125th Anniversary Series: What We Were Reading in 1891

2016 marks the 125th anniversary of The Seattle Public Library. After it was adopted as a department of the city in 1890, the Library opened its first reading room in Pioneer Square on April 8, 1891. To honor this milestone, we will be posting a series of articles here about the Library’s history and life in the 1890’s. We also encourage our patrons to share their favorite memories of SPL on social media using the hashtag #SPL125. Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest. – editor

Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a time machine back to the 1890s? You can! When we read like people in the 1890s, we see the world through their eyes. Go there now, via titles that were all the rage in the Gilded Age: Continue reading “125th Anniversary Series: What We Were Reading in 1891”

Fantasy Checklist Challenge: Classic Fantasy

~posted by Meranda T.

Classic Fantasy is both old and new. What we casually think of as Fantasy is relatively new. However, Fantasy has been around for ages if we take into consideration fairy tales, myths, folk stories, and legends. Look to the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Yei Theodora Ozaki, and many more for translations of stories that were once only passed on by word of mouth. Here are some Classic Fantasy authors you may not have heard of before. Continue reading “Fantasy Checklist Challenge: Classic Fantasy”

Who is Fantômas?

                “What did you say?”
“I said: Fantômas.”
                “And what does that mean?”
                 “But what is it?”
“Nobody….and yet, yes, it is somebody!”
                 “And what does the somebody do?”
“Spreads terror!”

A century ago, these words unleashed reign of terror upon the literary world which continues to this day. It was in February of 1911 that Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre published the first of several novels featuring a mysterious criminal mastermind whose exploits swiftly became an international sensation. If you’ve never heard of Fantômas, you’re not alone. A few years back, London’s Daily Telegraph featured a list of the 50 greatest villains in literature, and yet the greatest villain of all is nowhere to be seen. Coincidence? Hardly: Fantômas is a known master of disguise, and would never be caught in the open so easily. Combining the anarchic savagery of Edward Hyde, the criminal genius of Professor Moriarty, the irrestistable hypnotic power of Svengali, the audacity of Richard III, and the bloodthirsty panache of Dracula, Fantômas stands unrivalled among supervillains for sheer dastardliness.

Fantômas was beloved of Dadaists and surrealists, who were inspired by his motiveless nihilistic glee, and by his ingenious inventive variations on perfidy. The definitive anti-hero and ultimate mischief maker, he’s the sort of devil who will derail a train full of people to cover his tracks (or just for the fun of it), and Original cover to Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre's Fantômasloves nothing more than to frame innocent bystanders, sending them to gallows and guillotine for his crimes while he looks on. The dogged Inspector Juve and his journalist friend Fandor are ever in hot pursuit and often seem to have the Lord of Terror right within their grasp, only to be outfoxed by their mercurial prey, who doffs personae like hats. Meanwhile, the rich Lady Beltham remains in his thrall, despite the fact that he kills her husband in the first book. Once you get into the maniacal spirit of the thing, his exploits can be addictive: last week I chain-watched the recently released collection of Louis Feuillade’s Fantômas films of 1913 and 1914, beautifully restored with a perfectly ominous soundtrack; now am reading the first novel. Only seven of the 32 original Fantômas novels were ever translated from their original French into English, but five of these are available for free download from Project Gutenberg.

So, who is Fantômas? As his laughter trails away down the gaslit alleyways of Paris, we realize that we can never know, for the essence of Fantômas is mystery.

Stretching his immense shadow
Across the world and across Paris,
What is this gray-eyed specter
Rising out of the silence?
Fantômas might it be you
Lurking on the rooftoops?

                               ~ Robert Desnos, “Complaint of Fantômas.”

A book I’d overlooked

Walking around the library I have to deliberately ignore the shelves sometimes, shutting out the siren song of all those stories crying out to be read. Some I’ve always meant to read, but many more are perfect strangers to me: little worlds languishing on the lower shelves, waiting to be opened.

One especially beguiling title I just couldn’t ignore was a reprint of Walter de la Mare’s curious 1921 novel Memoirs of a Midget. I mean, once you’ve seen it, how are you not going to pick that up? The otherwise nameless Miss M’s bucolic childhood ends when her parents die, forcing her to make her way into an unfamiliar world that is inclined to view her as a curiosity, given that she is somewhere around two feet tall.  Continue reading “A book I’d overlooked”

Publisher Crush: Hesperus Press

hesperus-press-logoPerhaps it is a side effect of being around books all day, but about as often as I find myself falling for a particular author’s style or voice, I become fascinated with a particular publisher or imprint. I’m especially fond of re-print houses that specialize in bringing back into print those lost treasures and hidden gems that we librarians strive to preserve and protect for readers.

Hesperus Press is a great example of what I mean. Publishing attractive paperback editions of lesser known classic shorter works—stories, essays, poetry and novellas by a wide range of authors, with enticing introductions by contemporary writers. For example, Wilkie Collins’ A Rogue’s Life is a delightful little picaresque relating the jaunty cover-of-rogues-lifemisadventures of charming ne’er-do-well Frank Softly, an artist who careens from job to job in pursuit of his fortunes, and of the beautiful Alicia Dulcifer. Collins wrote this during a fun vacation in Paris with his friend and associate Charles Dickens, who also employed Collins’ in several special Christmas issues of his magazine Household Words, where the duo, together with other writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell, would write collections of themed stories united by some clever conceit, such as the tenant’s stories collected under the titles Mrs. Lirriper and A House to Let, or the travelers’ tales collected Continue reading “Publisher Crush: Hesperus Press”