Monday, 7 January 2013

The Young Ardizzone

As I mentioned before Christmas (in the post from which I swiped this photo) I got a lovely Slightly Foxed edition of Edward Ardizzone's The Young Ardizzone (1970) from my Virago Secret Santa, and I took it away with me for my few days of indulgent reading at the end of 2012.  It was the first book I finished in 2013, and it amuses me that the year I found most elusive for A Century of Books was the first one I completed in 2013 - not that I'm doing that project this year.  BUT it is going on Reading Presently.  And what a lovely gift it was!  It is - but of course - wonderful.

There are lots of teenage girls out there who go mad for Justin Bieber, or young boys who idolise football players (I'm afraid I can't name any who weren't playing back in 1998).  In my own off-kilter way, I'm in danger of becoming a total fanboy for Slightly Foxed Editions.  They're just all good.  There are other reprint publishers I love, as you know, but I think these are the most consistently wonderful offerings.  No duds.  Excuse me while I put a photo of the editorial team on my wall.  Ahem.

Edward Ardizzone's childhood seems to have been rather unusual, where parenting is concerned.  He was born in 1900, in Tonkin, Vietnam, but moved to Suffolk, England when only five.  His father, however, stayed behind, moving around Asia - visiting England at intervals, moving his family around the country (for he was certainly still married to Ardizzone's mother, who spent four years out in Asia with him when Ardizzone was at boarding school) but playing minimal part in Ardizzone's childhood.  The chief figure was his tempestuous grandmother - Ardizzone often describes her going 'black in the face with rage', but adds that she 'was normally gay, witty and affectionate'.  More diverting relatives!  Lucky Ed.

I always love reading about people's childhoods, but I loved Ardizzone's more than most, because it   took place in East Bergholt.  I'd initially thought, flicking through the book, that only a chapter or two took place in East Bergholt - but he is, in fact, there for a few years.  It's the village where my grandparents lived for about 40 years, and Our Vicar's Wife was there for her final teenage years, so I know it pretty well.  I even recognise the house Ardizzone lived in from this little sketch.


A very lovely village it is too.  Here are some of his recollections:
Yet certain memories are with me still.  A particular picnic in a hayfield during haymaking; a fine summer afternoon in a cornfield when the stooks of corn became our wigwams.  A certain rutted lane with oak tree arching overhead and hedges so high that the lane looked like a green tunnel leading to the flats below.[...]Not far from the old parish church, with its strange bell cage planted down among the tombstones, was a round bounded on one side by a very high red brick wall.  Set in this wall was a small gothic door.  It was of wood and decorated with heavy iron studs.  Beside this door was a wrought-iron bell pull.
It's all quite simply told, but works well with the simple pictures.  The name Ardizzone meant nothing to me when I received the book, but I did recognise his illustrations - although I don't know where I encountered them - which are throughout the book as a delightful accompaniment.  I must confess, to my unlearned eyes his draughtsmanship is not the very finest, and the comparisons Huon Mallalieu's Preface makes with E.H. Shepard and Beatrix Potter seem a trifle generous.  But, even with those reservations, his illustrations enhance the memoir no end.  It is almost all done with lines and crosshatching, just a dot or two to suggest facial expressions.


Ardizzone didn't enjoy school greatly - there are some incidents of bullying which seem to me quite shocking, but he only really mentions them in passing, without any suggestion that they have scarred him for life.  And, indeed, his various school exploits take up most of the book - with plenty of cheerful moments, especially when describing respected schoolteachers.

I only wish Ardizzone hadn't whipped quite so quickly through the final section of his autobiography - where he explains (in three or four pages) his progression from being shown by the London Group, favourably reviewed at the Bloomsbury Gallery, commissioned to illustrate a Le Fanu collection, and finally a successful children's author/illustrator.  He rattles through it all at breakneck speed, which is a shame, as it sounds a fascinating period in his life.  So many autobiographers find their own childhood much more interesting than the rest of their life, and many of their readers would find everything interesting.  Oh well.  Mustn't grumble; I'll accept what Ardizzone has given us.  And what he is given us is rather lovely.


17 comments:

  1. I had no idea Edward Ardizzone had written an autobiography. I like his illustrations a lot, especially the Le Fanu set.

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    1. You'll definitely love this, then!

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  2. I am, of course, excited to read this because I also think that Slightly Foxed can do no wrong but I am especially excited because of the illustrations. I love illustrated books and, since I am no longer five, far too few of my books come with any pictures.

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    1. It is a pity that illustrations are often only thought of as for children's books. Folio do have some wonderful illustrators for their books (and some not so wonderful... the illustrator for Provincial Lady seemed to get the tone completely wrong, to my mind.)

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  3. I grew up with Ardizzone's 'Little Tim' books, so have been a fan for nearly half a century. You might also like his 'Sketches for Friends' which is full of letters and little drawings.

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    1. Thanks Helen, I'll keep an eye out for that!

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  4. The book looks lovely, Simon - I just love Ardizzone's drawings. I can see I will be popping out to East Bergholt to make a pilgrimage!!

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    1. Oh, you should! The house is on the main street, at the end of a terrace, so you should be able to find it...

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  5. Books always seem all the richer to me when they are tied to things familiar - as this location is for you. Sounds absolutely delightful -thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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  6. Do look for some of Edward Ardizzone's picture books. The one our kids and I enjoyed when they were little was called, I believe, Simon and the Red Paint. No, that wasn't quite it -- but Simon and Red Paint are definitely in the title. Glad you're enjoying your year of Reading Presently so far!

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    1. Simon in the title? I'm sold! Thanks Renata, I'll keep an eye out.

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  7. Edward Ardizzone was *brilliant*. His illustrations show up in the most unexpected places - I recently acquired a copy of Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster with his pictures. Who knew?! But the Little Tim books are my absolute favourites, and once you read/examine them you'll see where the glowing comparisons to Shepherd & Potter come from.

    What an expensive blog this potentially is, Simon! For me, anyway, because my must-buy list grows with every visit.

    By the way, while I'm thinking about it, what's all this about you having read Diana Tutton's "Mamma" & not reviewing it here?! I'd *love* to hear your take on that book. I've read a few short reviews and it sounded rather interesting, in a dark way. Is it worth tracking down? Would love to hear your opinions on it, especially in comparison to "Guard Your Daughters". (No pressure.) :-)

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    1. Haha! Yes, sorry about plunging you into debt...

      Oh, Tutton Tutton... maybe I will. I don't actually have a copy of Mamma, which makes it trickier - I had to read it in the library - and I'm waiting to see what Persephone decide about publishing them, or not, before I write about it I think...

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  8. It is funny that you should write about Ardizzone as I only just discovered his Little Tim books. I was whiling away time at the library supervising my daughter in the children's section when I stumbled across Tim and Charlotte in the new reader's section. Even though my daughter is 2 and most certainly not a 'new reader' I bought it home because it seemed I had found an author worth investigating further. Surprisingly it seemed to strike a chord with her though, because it was the book she requested be read to her everyday until the Christmas books rolled in. I am thinking some Little Tim books might be in order for her upcoming birthday.

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    1. Lovely! If it's a book you can read every day without hating it, then that's a fantastic recommendation :) How have I never heard of Little Tim?

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  9. What a wonderful post for the beginning of the year. Your words inspire me to read this book ..... thank you!

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