duties for Pym:
Slipcase – Unlike many other slipcases issued by the LEC, Pym has a rather decadent one featuring multiple colors, gold leaf, and a splendid illustration of the boat Pym sails on during the tale. It is also numbered on the slipcase, a practice that fell out of favor as the LEC continued forward in years.
Title Page – Unstated here, Joseph Wood Krutch provides an introduction. It also has a very classical 1800s approach to its design as you can see here, which works well for it.
Colophon – This is #735 of 1500, and was signed by Clarke.
Examples of Clarke’s illustrations (right click and open in new tab for full size):
Personal Notes – Another of my First series acquisitions from last year, although I did once own the Heritage reprint of this a while ago. It’s nice to have a Poe in my LEC shelves finally, and I have two more to get (I’ve resigned myself to not likely own the Shiff-era Fall of the House of Usher as it’s pricey, haha).