Writers in covers: D H Lawrence

D H Lawrence in Penguin paperbacks

The jury is out these days on D H Lawrence, and yet he was as much a part of the Swinging Sixties as Mary Quant or Christine Keeler, and it’s quite entertaining to see them in the same sentence. Rightly so it would seem, as there are those who think the trial over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover kickstarted the sexual revolution of the coming decade.

There’s no doubt he chimed with the sixties’ moves towards liberation and would presumably have found an ideal home in the beardy and basic drawings of Dr Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex. And Oliver Reed and Alan Bates’ naked wrestling in the 1968 film of Women in Love put him again in the front line of changing attitudes. Thinking he was able to write about a woman’s feelings was his downfall, but it can’t be denied he was ahead of his time, and even if a little barking mad, had a genuine, fully realised moment, which the Penguin paperbacks here reflect.

Sons and Lovers and The Virgin and the Gypsy were also filmed, the photographic stills above using an idealised ‘natural’ beauty so prevalent for book covers around 1970, just a step ahead of a shampoo advert. The illustrated versions are by Yvonne Gilbert (who gained a little more fame in the eighties for her racier work for the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which you might guess from The Prussian Officer) and date from the late 1970s.

The move from an advertiser’s style of photography to illustration is interesting here… before it, in the early sixties, stylised artwork was prevalent, and after it, almost hyper-real illustration gave way to the use of imagery chosen with Merchant Ivory-style attention to period detail in the eighties.

My favourite is The Trespasser, for the lovely typography (excepting the full stops) and what they do with the W, and the enigmatic, half-shadowed figure in a full summer’s meadow.

Strange phenomena and Arthurian legend

Clearly I’ve been called to celebrate the work of Yvonne Gilbert, who I’d never heard of until Sunday when I posted one of her illustrations from Richard Adams’ The Iron Wolf. I jest, but rifling through a drawer tonight I came across an envelope stuffed with old postcards, and found this stamp set dated 1985. Thinking they looked a bit familiar, I found the credit for the illustrator… and then there was the link in the story about the Holy Grail brought to England in a ship too. Perfect…

These aren’t quite as striking as the image of Christ on the cross (there’s just a hint of something about the models that places them in the middle of the 1980s) but that doesn’t detract from the landscape or the depth of the fluid, updated Pre-Raphaelite realism. I love the fact that the legend was part of the everyday, throwaway world for a moment too.

Sir Galahad - Yvonne Gilbert

Guinevere and Lancelot - Yvonne Gilbert

Lady of the Lake - Yvonne Gilbert

Arthur and Merlin - Yvonne Gilbert

The journey of Robin Redbreast

More wonderful illustration from the late 1970s, or 1980 to be precise, found in a bookshop not long ago. The artist is Yvonne Gilbert and this is from Richard Adams’ The Iron Wolf and other stories, a collection of folk tales in which the narrator is never revealed, and most are deeply colloquial, with natural storytelling. This particular tale explains how the robin got his red breast: stained with the blood from Christ’s crown of thorns, while trying to remove the briars with his beak.

The Robin - Yvonne Gilbert (from The Iron Wolf)

In the Middle Ages people used to believe that they [Longinus and Joseph of Arimathea] sailed together to England, and that with them they brought three things: a piece of the cross, the spear with which Longinus had pierced Jesus’s side after he died, and the Holy Grail – the cup which Jesus had blessed at the Last Supper. The legend says that the piece of the cross was planted at Glastonbury in Somerset, and from it sprung up the holy Glastonbury thorn, which was believed to bloom at midnight on Christmas Eve. The Grail was mysteriously received into heaven, but later was revealed to three of King Arthur’s knights – Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival – and what became of the spear I don’t remember to have heard.

But the robin came to England too. Longinus had become so fond of him and his red breast that he made him a little cage and he sailed with them on the ship. And when they reached England they let him go. And ever since then he’s lived near people’s houses and brought them good luck.

From The Iron Wolf and other stories, Richard Adams (Allen Lane)