Posts Tagged Edgar Allan Poe

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

29 October 2011

Imagine that you wake up one morning, sit at your computer, and you are bombarded with links to a developing story from a major news outlet: Stephen Hawking, by making novel use of Cambridge University’s new quantum supercomputer to analyze data from SETI’s telescope array, has discerned that the universe is awash with signals from intelligent life. It reads like a regular science story, at first, but soon it is revealed that Hawking and his colleagues have tapped into an extra-terrestrial television transmission, and are even now watching, breathless, as the first, dream-like images of alien civilizations display themselves on the Q-computer’s tiny monitor.

You and your friends refresh your browsers compulsively, talking over each new description that emerges of strange alien races and the exotic landscapes they inhabit, as gleaned from upon the wacky sitcoms and low-budget reality shows that they are indiscriminately beaming into space. Then, questions are raised, skepticism emerges. You begin to have doubts. Eventually, you realize that you have been taken in by a clever hoax—you ought to have known better than to trust Fox News, after all—but despite the deception, you find that you cannot help but appreciate how, for one shining moment, people everywhere had set aside their petty rivalries and believed in marvels from above.

Such is how the people of New York City must have felt during the summer of 1835 when the New York Sun published a series of articles describing the startling lunar discoveries that had recently been made by the famous astronomer John Herschel from his observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. Using cutting-edge “hydro-oxygen magnifiers,” Herschel had developed a powerful new telescope that could achieve an astounding magnification of 42,000x—enough to resolve objects on the lunar surface as small as 18 inches in diameter—and project the images onto the wall of his observatory. Purporting to be a reprint from a supplement to the (non-existent) Edinburgh Journal of Science penned by Herschel’s assistant, Dr. Andrew Grant, it contained just the right mixture popular science buzzwords and technical minutia to render itself plausible.

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The Woodcuts of Fritz Eichenberg

14 October 2011

The Master at Work

It is difficult to conceive of an artistic medium more naturally suited to the Victorian Gothic than the woodcut, or a graver whose style so powerfully evokes the sinister and tempestuous spirit of the genre so well as Fritz Eichenberg. Distinctive for their dramatic composition and stagecraft, wild, curvilinear textures and darkly-hewn, agonizing characters, Eichenberg’s illustrations are featured in the work of the Brontë sisters and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and a laundry list of other classic writers distinguished for exploring themes of social injustice, spiritual conflict and emotional turmoil.

Born in Cologne in 1901, his Jewish descent and outspoken opposition to the rising Nazi movement obliged him to emigrate to America in 1933, where he went on to work with such publishers as the Limited Editions and Heritage Club. While German and British aircraft were dueling over the skies of London, he was illustrating what may be the definitive editions of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre: an elegant, two-volume set designed by Richard Ellis and issued by Random House in 1943.

In the novels of Emily and Charlotte, he found characters that seemed to “come straight out of Dostoevsky—with a British accent.” The authoresses own tragic stories, he moreover remarked, endowed the novels with “dramatic impact and shocking authenticity.” He took particular inspiration in the “somber,” “haunted” landscape of Brontë country, which Emily featured to greatest effect in Wuthering Heights, with its two lonely manor houses set upon her beloved moors. 

Wuthering Heights

 

 

 

 

In the introduction to Eichenberg’s retrospective, The Wood and the Graver, Alan Fern wrote:

It is given to only a few illustrators to create images that so exactly suit the text with which they are working that their pictures fuse with the author’s words. Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland is one of these rare cases. Eichenberg’s Wuthering Heights may possibly be another. Having seen his Heathcliff, I, at least, cannot imagine him any other way.

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