Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Not so pretty in pink

Auntie Betty (who was not a real aunt but one of several neighbours always referred to as 'auntie' or 'uncle') used to call me 'little princess'. I didn't mind. It made me feel special and a little bit mystical. Pink was a colour I rarely wore, I couldn't stand frills and ribbons, and I preferred to play with my clockwork (clockwork!) train set than with baby dolls, but princesses were different in those days, I'm sure. Princesses were strange!

I don't know quite when the whole Disneyfied pretty in pink princess obsession of today started, but the regal fantasies of my girlhood were mostly scratchily drawn in monochrome and created by authors of a stature that I didn't know about at the time, such as Eleanor Farjeon and Rudyard Kipling. As with all the best fairy tales, there were often dark undercurrents.  They included handsome princes, fairies and witches but, thank god, no overpowering pressure to be pretty or pink.

This was one of my favourite books:



It included the 'The Birthday of the Infanta' by Oscar Wilde, 'Princess September' by W. Somerset Maugham, and my favourite tale by E. Nesbit, 'Melisande'. The writing was, and not surprisingly, fantastic, and my sister and I were both enchanted. I was recently given a 1962 American copy of the book and it was an unexpected delight to revisit the worlds of a princess whose hair grew an inch every night, a princess who had no gravity and a princess who had the longest nose on earth. Here are some of the lovely inky images from it, by Beni Montresor, who not only illustrated and wrote children's books but was also a set designer as well as opera and film director. There's nothing pink nor frilly about these...








12 comments:

  1. What fabulous pics, I love 'em. I hated pink as a kid and I really never did forgive Mum for making me wear that pink dress with white frilly lace trim.

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    1. Thanks, yes, lovely pics aren't they, the more I look at them the more I enjoy them and they seem so simple on first glance but yet are very intricate.

      ....Is there something you're not telling us, Old "Pa" ? ;-)

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  2. I'm quite taken by the one with the bear. I may 'borrow' it one day.

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    1. There is something about the combination of a big grizzly bear and a tiny little princess - maybe there's some strange. deeply inherent fairy tale psychology at play.
      I'm taken with that one too - would be interested to know what you might 'borrow' it for!

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  3. Hello, a telegram from Unmitigated England here. Like your blog, and know you'll like Ruth Manning-Sanders books on all things fey and slightly sinister. Illustrated by the incomparable Robin Jacques. But of course you may have stacks of 'em.

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    1. Hello Peter and many thanks for dropping by. V much enjoying UE by the way!
      You know, I haven't seen any Ruth Manning-Sanders books in a long while and your mention of her prompted some forgotten childhood memories, thanks, you're right! And yes, Robin Jacques - amazing illustrator. Must go and have a delve now (....ok, google...)

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  4. I still have that book! In fact Fairy Tales seemed to be far more Grimm when I was young. I remember us all sitting around our teacher spellbound while she read us " Bluebeard" when I was 6!

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    1. Hi and thanks for coming by. Amazing that you still have that book...! I wish I did. I think the illustrations inside were different from the US copy I now have(?) - but still v good. Know just what you mean about fairy tales; I understand these days that even Red Riding Hood frequently gets its ending re-written and the wolf has a change of heart and apologises - much too cosy!!

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  5. I always enjoy hearing your memories of the earliest books you read and illustrations you admired and how they've stayed with and inspired you later in life. Your musings invariably start me thinking about the reading I can remember doing at a young age. I loved having stories read to me, to define the characters involved, and then going off and re-reading those same stories for myself - it was a bit like visiting familiar old friends. It was something of a revelation, therefore, when I began reading books on my own, without this prior preparation, to find that I could create mental pictures of the characters and landscapes in my own head. Who'd have thunk it! I didn't read nearly enough though, that's the pity.

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    1. Ah thanks for that, I'm glad they set you off on nice memory trips too!
      I know what you mean about mental pictures. There are only a handful of true picture books that stay with me, which seems a bit odd but perhaps is also down to the age I was when I saw them. It's the slightly older books that remain most vivid, with only a few illustrations and usually black and white, but with the most engaging and imaginative texts which really did the illustrating for me. Have you made up since for not reading enough then I wonder? I read voraciously as a kid/teenager but a lot less so now - must get back into it.

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  6. The book whose illustrations I remember most vividly was called "The Merry Pickles"... I have no idea who it was by, and the pics in my memory suggest a 30's publishing date possibly. I don't think the illustrations were amazing or technically brilliant, but they sure stuck in my head.... I must try and find a copy.

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    1. I googled that - as you probably have! - and found a book of that title by Frederick Spurgin from 1932, but sadly no pictures. Hope you manage to find a copy.
      I find some books seem to stick for reasons that aren't at all obvious to our adult minds, whatever it was they had about them isn't always easy to put one's finger on - but it certainly created some kind of magic.

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