Gillian Spraggs (wolfinthewood) wrote,
Gillian Spraggs

Coming Out of Copyright

Happy New Year!

Here are the names of some of the authors who died in 1942, and whose writings (apart from those posthumously published) come out of copyright today in Britain and the other EC countries.

L. M. Montgomery (b. 1874) wrote many books but Anne of Green Gables (1908), her first book, was the most famous and successful. My mother possessed a copy of every book she published and I read them all when I was ten or eleven. I have never revisited them in adulthood.

When Mollie Gillen's biography of Montgomery The Wheel of Things came out in 1975 I bought a copy for my mother. I think it must be from reading that book that I learned of the unwise contract that Montgomery entered into with her first publisher, L.C. Page of Boston, and the subsequent disputes. For those who are interested in such matters, the best online account seems to be L.M. Montgomery and Her Publishers by Benjamin Lefebvre.

I have never read the Kai Lung stories of Ernest Bramah. That famously mannered, intricate style has always put me off. Maybe I should give them another go. Probably David Langford is right: 'In Chinese mode, Bramah is rewarding but should perhaps be taken in small doses, one story or chapter before bedtime to prevent over-exposure.' The author's real name was Ernest Brammah Smith (b. 1868).

The Austrian author Robert Musil (b. 1880) died in Switzerland. He and his Jewish wife Martha emigrated there in 1938. The last four years of his life were spent in poverty and obscurity; he died of a stroke. I read Young Torless as an undergraduate. I have never got very far with his major, multi-volume work, The Man Without Qualities. The English translations of his work remain in copyright.

Two famous anthropologists died in 1942, Franz Boas (b. 1858) and Bronislaw Malinowski (b. 1884).

Arthur Edward Waite (b. 1857), a prolific author on occult and esoteric subjects, is best remembered for the Rider-Waite Tarot deck and the associated book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910). So far as I am aware, it was Waite who began the practice of reconceiving the traditional pip cards as picture cards, which has since been followed by numerous imitators. The designs that he originated, which were drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, helped to suggest the 'wicked pack of cards' used by Eliot's Madame Sosostris in The Waste Land. 'The man with three staves' was certainly inspired by Waite's conception of the three of wands, and 'the one-eyed merchant' probably owes something to his six of pentacles. Pamela Colman Smith died in 1951, so the Rider-Waite tarot deck will remain in copyright. However, Waite's translations of Paracelsus and other alchemical writers and his seminal works on alchemy, the Kabbala and the Grail have now passed into the public domain.

When I was an undergraduate, forty years ago, Shakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells Us (1935) by Caroline Spurgeon (b. 1869) was recommended reading. I enjoyed it so much that I also read Mysticism in English literature (1913). Brighton Ourstory thinks Spurgeon was a lesbian. I would not take their word for it without more evidence than they provide, but this may be so.

Another author I came across first when I was a student was the Australian poet John Shaw Neilson (b. 1872). In this case, I was reading outside the curriculum: initially M. C. Bradbrook's Literature in action: studies in continental and Commonwealth society (1972). Muriel Bradbrook, a formidable personality, was the Mistress of Girton. I suspect I saw what was then the latest work in her prolific output on some library shelf of newly acquired works; the college library, most likely. Anyway, it intrigued me enough to borrow it. I don't remember anything about it except that it had a few pages on John Shaw Neilson, and I found the passages she quoted sufficiently appealing that I tracked down a couple of volumes of his poems in the University Library.

Today it is possible to download from the web a pdf variorum edition of his works edited by Margaret Roberts (see conditions of use), and also a pdf copy of his 1934 Collected Poems. In 1972 published texts of his work were not to be had in England for love or money outside certain major libraries. I believe I still have, somewhere on a shelf or in a drawer, a notebook into which I copied the poems I liked best.

The Orange Tree

The young girl stood beside me – I
Saw not what her young eyes could see.
A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, of East or West?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, borne to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

Listen, the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound – it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Does he, I said, so fear the Spring,
Ere the white sap too far can climb,
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

Listen, the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call,
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, a waste of love,
Imperishably old in pain
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave?
The last word of a little child?

Silence, the young girl said. Oh, why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening, like the Orange Tree.

John Shaw Neilson (1872–1942)

Poem first published in 1921

A short account of Neilson's life
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