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Edmund Dulac ‘s Fairy Book

There is an antiquarian feel to this week’s post. I was moving some books around the other day, most came from what is left of my mother’s library. For some reason I had put aside the larger books. Edmund Dulac’s Fairy Book came into my hands. An inscription revealed that it had been a Christmas present to my grandfather, from his two sisters in 1916. There are mysteries concerning this volume.

Edmund Dulac ‘s Fairy Book

The book is about A4 size, with 170 pages, the pages thick like cartridge paper. Inside there are 14 stories, one of which is alarmingly called White Caroline and Black Caroline. There are 15 illustrations listed, but one of the plates is missing: 

The prince, looking out, saw him snatch up the princess . . . and soar rapidly away. [From Bashtchelik (Or Real Steel) a Serbian fairy tale]

And to my shame one of them has a pencil drawing in profile on the reverse, much like the profiles I used to draw aged about 10.

The stories are not the familiar ones. For example, the story called White Caroline and Black Caroline is Flemish.

Come, Come, Caroline,
White, white, child o’ mine!
I hate you, HATE you,
And, at any rate, you
Are no child o’ mine.

Come, Come, Caroline
Black, black, child o’ mine,
I bore you, adore you,
Will give whatever more you
Want, O child o’ mine!

This verse heads up the story, which goes on to describe how the mother, who does not believe that White Caroline is her daughter, tries to dispose of White Caroline, but is thwarted by Black Caroline. They manage to defeat their mother, resist the nymphs and vampires, one of them marries a king, and then they change into white swans.

The other stories are as unfamiliar as the Carolines’. Here are some of the titles:

  • The Buried Moon (English)
  • The Seven Conquerors of the Queen of the Mississippi (Belgian)
  • The Serpent Prince (Italian)
  • Ivan and the Chestnut Horse (Russian)
  • The Queen of the Many-Coloured Bed-Chamber (Irish)
  • The Blue Bird (French)
  • The Friar and the Boy (English)
  • Urashima Taro (Japanese)
  • The Fire Bird (Russian)

It is the illustrations that are this volume’s glory. Dulac managed to capture something of each country’s style of illustration: here, for example are English, Italian and two Russian pictures. 

In her frantic struggles the hood of her cloak fell back from her dazzling golden hair, and immediately the whole place was flooded with light. From The Buried Moon.
When Grannmia saw her strange lover, she alone remained calm and courageous. From The Serpent Prince.
The chestnut horse seemed to linger in the air at the top of its leap while that kiss endured. From Ivan and the Chestnut Horse.

With a scream the Princess rushed forward, and, before her wicked sister could prevent her, she had upset the cauldron with a crash. From The Fire Bird.

Two Mysteries, and one of them is solved

The first puzzle for me was the gift itself. My grandfather was 16 when he received this from his sisters. I wondered why they thought this was an appropriate present for a young man. Fairy stories are usually for the nursery. But a little internet research provided the answer.

Edmund Dulac was a French illustrator who was naturalised as British in 1920. He came to London before the First World War and was working for Hodder and Stoughton producing illustrations for their books. Starting with Arabian Nights in 1907 they published illustrated annuals. Fairy Book was published in 1916, the year it was given to my grandfather. Special dispensation must have been provided to use the high quality of paper during wartime. And the reason for that permission was that this was a patriotic book. Its subtitle is Fairy Tales of the Allied Nations. There were therefore no Austrian or German stories included as all the stories come from allies.

This was a relief book, according to an article I read, although I couldn’t find the phrase used elsewhere. But it explains the gift to a 16-year-old. It was a patriotic present, perhaps other copies were given by the sisters to other relations. And perhaps they gave him other presents too. Was money raised by the sale of Fairy Book? And if so, where did it go? There is nothing in the book to indicate this.

The second mystery emerged from the American website (The Minneapolis College of Art and Design) where I read about Fairy Book. It referred to The Story of the Bird Feng – a Chinese story. Neither story nor illustration are included in the version in my possession. This is a shame as the illustration is very elaborate drawing, its inspiration from Chinese lacquer work, I think.

The wonderful bird, like a fire of many colours came down from heaven, alighted before the Princess, dropping at her feet the portrait. From The Bird Feng.

The details on the website reveal that there was an American edition of Fairy Book. I don’t understand why. Was China considered an American but not a British ally?

Some other notes

Edmund Dulac continued to be a successful illustrator, although the fashion for fairy stories changed after the war. In the Second World War he designed banknotes and stamps for the British government.

Copies of Fairy Book are for sale in many places, ranging from £20 to £90.

Edmund Dulac’s Fairy Book published in 1916 by Hodder & Stoughton.

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