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2009-06, 361, 362, Book Reviews, Colin Steele

Book Review: The Fanfrolico Press

The Fanfrolico Press: Satyrs, Fauns and Fine Books.

By John Arnold. Private Libraries Association. 328pp. $95

(available from Kay Craddock, Antiquarian Bookseller Pty Ltd,

271 Collins Street, Melbourne)

Jack Lindsay (1900-1990) lived in Australia until 1926 but then resided in England until his death. The eldest son of Norman Lindsay, he was the author or editor of over 175 books, covering translations, novels, poetry, biography, politics and philosophy. His life was an exfemely fuIl one, especially the early years up to 1939, as recounted in his three volume autobiography, Life Rarely Tells. The third volume entttled Fanfrolico and After covers his involvement in the Fanfrolico Press.

JohnAmold’s long awaited The Fanfrolico Press, an elegantly written and sumptuously produced book published in an edition of 900 copies, contains 96 illustrations, including reduced facsimiles of the title pages of the 46 books published by the Fanfrolico Press. Arnold ably reconstructs the Fanfrolico Press trail from its beginnings in Sydney in 1923, to initial success in London from 1926, and its final closure following bankruptcy in London in late 1930.

Arnold says in a “Note to the Reader” that he has “tried to let the main players in the Fanfrolico Press tell their own story through their letters and various memoirs. I have then used my own knowledge … to ty and put it all in perspective and provide a detailed overrriew of the Press’s operations (the history) and a survey of its publications (the bibliography).” Arnold’s extensive bibliography, edited by Paul Nash of the Stawberry Press, which occupies nearly a third of the book, covers all Fanfrolico Press publications including prospectuses and other ephemera.

Arnold writes in a “Retrospect” chapter that “the name Jack Lindsay rightly dominates the story of the Fanfrolico Press. Without him, it simply would not have existed. His capacity for work was exceptional, his ability as a translator outstanding, his talents as a poet considerable. In a sense he was the Fanfrolico Press “. Arnold follows Lindsay and his Press partners, John Kirtley and P R (Inky) Stephensen, and their involvement through the Press with literary and bohemian society in Sydney and London.

Fauns and Ladies, poems by Jack Lindsay, finished in May 1923, is seen as the first FP imprint. While it appeared under the imprint of “The Hand Press of J. T. Kirtley”, Arnold indicates that the “rationale for publication was similar to that of the Fanfrolico Press”, therefore it and several other publications have been included in the bibliography. Fauns and Ladies was limited to 210 copies, with woodcuts by Norman Lindsay. Sir William Dixson bought the first copy of Fauns and Ladies, while other buyers included Sir John Monash and Percy Grainger.

Lysistrata by Aristophanes (1925) and illustrated by Norman Lindsay, was published in October 1925. While available for general purchase through Angus and Robertson, it was largely aimed at wealthy bibliophiles, although Sir William Dixson on this occasion returned his copy as he “would not condone indecency by owning or buying such a book”.

Lindsay and Kirtley left Austalia in 1926 for London, although London initially struck Lindsay as “a grey diminutive world, wholly lacking in dignity or charm … we had never imagined that men could live in such a dwarfed and sootied world”. Kirtley soon decided, for a variety of reasons, to return to Australia, writing in early 1927: “England is a death trap to an Aussie. Physically, mentally, financially. So F…k’em”.

Stephensen joined Lindsay in July 1927 and Lindsay registered the business in his own name in September, although, according to Arnold, neither had any real business experience. 1928 marks the high point of the Fanfrolico Press activities, partly as a result of the input of Stephensen and the fact that it was the strongest “Norman Lindsay” period. In addition to eleven books being published in 1928, the first three numbers of The London Aphrodite appeared as “an antidote to the modern poisons of painful introspection, mere intellectual slickness and pseudo-academic dictatorships”. Arnold documents their relationships with many of the leading literary figures of the time, such as D H Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Robert Graves and William Butler Yeats.

The decline and fall of the Press, is attributable to Jack Lindsay’s “emotional entanglement and entrapment” with Elza De Locre, his increasingly disturbed partner, tensions between Lindsay and Stephensen and the financial difficulties resulting from the 1929 Depression. By August 1930, Lindsay’s bank was refusing to honour Fanfrolico Press cheques. Stephensen eventually returned to Australia n 1932.

Amold’s The Fanfrolico Press is an engrossing and authoritative account of a marvellous, but ultimately overambitious, maybe vainglorious, publishing venture, which also provides an unusual perspective on the literary and publishing scene of the 1920s. Professor Roderick Cave in his definitive survey The Private Presses, states: “The 1920s would have been poorer without its [FP’s] attempts to storm the battlements of the English literary establishment with a new critique”. A challenge perhaps best encapsulated in the title of Arnold’s chapter “Two Boys from Queensland take on the London Literary Establishment”, Stephenson and Lindsay seeing themselves as “Apollo’s tailors … the last simple trustful chaps believing poetry has power”.

Colin Steele.

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