The Look of Mystery: Anna Katharine Green and Victor Perard

This week, as the MOOC launches, I’ve been putting together a lecture for Unit 3 on The Forsaken Inn, a historical mystery novel by Anna Katharine Green, the “mother of detective fiction,” as she’s been called by her biographer (among others). I’ll be filming the lecture in the University of Virginia’s Special Collections library, which owns a first edition of the novel (New York: Robert Bonner’s Sons, 1890)–unfortunately without the original illustrated wrappers (in other words, the paper cover that went around the cloth). As I’ve learned, though, we also own the first paperback edition, published the same year and including a nice reproduction of the wraps, so I’ll be able to present the book in something like the form known to its first readers.

Victor Perard, “Coffee at One Cent,” from Jacob Riis, “How the Other Half Lives” (1890). Courtesy of authentichistory.com

 What’s really exquisite about The Forsaken Inn are the pen-and-ink drawings by Victor Perard, a little-studied but long-lived and internationally known Parisian emigre. Perard was a prolific illustrator of fiction and nonfiction of all varieties over the last few decades of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Pulp fiction, anatomy textbooks, drawing manuals: he illustrated anything and everything, and with an intricate attention to the details of story–often ghoulish details, in the case of Green’s novels. I’ve been able to find out just a little bit about him (from old volumes of Who’s Who in American Art and other sources), though there could be some standard study of him I don’t know about. He graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, showed quite a bit in North America, and by 1931 was an instructor in drawing at Cooper Union in New York. His anatomy and drawing textbooks have been reprinted a number of times over the years (I’m assuming this 1955 textbook was his and not his son’s, though I don’t know for sure), and his drawings appeared in any number of fascinating collections over the years, including How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (1890), an enthralling collection of photographs and drawings of Manhattan tenement housing at the turn of the century accompanied by a critical text by Joseph Riis. I’ll post photographs of some of the plates from The Forsaken Inn once I have good shots (and permission from the library). For now enjoy this drawing from How the Other Half Lives, “Coffee at One Cent,” a pen-and-ink drawing of a penny coffee stand in nineteenth-century Manhattan (shared courtesy of authentichistory.com).

 

 

14 comments on “The Look of Mystery: Anna Katharine Green and Victor Perard

  1. Betty Gaddam on said:

    Am really looking forward to this class! And these asides to the course should prove interesting, too.

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Thank you, Betty. I just recorded the Green lecture today–fascinating material, and I hope the students enjoy looking through the first editions as much as I did filming with them!

  2. Chris Bloom on said:

    And when you click on the picture you are taken to a site full of wonderful photos and illustrations. I’ll be sure to save those for future reference. Thanks for posting the Coffee at one Cent photo. I have an illustrated Kindle edition of The Forsaken Inn–haven’t started it yet though.

  3. Linda Phipps on said:

    Downloaded The Forsaken Inn to my Kindle and finished it over the weekend. I’m looking forward to the lecture and discussion. (I actually expected a twist at the end; didn’t get it, but enjoyed it!)

  4. Marilynne McKay on said:

    Was Victor Perard a frequent illustrator for AKG’s novels? Was he involved with any of her other series characters besides Gryce (e.g. Violet Strange or Amelia Butterworth)? I’m recalling how Sidney Paget’s illustrations for Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” series in the Strand magazine almost defined the character, even though there were different illustrators for non-Strand publications (Frederick Dorr Steele in the US, for example).
    It will be fun to see the first editions!

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      That is a great question! I assume other of Greene’s novels are available on Gutenberg, and at least for The Forsaken Inn you can see digital reproductions of Perard’s drawings and engravings–so it should be easy enough to find out.

  5. Ivair Angonio Gomes on said:

    Hi, i am in your class. It is dificult for me. But not impossible. I dont have english language. But course is MARAVILHOSO! Congratulations!

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Thanks very much Ivair. Where are you located? Glad it isn’t too, too difficult, and I hope you’ll stick around.

  6. b. hickey on said:

    Thank you for the quality of this course and the content!
    When you are handling the first editions of books why are you not wearing gloves?

  7. Your reference to the illustrations was a great addition to the text. Unfortunately, illustrations of the quality in The Forsaken Inn seem to be a thing of the distant past, but it is wonderful to have a window into this rich world of imagination.

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Agreed for the most part, though there are still some wonderful illustrators out there–but not in this genre any longer, I’m afraid.

  8. I am a Nigerian in your class and I’ve loved the course from the beginning. Still hanging on, I’ve just finished reading ‘The Ghost Bride and Year of Wonders, I read The Forsaken Inn a few days ago and about to to start ‘The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane’. I love this course and it’s really been an eye opener for me, especially the question and answers session with the Authors. Thank you very much.

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