Friday, 11 November 2011

Yesterday evening I went to the opening of the Royal Manuscripts exhibition at the British Library. We all had to arrive early for security reasons, but fortunately there was no shortage of champagne, so we had a jolly time waiting for the Queen and Prince Philip to arrive. In due course, Her Majesty declared the exhibition open and then we could go down and take a look. There are almost 200 fabulous manuscripts on show, all from the British Library’s own collection: every one is a treasure, and most are rarely on view, so it’s unmissable. I was mesmerised by this image of   ‘God Creating Heaven and Earth’: one tends to think of God the Father as an angry old man, but here I feel he embodies all of the trinity in one – so the suffering in his face is a premonition of his own suffering on the cross.

Last weekend I went to Oxford for the Fine Press Book Fair. As ever, there was a tempting array of goodies on offer from both sides of the Atlantic. I was very taken by Walter Bachinski’s new Circus Book, and also by a remarkable collection of type specimens all designed and printed by the self confessed ‘Alphabetical Fetishist’, Russell Maret. I was sorely tempted by both, and finally fell for the latter – of course lo-res images on screen cannot begin to do justice to this superb letterpress printing, but that’s precisely the reason why work of this kind should be possessed in physical form.

One of the most enjoyable tasks this week has been type-setting the text of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in an array of different colours, so as to assist the reader in following the different strands of the narrative. The narrator of the first section of the book is Benjy, the idiot alluded to in the book’s title; in this page, for example, his ‘present day’ narrative which resumes towards the foot of the page, is printed in black, while the green and brown passages form part of his memories of two different days in childhood, about twenty years earlier. This is a notoriously tough novel to read, and I’ve found that this approach to the text – which was wished for by Faulkner himself, but never before realised in print – is enormously helpful to one’s understanding it.