It's like the death of an era, finishing Literary Criticism. It's taken me months. I confess that I don't tend to spend a lot of time thinking about rituals of death. Embalming, burial rites, etc. -- these are all interesting in their way, but not something I devote a lot of mental space to. I have, however, always found the Victorian ritual of crafting corpse hair into decorative objects to be somewhat amazing, a feeling that is only increased by this week's Collector's Item:
Yes, indeed, that is hair. Not lace, not thread, but hair. In case you don't already know about this macabre Victorian custom, I am now very pleased to tell you that the Victorians used to collect hair from their dead relatives and weave it into attractive flowery wreaths. You can find out more at this page (click here); you can even buy more recent hair stuff from hair-workers today at sites such as this one (click here). Indeed, you can even follow in the footsteps of Jo from Little Women and sell your hair, if you're desperate (or curious): just click here!
I am sorry to say that I don't actually know whose hair was used to create the pretty little garland that we're selling, but it does seem to boast a variety of shades. It also -- unlike any other antique hair wreaths that I was able to unearth with ten minutes of internet research -- is adorned with jet beads, affixed to the whole by means of wires (sort of like hair themselves, really). (So many things in the world are like hair! This vaguely creepy thought will be dogging me for days now, I can tell.) For $125.00, you could own one of these astonishing items of craftsmanship -- rather lovely in an autumnal way, and it comes complete with a fabulous story that will bring you adulation at parties.
If you would prefer adulation from one bookstore staff person, then you might come in and tell me how to use one of my Favorite things around here:
I thought it might be an astrolabe, because I've never seen an astrolabe and in fact I wasn't entirely sure what exactly they were for; my initial image search made me doubt that assessment, but once I realized that there is such a thing as a spherical astrolabe, my doubts cleared. And then I spent far too long looking at pictures of neat astrolabes. Astrolabes were once widely used to figure out how the sky looks from any given place at any given time. Thus, the globe itself is stationary, while the outer lattice spins -- that lattice being marked with the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the months of the year. Because my temperament lends itself more to romance, occult ideas and strange fantasies than to science, I have dreams of purchasing this $60.00 item merely so I might set up a skylit workshop with stuffed alligators and bottles of mercury ... then sit around in medieval dress and spectacles, pretending to be an antique scholar. I could also write sonnets in a garret! Oooh ... I could crack my mirror from side to side! But really, this all shows that literature is my strong point. I'll leave the astrolabe for a scientist.
Strange fantasies are the byword of Virgil Finlay, whose work is compiled in this Affordable and Interesting portfolio:
Finlay was an incredibly prolific science fiction and fantasy illustrator earlier this century; his images -- drawn in a graceful, restrained, yet rather glorious and exuberant style -- decorated many of the pulp magazines and Ace doubles of bygone eras. This is simply a collection of his work, filled with statuesque men and women, chains of light, peculiar phenomena, and so on and so forth. (Also magical creatures -- speaking of which, there is a magnificent exhibit at the Field Museum right now that I highly recommend. It's comprehensive and beautiful and inspiring and I loved it. If you have even a passing interest in mythical creatures, please do yourself a favor and go see it.)
One of the nice things about our copy of this portfolio is that it previously belonged to a pulp collector, who carefully wrote in (below most of these pictures) where the image appeared first. For instance, this was for the 1940 edition of Austin Hall's The Rebel Soul:
$20.00 will gain this strange and wonderful collection, including the informative annotations. Dragons bound by chains of light have never been so reasonably priced!
Without Literary Criticism I feel somewhat bereft. I'll start another project soon, I think, but for now it's time for me to go home and relax. Have the best of evenings, dear readers, and do see that exhibit!