Tauchnitz Editions

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Grove Koger

“Each hotel had its vast library of tall glass-fronted bookcases full of yellowing Tauchnitz editions of Conrad and Dickens and Kipling,” wrote Lawrence Durrell in his essay “Borromean Isles,” referring to the islands’ “great rambling” edifices “left over from a forgotten age of opulence.”

There’s quite a story behind those yellowing paperbacks, one that Durrell, perhaps incorrectly, assumed his readers would know.

The first Tauchnitz Editions were published in 1841 in Leipzig, Germany, by Christian Bernhard, Freiherr von Tauchnitz, as a “Collection of British and American Authors.” Although copyright laws between individual countries had not yet been enacted, the honorable Tauchnitz signed contracts with his writers to distribute their books only on the European mainland. As my Tauchnitz copy (above) of Richard Bagot’s Lakes of Northern Italy notes on its cover, “The Copyright of this Collection is purchased for Continental Circulation only, and the volumes may therefore not be introduced into Great Britain or her Colonies.” In the case of American authors, the books were not marketed in the United States.

It was a time in which wealthy British and American tourists had begun to set their sights abroad, and the venture flourished, with the series running eventually to some 5,000 volumes. As a catalog bound into the back of the Bagot volume announces, Tauchnitz books were “sold by all Booksellers and at all Railway Bookstalls on the Continent.”

Inevitably, the Tauchnitz enterprise attracted imitators, the most successful of which was Albatross Books of Hamburg, founded in 1932. Its volumes were more attractive than its rivals’, and in fact it bought out the older firm two years later. The two lines maintained separate identities, however, with Tauchnitz publishing more traditional, mainstream books—Durrell called them “nanny novels” in an interview—while Albatross favored modernist titles.

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Tauchnitz and Albatross titles present intriguing insights into the lives and reading habits of Anglophone readers traveling and residing abroad in decades long gone, and are evocative souvenirs of what was in many ways a golden age of travel. I ran into them frequently in used book stores during my first visits to Europe in the 1970s, but they’ve now been crowded off the shelves by newer lines with gaudier covers.

I’ll write about Albatross another day, but in the meantime, you can consult the site Tauchnitz Editions at http://www.tauchnitzeditions.com/ for further details. For more information still, see William B. Todd and Ann Bowden’s Tauchnitz International Editions in English, 1841-1955: A Bibliographical History, published by the Bibliographical Society of America in 1988.

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In case you’re wondering, Bagot does mention those Borromean Isles, which lie in the Italian waters of Lago Maggiore, but he doesn’t seem to have been overwhelmed by their charms: “It must be confessed that, with the exception of the Isola Madre, distance decidedly lends enchantment to these far-famed spots, and they may be classified as belonging to that vast category aptly described as ‘tourist traps.’” Sigh.

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The Lakes of Northern Italy is vol. 4024 of the Tauchnitz Edition, and may have been published by Tauchnitz as early as 1908, although my copy lists the company’s “latest volumes” (published in June 1926) on its back cover. The Stuart novel is vol. 5270 and has a copyright notice of March 1937. Here, too, there’s a chance connection with Lawrence Durrell, who called a later novel of Stuart’s, Black List Section H, “a book of the finest imaginative distinction.”

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Menorca’s Xoriguer Gin

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Grove Koger

Maggie and I enjoyed Xoriguer (sho-ri-GAIR) gin on our first visit to the Balearic island of Menorca in 1998. Lying northeast of the island of Majorca, it owes its name to the fact that it’s smaller than its neighbor. It’s also markedly different in topography, culture and history.  

Britain occupied Menorca for three periods in the eighteenth century, most notably from 1708 to 1756, and while the island has been an integral part of Spain since 1802, those early decades of rule left their mark.

One result of the British presence is that the Menorcans learned to make gin, which was inordinately popular with the occupier’s troops. The islanders themselves grew to like the juniper-flavored liquor, but over time their distilleries fell idle. One of the last burned down in the early twentieth century, but employee Miguel Pons Justo rescued its original gin recipe and began business anew in 1910 as Destilerías Xoriguer. The name is that of an eighteenth-century windmill in which the Pons family once ground their wheat.

Despite what you might assume from the depiction of that mill on the company’s labels, Xoriguer gin is actually based on spirits from locally grown grapes. Juniper trees don’t thrive on low-lying Menorca, so their berries, which are the only botanical used, are imported from the mainland. Xoriguer’s copper stills are heated to this day with wood fires, and the barrels in which the gin is stored are made from American oaks. The gin was initially sold in stoneware jugs, with a loop added later for easier handling—a design recalled in today’s distinctive green glass bottles.

In 1997, the European Union granted the liquor a Regional Designation of Origin as “Gin de Menorca,” a designation changed in 2010 to “Gin de Mahón,” a reference to the island’s capital. Today Xoriguer is the only gin distilled on Menorca, and is one of only two geographically designated gins in the world. Located in an eighteenth-century building on the waterfront of Mahón’s spectacularly long harbor, Destilerías Xoriguer is open to the public six days a week.

We haven’t been back to Menorca since 2010, but we were delighted to discover this year that Xoriguer gin is available throughout Majorca, and enjoyed it whenever we could.

 

Later That Night …

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Grove Koger

As I explained in my October 30 post, one of the first science fiction novels I read as a boy was H.G. Wells’ famous War of the Worlds. In addition to its classic status, it served as the basis for a famous, make that infamous, radio broadcast. The paragraphs below conclude my description of that night and discuss the event from the perspective of Idaho’s capital city. The article originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Greenbelt Magazine as “A Night to Remember.”

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“It’s Coming This Way”

The end of the cylinder was seen to be rotating, and listeners heard the clank of a huge piece of falling metal. And then, on cue, Phillips described “something wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake.” There was a “humped shape,” a “jet of flame” that set everything afire. “It’s coming this way now,” Phillips announced breathlessly, “about 20 yards to my right—”

Phillips would not be heard from again, but an announcer brought on the commander of the New Jersey state militia to report that several counties in the area had been placed under martial law. There followed a series of self-assured comments from a Captain Lansing who described the scene as thousands of militiamen advanced on the cylinder. But then the captain’s voice turned anxious as he watched something rise out of the pit, something “rearing up on a sort of metal framework” and turning its heat ray upon the troops …

Meanwhile

Here in Boise, authorities were deluged with calls from worried residents. And no wonder. The program they were listening to was describing “one of the most startling defeats ever suffered by any army in modern times.” More of the mysterious cylinders had hit the earth! New York City was being evacuated as the Martians strode across the countryside in their monstrous tripods! Miraculously, Professor Pierson was back on the air, broadcasting from an empty house and wondering whether he might be the “last living man on earth.”

As the Idaho Statesman would report breathlessly the next day, “hundreds of radio listeners in Boise and vicinity verged on hysteria.” According to the paper, four of its reporters spent the hour of the broadcast trying to reassure frightened members of the public. One hysterical caller said that “hundreds of death machines” from Mars had “landed in New Jersey!” Another screamed, “They’ll be here in Boise by dawn!”

In Newark, New Jersey, hundreds of men and women were said to have run through the streets, their heads wrapped in towels and handkerchiefs to ward off the effects of the Martians’ poison gas. In Birmingham, Alabama, the pious gathered in groups to pray. Closer to home, in Concrete, Washington, the power went out during the broadcast. For a time, according to the Statesman, the town was “frantic.”

But Wait—

Unlike the Statesman, the Boise Capital News reported that radio’s “super-catastrophe” didn’t create a panic in Boise. “Those who were accustomed to listening intelligently and thoughtfully …  enjoyed the program, went off to bed and untroubled sleep.”

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It’s difficult now to determine who was right, but studies suggest that things weren’t as bad as the Statesman claimed. In Getting It Wrong, W. Joseph Campbell argues that “most listeners … were neither frightened nor unnerved.” Instead, says Campbell, the broadcast gave American newspapers an “irresistible opportunity” to rebuke the new medium of radio, which was competing with the papers for advertisers. Much the same relationship exists today between older media and the Internet.

Just as we can’t be sure of the extent of the “panic” that October night, we can’t be sure of what expectations Welles may have had. Not surprisingly, however, his sputtering Mercury Theatre got a new lease on life when Campbell’s Soup agreed to sponsor 13 more episodes. Given the broadcast’s date—the night before Halloween, remember—it was a lucky number indeed.

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The illustrations I’ve added to my article were drawn by Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corrêa for the 1906 edition of Wells’ novel.

A Night to Remember

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Grove Koger

One of the first science fiction novels I read as a boy was H.G. Wells’ famous War of the Worlds. It’s never been surpassed as an account of interplanetary invasion, and I doubt that it ever will be. But among its other claims to fame, it served as the basis for a famous, perhaps infamous, radio broadcast. This article, which discusses that event from the perspective of Idaho’s capital city, originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Greenbelt Magazine. Given its length, I’ll post its conclusion tomorrow.

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October 30, 1938, was a cool, rainy Sunday in Boise. It was also the day before Halloween, a fact that might have raised suspicions about what took place that night. But as events unfolded with ever-increasing rapidity, it must have been difficult to think clearly.

“Merely a Coincidence”

Radio listeners who had tuned in a few minutes late to The Mercury Theatre on the Air may have been intrigued to hear a report that “several explosions of incandescent gas” had been observed on Mars. The broadcast then returned to a program of dance music, but was interrupted again by another announcement. Listeners should stand by for an interview with one Professor Pierson, a “noted astronomer” with the Princeton Observatory.

Shortly afterward commentator Carl Phillips began his interview with Pierson, who was apparently at that very moment staring through a huge telescope at the red planet. He assured Phillips that while the chances of finding intelligent beings on Mars were a “thousand to one,” he could not account for the explosions.

At that point someone handing a message to Pierson, who examined it and then helpfully passed it on. At 9:15 PM Eastern Standard Time, Phillips read aloud, a seismograph had registered a “shock of almost earthquake intensity” near Princeton. The professor speculated that the shock was probably due to a meteorite of “unusual size” and dismissed its arrival as “merely a coincidence.”

Things were starting to get interesting …

Mr. Welles and Mr. Wells

What many listeners failed to note was that the director of The Mercury Theatre, a 23-year-old American named Orson Welles, was staging a dramatization of The War of the Worlds by British writer H.G. Wells. As it turned out, the novel proved ideal for the director’s purposes, although he moved its setting from England to the east coast of the United States.

Even now, decades later, one sentence that Welles adapted from the novel’s opening stands out. “Across an immense ethereal gulf,” he intoned ominously, “minds that to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

Of course if you had tuned in late, as many listeners had, you would have missed the explanation. (And you may not have noticed that “Professor Pierson” sounded a lot like Orson Welles.) Some 40 minutes into the program there was a brief announcement identifying the dramatization for what it was, but by then there was plenty of cause for alarm.

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It seems that a “huge, flaming object” had landed near Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, where Phillips had driven with Pierson. Half-buried in a pit was a “huge cylinder” that the ever-helpful Pierson estimated to be about 30 yards in diameter. There was a crowd that the police couldn’t contain. There was a “curious humming sound” that seemed to come from inside the cylinder. Then there was a scraping sound.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The marvelous illustrations I’ve added to my article were drawn by Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corrêa for the 1906 edition of Wells’ novel.

 

 

A Westerner in Tibet

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Grove Koger

As I expand and update When the Going Was Good, I’m posting revised entries from the first edition. Today’s deals with a volume by Alexandra David-Neél, who was born Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David on October 24, 1868. 

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My Journey to Lhasa: The Personal Story of the Only White Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City (New York: Harper, 1927)

Fascinated as a girl by the adventure novels of Jules Verne, Alexandra David routinely ran away from home. She “craved, “she wrote, “to go beyond the garden gate … and to set out for the unknown.” An inheritance allowed her to visit India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), but when it was exhausted she turned to the theater, which allowed her to continue her travels, and finally journalism, which allowed her to travel even more. She married Philippe Neél de Saint-Sauveur in 1904, but quickly came to an amicable arrangement that allowed her to live apart while he paid for her travels and helped arrange publication of her writings.

In 1912 David-Neél interviewed the ruler of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, then temporarily in exile in Sikkim in northern India. Explaining her long-standing interest in Buddhism and her desire to visit the Dalai Lama’s homeland, officially closed to outsiders, she received the advice “Learn Tibetan.” This she did, and managed to slip into the country briefly in 1914 and again in 1915. Subsequently expelled from India, she worked her way east to China and, circling back, northeastern Tibet, where she studied in a monastery off and on for three years. It was from here that David-Neél set off for the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in 1921, although she was forced to follow a roundabout course that took her into Mongolia and through eastern China.

It was only in October 1923, in the passes where China, Burma, and Tibet meet, that David-Neél began her final push. And it is here that her account, My Journey to Lhasa, begins. The traveler was disguised as a poor arjopa, or pilgrim, and was accompanied by a Sikkimese monk pretending to be her son. The book treats their arduous trip through the harsh Tibetan winter as if it were one of Verne’s more thrilling novels, complete with narrow escapes and humorous asides. (At one point David-Neél’s companion warns an aged couple that the goat they are mistreating will be a man in the next life and that the three will “meet again.”) David-Neél finally reached the Forbidden City in February 1924, the first Western woman to do so, and remained there two months incognito. She returned to France a hero, and thanks to this and her many other books is revered as one of the principal interpreters of Buddhism to the Western world.       

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My yellowing Penguin edition of My Journey to Lhasa, illustrated above, dates from October 1939 and includes an introduction by Dr. A. D’Arsonval, member of the Adadémie des Sciences, the Adadémie de Médecine, etc. If you’re looking for a good modern edition, the 1986 Virago (London) and Beacon Press (Boston) editions include an introduction by noted popular historian Peter Hopkirk, while the 1993 Beacon Press edition includes a foreword by Tenzin Gyatson, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and an introduction by Diana N. Rowan. David-Neél also wrote With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet (1932) and Tibetan Journey (1933).

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The literature on David-Neél is extensive, and includes Tiziana and Gianni Baldizzone, Tibet: Journey to the Forbidden City: Retracing the Steps of Alexandra David-Neél (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996); Barbara Foster and Michael Foster, The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neél: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices (Overlook, 1998; rev. ed. of Forbidden Journey: The Life of Alexandra David-Neél, 1987); Ruth Middleton, Alexandra David-Neél: Portrait of an Adventurer (Shambhala, 1989); Luree Miller, On Top of the World: Five Women Explorers in Tibet (The Mountaineers, 1984); and Kenneth Wimmel, The Alluring Target: In Search of the Secrets of Central Asia (Trackless Sands, 1996).

Barcelona’s Hotel Continental

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Grove Koger

Maggie and I stayed in the elegant Hotel Continental during our first trip to Barcelona in 1998, and we’ve tried to spend at least a night or two there every time we pass through the city. It’s located on Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, Las Ramblas, near the big Plaça de Catalunya, and on our most recent visits, including this year’s, we’ve asked for a room with a balcony overlooking the busy street and its spreading plane trees. It’s a grand view—but read on …

The Continental’s history goes back more than a century, and apparently it once occupied a building next door. Its ownership changed in 1931, but in 1936, in the opening months of the Spanish Civil War, those new owners were “invited” (as the hotel puts it) to leave the building so that the besieged local government could set up new headquarters in their place. George Orwell’s wife, Eileen, lived in the Continental while her husband fought for the duly elected Spanish Republic, and he mentions the establishment several times in his vivid account of his experiences, Homage to Catalonia.

Hotel Continental

In that book, Orwell described the “pressing shortage of food” gripping Barcelona, and the Continental, in 1937: “On that Thursday night the principal dish at dinner was one sardine each. The hotel had no bread for days and even the wine was running so low that we were drinking older and older wines at higher and higher prices.”

Today, in contrast, the hotel maintains a small around-the-clock buffet that includes both wine and beer.

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In an article I published in 2011, I called cosmopolitan Barcelona the “capital of the world.” I don’t see any reason to change that admittedly over-the-top assessment, but I realize that there are some disadvantages to the situation. Since 1972, when I visited Barcelona for the first time, it’s become one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, and it can now be astonishingly busy. Maggie and I had just spent two weeks of blessed calm in Majorca before returning to the city, and we found the sudden onslaught of people and cars on the Ramblas overwhelming. And yet, there we were, in the Continental, and it was good to be back!

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The photo at the top of the page is by Jordiferrer and is reproduced courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The image in the middle a[[eared on a travel advertisement, probably of the 1930s, and is taken from the cover of a small notebook that now sits on Maggie’s shelf. The luggage label at the bottom probably dates from a little later, and is part of my collection of travel ephemera.

Kenneth Dodson’s Naval Epic

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Grove Koger

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been working for several years on a readers’ guide to maritime literature—novels, stories, plays and poems about sailing, the sea, the seaboard, and island life. I plan to call it “Sea Fever,”a title borrowed from a wonderful short poem by John Masefield. One of the entries I’ve completed is devoted to the most famous novel by Kenneth Dodson, who was born October 11, 1907, and died in 1999.

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Away All Boats (Boston: Little, Brown, 1954)

Born to American missionary parents in the Portuguese colony of Angola in Africa, Kenneth Dodson moved with his family to California when he was still a child. Influenced (as so many maritime writers would be) by the writings of Joseph Conrad, he stowed away on a ship as a teenager and, after finishing high school, sailed the Pacific as a deck boy, quartermaster and master. 

Dodson commanded the freighter Cape Flattery in the early years of World War II, but soon volunteered for active duty. He went on to serve aboard the attack transport USS Pierce through nine major assaults in the Pacific campaign—experiences that would become the basis for his first and most successful novel, Away All Boats. As Robert Shenk explains in his introduction to the Naval Institute Press edition, it was during Dodson’s postwar confinement in a hospital that he decided to follow through on his long-standing dream of putting those experiences into words. As chance would have it, Carl Sandburg was given access to letters that Dodson had written his wife during the war, and the famed poet mentored the fledgling writer. (Sandburg would even use Dodson as a model for the character Kenneth MacKenzie MacDougall in his 1948 novel Remembrance Rock, and Dodson in turn gave his quietly heroic protagonist the same last name.)

Away All Boats is a highly dramatic novel, but its drama derives from the simple facts of history. If Herman Wouk’s Caine Mutiny is the epic of destroyer-minesweepers, Away All Boats is the epic of amphibious assault craft. Dodson recounts the experiences of the crew of the USS Belinda as it deploys the newfangled craft—lowered into the water at the order “Away all boats”—through the course of the Pacific war, culminating in the 1945 assault on Okinawa. From a literary point of view the work is crowded, perhaps too crowded, with characters and incidents, but ultimately satisfying in its portrayal of the grueling, sea-level realities of the struggle.

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The original Little, Brown edition of Dodson’s novel provides maps on its endpapers, while the 1996 Classics of Naval Literature edition from the Naval Institute Press contains a useful bibliography in addition to its introduction by  Shenk. Unfortunately, neither includes a dramatis personae. 

Dodson’s other books include Stranger to the Shore (1956), The China Pirates (1960), and Hector, the Stowaway Dog: A True Story (nonfiction juvenile, 1958). For further information about him, see Dodson and Penelope Niven, The Poet and the Sailor: The Story of My Friendship with Carl Sandburg (University of Illinois Press, 2007).

Away All Boats was filmed by Joseph Pevney under the same title in 1956. Jeff Chandler, George Nader, Julie Adams, and Lex Barker starred.