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Daphnis & Chloe

Daphnis and Chloe
by Longus
Frances Spalding in her biography, Gwen Raverat, Friends, Family and Affections, writes:

The size of the pages, together with the promise of high quality printing, attracted her to Daphnis and Chloe from the Ashendene Press. St John Hornby, who many years before had employed Jacques, had decided on a French translation of Longus by Amyot. Gwen preferred to work with George Thornley’s 1657 translation from the Greek; his slightly florid, teasing language being perhaps more in keeping with the light, sensuous, humorous, pastoral love story. The tale is divided into four books, for each of which Gwen proposed a full-page frontispiece as well as smaller cuts which would appear within the text. She was uncertain whether to charge £24 for each of the large frontispieces, or whether to design them more simply and boldly and charge £20. “Anyhow I will be as fair as I can and do my best,” she assured Hornby, “for it’s is a most heavenly book and just what I shall enjoy doing.”

Her pleasure in the writing helped give rise to a remarkable degree of sympathy between text and imagery. From a modernist point of view, her illustrations can be criticised for not promoting a challenging new style. But Gwen’s knowing appropriation of the tropes of pastoralism, her detachment and playfulness, so in keeping with Longus’s seductive voice, seem entirely acceptable in a postmodernist era. The studies of Babette which she had made in Vence for her lithograph of two young girls asleep, fed into her illustrations of Daphnis and Chloe lying down, awake, asleep or dreaming. And the slight gaucheness in her figure drawing is also in keeping with the awkwardness that exists between Daphnis and Chloe while they remain untutored in the physical transports of love.

She requested a specimen page, and, after seeing the intended typeface, size of the page and text area, sent Hornby many preliminary sketches and working drawings. Her choice of style was partly influenced by the old-fashioned Ptolemy face which Hornby chose, knowing that her designs had to balance the density and weight of the type. A calligrapher, Graily Hewitt and his assistants, added open hand-drawn initials and paragraph markers in blue, while sidenotes in the margins were printed in red.

After handing over her blocks for printing, Gwen took a train across Europe to Constantinople and there met the historian Arnold Toynbee and his wife Rosalind (Rosalind Murray of old). They were planning, Gwen told Hornby, “rather a wild journey, motoring in the Balkans”.17 She expected to encounter brigands, but it was, meanwhile, the Ashendene Press book that was hijacked by slow-drying ink which disfigured the first printing of Daphnis et Chloe in 1931 on Japanese vellum, Hornby destroying all but ten copies, one of which he gave to Gwen. He printed it again in 1933 in an edition of 310: 290 were on Batchelor hand-made paper and the other 20 on parchment. Green boards with a vellum back were used to bind the paper edition, and green or blue pigskin those on parchment.

A copy was sent to Sydney Cockerell, who had acted as secretary of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press before entering the Fitzwilliam Museum. His discern­ing eye made him a highly critical judge. He found Gwen’s woodcuts, “good, some of them very good, especially the landscape portions”, but the figures, to his eye, were occasionally a little too matter of fact and lacking the “idyllic sauciness” of the text.18 Nevertheless Daphnis et Chloe is an impressive work of art, the text and wood-engravings far more persuasively integrated than in the 1893 edition illustrated by Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts. After all the labour that Gwen had expended on this book, she must have been very pleased with its fine production, but perhaps less happy that it was available only to a few. It was to be the first and last book that she did in a limited edition with a private press.

She would, however, have been aware that the private presses associated with the Arts and Crafts movement (notably the Kelmscott Press and Ricketts and Shannon’s The Dial Press), which had helped keep wood-engraving alive, had sprung from a renewed interest in Renaissance illustrated books and woodcuts. What made the woodcut or wood-engraving so satisfactory in the context of book production was the way in which the wooden block could be locked in the chase with type and printed in one fell swoop. In addition, wood-engraving is especially suited to the book where it is naturally held at a right distance from the viewer’s eye. In the course of the 1930s Gwen Raverat, while continuing to send her woodcuts to a wide array of exhibitions at home and abroad, became completely converted to the illustrative role of wood-engraving. By 1939, we find her writing in an article for the Studio magazine: “the whole point and purpose of wood-engraving lies in its use on the printed page; in the fact that it can be linked and set with type.”

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