Bell, Joshua. William Hogarth: A Freemason’s Harlot. N.p. : Kendal Tavern Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9988342-0-7.
More, John S. Bulwer-Lytton Occult Personality: A Graphic Introduction. Oxford: Mandrake, 2018. [No ISBN]
Vampires: First Blood. Volume I: The Vampire Lords: Byron, Polidori, Dumas & Others. Volume II: The Vampire Ladies: Stoker, LeFanu, Kipling & Others. Ed. James Grant Goldin. N.p.: Basilisk: 2019. ISBN 978-1-7335690-0-2 and 978-1-7335690-2-6.
he recent and ongoing computer revolution — that is, the multifarous effects of digital information technology — has many, often contradictory effects upon the printed book and its role in our lives. On the one hand, the movement of the place of reading from a printed page to first a computer screen and thence to tablets and smart phones has dramatically, some say alarmingly, changed our reading habits. For the first time in history writing no longer is a matter of physical marks on physical surfaces. It has become a matter of codes perched upon other codes with dramatic, truly revolutionary effects, since code-based text can be both duplicated and widely disseminated at essentially no cost. Although these effects of digital information technology at first seemed to promise utopian benefits, such as virtually free information and educational possibilities for all, it has come with almost complete lack of privacy and loss of faith in traditional media, or even in objective truth. These are the advantages and disadvantages for text-based communication, writing, and publishing. Equally important, perhaps even more important, digital information technology has increasingly promoted a movement from text to YouTube video as an important educational technology. Young people in particular watch such video instruction in matters as different as martial arts and model railroading to such an extent that printed texts on these and other subjects have lost their educational centrality. The printed book, in other words, has lost much of its role in education whether conceived as taking place in an institution, such as a school or university, or outside them.
Paradoxically, the qualities that have done so much to destroy the centrality of the book in education and society have also great improved individual printed books. The very code-based nature of digital information technology, which has so lessened the central importance of the printed book, is what enables cheaper, more beautifully designed, and far more lavishly illustrated books than ever before. Take exhibition catalogues, for instance. Whereas a generation ago most catalogues relied black-and-white, often quite small, illustrations, now one expects full-color reproductions. A second, probably far more important impact of computing upon the printed book in the decentralization of book production as authors increasingly bypass established commercial and university-based publishers, offering the reader books close in appearance to established publishers. An old New Yorker cartoon has one dog telling another, “On the internet nobody knows you're a dog,” which is another way of saying that everyone can have a voice, good and bad, on the Internet, and the same code-based textuality has a like effect on publication and the printed book.
The most obvious effects of computer-enabled publishing lie in the greater speed and lower cost of publication, both of which make self-publication attractive and affordable. At the same time, books produced this way generally lack the authority of books that have been vetted by supposed experts in particular fields, and they almost entirely lack professional copy-editing and layout design, as apparently do two of the three works under review. At the same time, computer-enabled self-publication permits interesting experiments with the form of the scholarly and critical book. For example, John S. Moore’s study of Sir Edwin Bulwer-Lytton and the occult takes the form of a gathering of one- or two-page essays on subjects including Bentham, Victorianism, Phallicism, Wisdom of the Chaldeans, Theosophy, and Swedenborg that, like Hopscotch, Cortazar’s proto-hypertextual novel, can be read in any order. Moore’s book also resembles those works printed from the author’s blog, such as Jeff Nunokawa’s Notebook, which Princeton published in 2015. Bulwer-Lytton Occult Personality has many of the flaws associated with books published outside the usual publishing networks: the reader cannot determine the source of much of the author’s text or the reliability of quoted texts. Many of the author’s statements simply fail to convince, such as when he describes Bulwer-Lytton as “the most successful novelist in the English speaking world.” What does Moore mean by “successful” — that Bulwer-Lytton sold more copies, that he made the most money, had the greatest literary reputation in his lifetime or ours, or that he was influential? Does he mean Bulwer-Lytton was the most successful Victorian novelist or the most successful of any novelist writing in English? As far as I know, on any of these grounds, Moore’s statement is simply false. Far more important, of course, is the argument that most concerns Moore — that the novelist was a devotee of the occult and himself a magus, and I don’t see where Moore, author of books on Aleister Crowley, has come even near proving his case. Before leaving Moore to look at the other books under review, I have to point out that after his main text has concluded he adds an an appendix, simply entitled “Bulwer-Lytton,” that consists of a rather orthodox survey of his subject’s career that suggests at the very end he lost confidence his experiment.
Jeremy Bell’s nicely designed, lavishly illustrated book on Freemason symbolism hidden in William Hogarth’s works uses diagrams and color overlays to argue that a “passion for hiding Masonic symbols continued throughout Hogarth’s lifetime” and that the artist “became heavily involved in a government sponsored attack on a rival fraternal order” (7).
As the above diagram shows, Bell’s argument depends heavily on the claim that the arrangements of lines and other shapes in Hogarth’s works are hidden Masonic symbols. Such use of geometrical forms certainly seems possible, but others, such those examples on the covers of the book and the example I have placed next to it (immediately above), don’t convince, since such acute angles occur throughout the visible world. At times Bell’s proposed interpretations strike me as very similar to those of inept Victorian interpreters of the Bible who claimed that idolatrous rites introduced into the Temple at Jerusalem prefigured the Gospel, and that when evil Absalom hung by his hair from a tree he functioned as a divinely-created type of Christ on the cross. The problem with these interpretations, of course, lies in the fact that the interpreters took something evil as a type of divine goodness, or to state the usual objections more generally, that the visual surface seems jarringly opposite the thing or message supposedly symbolized.
Another fundamental problem: why should the author or creator of such an object or person hide a further meaning in plain sight? Biblical typology, the Christian exegetical method that finds divinely intended anticipations of Christ in the Old Testament, has several obvious justifications, the most fundamental of which is simply that it unifies the Old and New Testaments, thus demonstrating that Jesus Christ and his sacrifice organically develop from the earliest events recorded in scripture. Typology, which creates a kind of double vision that spiritualizes many earthly events, also justifies that close reading of the Bible that Evangelicals made central to their faith. The fundamental question about Bell’s argument, then, is what was Hogarth’s supposed justification of hiding symbols, many of which (unlike biblical types) seem to conflict with the pictorial narrative. Bell’s claims that The Sleeping Congregation, the example with which he opens his book, “was actually a representation of of the Premium Grand Lodge of Freemasons” (9), but doesn’t such an obviously satirical picture of a religious service also mock the Freemasons, if that’s to whom Hogarth was referring? (Bell’s argument here also depends on taking a very blurry face to be that of his father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill, but that identification isn't at all convincing, nor is the following identification of the clergyman.) Whatever arguments and proofs Bell will later offer, he has made a very poor beginning that undercuts his credibility. Turning the page, one encounters the statement that “the minister in the pulpit has been identified as Reverend Doctor Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744). What has been overlooked is that Desaguliers held the top position of ‘Grand Master’ of the recently formed [Masonic] fraternity” (10). We are also told that the letter G (for geometry) appears prominently as does an hourglass and the word “labour” in a scriptural passage. Finally, Hogarth supposedly alludes to the Masonic practice of using miniature handheld columns to “indicate when a change in procedure was taking place” (13) with an image of two hands with interlocked fingers holding a pair of spectacles. According to Bell, Hogarth represents “the raised column in the scene with an erection. This is masterfully illustrated with a thumb. His pair of spectacles are drawn to look like testicles” (13). I'm not convinced, but perhaps you may be, but the question remains, why bother to include these symbols and to whom did the artist supposedly address his hidden messages? Although Bell answers the second of these questions in some later discussions (Hogarth was supposedly discrediting rival groups), he does not do so here.
Now the work that gives the book its title: A Harlot’s Progress. After Hogarth eloped with Thornhill’s daughter, Sir James’s “wrath” lasted two years, after which he supposedly accepted the marriage on seeing the Progress, and he did so, according to Bell, because the work “incorporated all the secret signs of the new Grand Lodge ritual” (21). Once again we encounter an astonishing discordance between the surface meanings of the A Harlot’s Progress and that which Bell ascribes to it. Here I have to give up. I'll admit I don’t know much more about the Masons than I've encountered in reviews of books about their history and influence. I find in Bell that kind of piling on of evidence and close reading that one sees in nineteenth-century interpretations of the Book of Revelation that proclaim that the apocalypse will occur in three years on March 13th.
Don’t be put off by the lurid covers of Goldin’s argument by anthology. Yes, it has problems: It bears the signs of not having an experienced publisher, copy editor, and designer guide it though publication, for the author/editor, who doesn’t distinguish between short works and complete books, confusingly puts all titles in italics and only provides the authors’s full names in the section on their works where he omits dates of publication. Nonetheless, Goldin continually raises interesting questions of genre and genre in his introductions, glossaries, and afterwords. One of his arguments is that whereas male vampires have the position and power of the upperclass, female vampires have more complex, and more interesting, natures.
Perhaps the most useful way to describe Vampires: First Blood is to list what the two volumes include, a task made a little more difficult than it should be by the editor’s placing the dates of publication on the contents page but the full titles only later. Goldin organizes his work by the vampire figures rather than by author, beginning with one Arnold Paul, an early supposed vampire who appears in “Excerpts from the March 1732 The London Journal” and Dom Augustin Calmet’s Dissertations on the Revenants and Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia (1746). Then come figures from a few eighteenth-century poems, such as Heinrich August Ossenfelder’s “The Vampire” (1748) and John Stagg’s “The Vampyre” (1812), after which we have George Gordon Lord Byron’s August Darvell, who appears in his prose fragment “The Burial: A Fragment” (1816). Another vampire from the Romantic circle comes from John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre: A Tale” (1819), which Goldin follows with two of Tolstoy’s works — The Family of the Vourdalak (1839) and “Ghoul” (1841). Next comes the most important vampire narrative before Stoker’s with James Malcolm Rhymer’s somewhat oddly titled Varney the Vampyre; or the Feast of Blood, A Romance (1845). The first volume then closes with Alexandre Dumas and Paul Bocage’s “The Pale Lady” (1849).
The second volume, which culminates with an out-take from Bram Stoker, begins with a single page on Lilith, who appears in an unknown author’s “The Alphabet of Ben Sira,” and she is followed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem “The Bride of Corinth” (1797) and Robert Southey’s Oneiza, a character in his Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). Then comes Brunhilda from Ernst Benjamin Salomo Raupach’s “Wake Not the Dead” (1823) and Alinska from Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon’s The Vampire or the Virgin of Hungary (1824). More female vampires from the first half of the nineteenth century appear in Henry Thomas Liddell’s poem “The Vampire Bride” (1833), Théophil Gautier’s Clarimonde from “Clarimonde, or, the Dead in Love” (1836), and Lady Bright from James Clerk Maxwell’s The Vampire (1846), a poem written when the famous Scottish scientist was a teenager. Goldin then returns to Varney the Vampyre (1847) for Clara Crofton, after which he brings us to Turgenev’s Alice from Phantoms (1863) and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872). Then comes Vespertilia, the vampire in A Mystery of the Compagna (1887) by Von Degen (the pen name of Anne Crawford, Baroness von Rabe), who appears again in Rosamund Marriott Watson’s “Vespertilia” (1895). The century draws to a close with Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Vampire” (1897) and Countess Dolingen from Bram Stoker’s posthumously published “Dracula’s Guest” (1914).
Each of Goldin’s sections is decorated with a modern photograph, some tackier than others, but the chief value of his anthology comes in its selection of passages from often little-known works and his helpful brief introductions and afterwords to them. Anyone who finds vampires an interesting subject, particularly for their use in studies of gender, class, and ethnicity, will find Goldin has done important spade work for them. Others will probably want to read his two volumes in brightly lit rooms.
Last modified 8 October 2019