Look what came in the mail the other day! Hope Mirrlees's other great work (the one that's not Lud-in-the-Mist) -- Paris, a Poem. This small press limited edition folio hardcover is only the fourth publication ever of what Julia Briggs called "modernism's lost masterpiece," the second independent edition (the first was the chapbook published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf), the third unbowdlerized publication (it was reprinted in The Virginia Woolf Quarterly in the early 1970s with all the blasphemous bits edited out or rewritten by the author, who had converted to Catholicism), and the only independent hardcover.
This letterpress edition is also, as you might guess, on the pricey side. A copy of it will set you back $375, plus shipping. It's clearly aimed at the collectors market. And, yes, it is beautiful, a pleasure to hold and a joy to read.
If you're interested, you can find it on AbeBooks.com Contrary to what its entry says, the book is a folio not a quarto and there are still forty available copies out of an edition of fifty. (Apparently, there are a few bugs in the listing program.)
What is the poem about? Well, I've just written a review of it which attempted to answer that very question as succinctly as possible, and it came to ten typewritten pages. But in essence, Paris, a Poem is:
1. A daylong journey (the day being specifically May 1, 1919) through Paris which ambitiously attempts to encapsulate the city, its culture, its past, and its then present-day moment in a 600-line poem.
2. A recapitulation of the Eleusinian Mysteries employing a myth of Mirrlees's own invention, a year-struggle between two virgins, Mary and the moon, representing the conflict between paganism and the Catholic Church.
3. A love poem of clandestine lesbian passion. This last is mostly encoded, and you have to dig deep, but it's there.
After its original publication, Paris, a Poem fell into obscurity for almost ninety years before being championed by the late Julia Briggs. The appearance of this edition is one in a series of events marking the ongoing restoration of Hope Mirrlees to her proper place in the Republic of Letters.
And I want to thank . . .
Yesterday I posted a request for suggestions of places to visit in China and Andrew, David Stone, and Bruce all came through with thoughtful (and, even better, useful) posts. My thanks to all three. You guys are great.
Now to ponder their ideas and the train schedules.