The deeds of the mythical King Arthur inspired a host of medieval chroniclers, but it was Sir Thomas Malory, a gentleman-knight from Newbold Revel, Warwickshire, who wrote the definitive English version of the Arthurian legend. Published in 1485 at William Caxton's pioneering Westminster press, Le Morte Darthur wove the disparate cycle of chivalric myths into an immortal story of love, adventure, honour and treachery.
The pinnacle of romance literature, Malory's Le Morte Darthur was quickly regarded as the definitive version of the Arthurian legend. For the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements it was almost a sacred text, the inspiration to a generation of poets, artists and publishers.
The jewel in the Malorian crown was J. M. Dent's illustrated edition. The London publisher J. M. Dent had long wanted to produce an illustrated edition of Le Morte Darthur, and in 1892 he discovered the artist he had been looking for: a rather frail 20-year-old called Aubrey Beardsley. It was Beardsley's first commission, and a huge undertaking – 20 full or double-page spreads, 240 chapter headings, 43 ornamental borders, 25 initial letters, 19 small ornaments and 4 headpieces. His designs marked a new dawn in English book illustration.
The Folio Society's beautiful facsimile is of the definitive 1927 edition. Hand-bound in goatskin by the master craftsmen of Smith Settle, it is considerably more lavish than any of Dent's editions and surely closer to the ideal to which he was aspiring.
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