Monday, November 09, 2009

Acquisitions: Dali's As You Like It

You don't get a cover image for this one, and that's probably the only reason I got this book. This weekend, the Lake Agassiz Regional Library had one of their book sales,and we arrived at opening time — which, we knew, meant we were competing with book dealers, book collectors, and frugal packrats (of which we could be considered any of the above). The sale was in the basement, in a poorly-vented windowless room, making it claustrophobic, hot, and everybody seemed ruder than I would have usually expected. Considering how rude some of the local book dealers are on an average day, it wasn't the kind of fun book-browsing shopping trip we usually enjoy. In that first hour, you need to grab what you can, as soon as you can, because if it's that good, you're not going to see it again.

This book, one of its illustrations at the right, is in a very plain library binding, a few generic gold-leaf feathers on the front, and the spine says just As You Like It. In fact, the spine is printed upside-down; if shelved with the text the same direction as the books around it, the front is on the wrong side. Generic Shakespeare play, unimpressive binding, stains on the cover, it's no wonder it had been passed over. Inside, however, is why this is was such a find, and completely worth it all — and the book's introduction explains it all:
Imagine someone picking up this edition of As You Like It: he reads the words 'Folio Society': Folio — the word conjures up ancient manuscripts…of Shakespeare played in Shakespeare's way: he opens the book, there are designs by Salvador Dali, the notorious surrealist: one who is famous for his intimate knowledge of the anatomy of spiders but not for his interest in the structure of the sixteenth-century playhouse.
This is pretty much how my experience went. "Ah, Shakespeare…Folio Society, nicely typeset—wait, Salvador Dali?!?" In the 1940s, Dali was closely involved in the theatre, designing costumes and sets for operas and plays. In 1948, for the Teatro Eliseo in Rome, Dali designed costumes for Shakespeare's As You Like It. In 1953, The Folio Society produced combined the New Temple Shakespeare edition of the play with Dali's sketches of costumes and backdrops. My edition is the third printing, from 1965, but both D and I are Dali fans, and I haven't seen these designs before. The first printing is quite valuable, and ours is a little beat up, but from the start this was intended to go on my Shakespeare shelf and the interior is excellent: it is to my advantage that, rather than the quick dash-and-grab through the library book sale like the dealers and collectors, I stopped to open the cover and look closely at the book's contents, despite rude elbows and invasion of my personal space.

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