The World of Vanity Fair - Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor)

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The World of Vanity Fair - Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor)

Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A sumptuous album containing nearly 400 caricatures from the Victorian journal Vanity Fair, with the original accompanying biographical notes for all subjects.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 310 Date: April 2009
Publisher: MX Publishing
ISBN: 978-1904312536

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Every now and then, you comes across a really sumptuous book, where just turning and looking at the pages takes you into another world.

Such is the case with this one. Vanity Fair was a gentler Victorian forerunner of Private Eye. Subtitled, A Weekly Show of Political, Social, and Literary Wares, it appeared between 1868 and 1914. Like the more successful, longer-lasting Punch, it began with radical aspirations, intending to expose what [the editor] perceived to be the vanities of the elite social classes. However its satire was gently humorous rather than malicious, and almost everybody who was portrayed in its pages was flattered.

Between 1904 and 1906 the editor Bertram Fletcher Robinson wrote fifteen articles, Chronicles in Cartoon, for another periodical, The Windsor Magazine, featuring 394 of the 1960 caricatures that had originally appeared in the main journal. The series would have continued for longer had it not been for his untimely death in 1907, and in fact he left notes indicating plans for further pieces on people associated with art, the stage, the navy, and other fields. The articles that he completed and published appear in the present volume, faithfully reproduced in full colour facsimile, edited with an introduction by Paul R. Spiring.

What a feast the result is. These caricatures were much admired in their day, and I had seen some of them reproduced in other books, as well as the odd one or two in places like the National Portrait Gallery. So I was delighted to find them all brought together for perhaps the first time ever.

The articles are divided into categories. First comes royalty – and it is significant that this section includes the only four women in the book, followed by 'Potentates, Princes, and Presidents’', and then various professions – politicians, lawyers, the army, musicians, sportsmen, explorers, inventors, men of letters, and so on.

The quality of reproduction is excellent, and there has been no effort to disguise the ravages of time on the originals. In other words, the occasional brown-spotting or page-crinkling is discernible, though never distracting; on the contrary, it does enhance the nostalgic old-world feel of the material.

So much for the appearance of the book – what about the text? It is fun to read the individual short biographies. Naturally they are occasionally a little sycophantic, and some individuals who are virtually forgotten today are accorded the highest praise. Who today remembers Dr Jonathan Hutchinson, who at the time of writing has for many years held one of the highest reputations amongst medical men in this country? Yet there is not unqualified praise throughout, and we learn that Anthony Trollope was a student and delineator of costume rather than of humanity, and unlike George Eliot (who is not represented, by the way), did not pry into the great problems of life or attempt to show the mournful irony of fate. Also the maverick MP Charles Bradlaugh is damned with ironic praise; his influence, which is great with the lower classes, arises partly from his audacity and partly from an unlimited belief in himself which he has communicated to many others.

Some of the illustrious empire builders, churchmen, army officers and cricketers will only be known today to the specialist, but the pages of politicians, musicians and writers will ring a bell with many. This is obviously a book of rather specialized interest. For somebody like me who is fascinated by almost anything connected with the Victorian era, it is a positive garden of delights, but it will not appeal to everyone. Moreover, it is the most expensive paperback I have ever seen. For all that, it really is a treasure as a work of art.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to Bookbag.

For another parallel title which focuses on people of a different age, why not also try People of the Day 3: The Rich and Famous Caricatured by Peter Wynter Bee and Lucy Clapham.

Buy The World of Vanity Fair - Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The World of Vanity Fair - Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The World of Vanity Fair - Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The World of Vanity Fair - Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor) at Amazon.com.


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