Affairs of a Painter by Icilio Federico Joni

This must be a fascinating read. Written in 1932 and savagely censored in the process, it is the story of a forger so highly regarded that there is a collecting demand for his work, not to mention forgeries of the forgeries. Be careful you are really being offered a Joni if you are in the market for one!

The censorship was due to his telling the truth about how the forging industry in Italy was run, embarrassing no few people in the process, I dare say. What you won’t see in it is the honest truth of the involvement of the (in)famous forgery detector Bernard Berenson. You can read more about this in the NYT report accompanying a modern reprint here. In particular it explains why the 1936 first English edition is so rare:

In the early 1930s Joni revealed his intention to publish his life story; a group of Italian antique dealers got together and offered him a substantial sum to desist, but he went ahead regardless. When the English version, entitled “The Affairs of a Painter,” came out in 1936, it was cut in several places, and Berenson’s name did not once appear in the text. The book vanished with remarkable rapidity from sale, very likely, according to Mazzoni, because Berenson’s colleague Joseph Duveen managed to purchase and destroy most of the copies.

For more on this story, there is also the blog article Famous Fake Friday: Icilio Federico Joni


Elizabeth Backhouse

My ignorance continues to fill these pages.

Sand on a Gumshoe – A Century of Australian crime writing says of her:

Elizabeth Backhouse wrote six mysteries, most of which featured Western Australian police detectives, Detective-Inspector Prentis and Detective Sergeant Landles. Death of a Clown (London, Robert Hale, 1962) is set in a circus troupe visiting Carnarvon while Death Climbs a Hill (London, Robert Hale, 1963) occurs in the Western Australian bush. The Mists Came Down (London, Robert Hale, 1959) takes place on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth.

This is the one notable Backhouse novel which does not involve Inspector Prentis. The hero, Steve Gillman, is an American private eye who, together with a very stylised portrait of a misty island retreat, creates an interesting mix of old and new world approaches. There is nothing hard-boiled about The Mist Came Down, and neither is Gillman a sap-wielding Sam Spade. Rather, he is a thoughtful, intelligent hero in the English tradition, who solves a murder in a closed community with a measured calm that came to typify later Backhouse efforts.

This was, however, by no means all there is to Backhouse’s writing work. She was born 1917 in Northam, WA, served in WWII with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and then wrote scripts for Korda films before returning to Australia in 1951. Her diverse work included children’s stories, plays, a ballet and a musical. She died in April 2013.

I was curious to find out more about her Korda film experiences, but could find no acknowledgement of her online in this regard. Much later she did the screenplay for The Olive Tree, a 1975 WA movie which has its bare bones recorded on IMDB.

What does exist, and we have the Australian Women’s Register to thank for this, is a long recorded interview, which is available in transcript, but unfortunately not online. This is a real pity, one can only hope that at some point all this wonderful material will be readily accessible. For now, from the summary of contents of the 29 reels, we discover:

Backhouse speaks of her life and achievements as a writer of novels, children’s stories, plays, filmscripts, a ballet and a musical. She describes her family background; attempted rape; early writing; mother’s inability to show affection; secretarial studies; writing poetry; enlisting in WAAAF; writing Against Time and Place; ideas for books; having books published; The Iron Horse; Enone and Quentin; reviews; themes; In Our Hands; C.H. Pitman; living in England in 1940s; encouragement to write detective novels; working at Korda Films with Paul Vincent Carroll, Leslie Arliss; working for American film-maker Slessor; European travels; writing thrillers, methodology, characterisation; book covers; nursing ill father; living with her mother after his death; rejected novels; The Fourth Picture; The Thin Line; Mirage, and its adaption to film; working as a co-producer; Freemasonry; writing for radio; Kal; Rosie Fishman; Dickens’ Magic; A History of Masonry; Windmill in the Sky; writing and clarity; unpublished works; aborted film Cry of the Gulls; Sparrows in the Square; The Fishbowl; Tune on a Samisen; The Young Vagabonds; musical composition; sponsoring children; painting; relationships with men; Muriel Wenborne-Haynes; her clothing shops; writing income. The Australian Women’s Register

I note, further, the forlorn message left on a blog review of one of her books, it must have been just before her death, being dated 24 April 2013:

Nice to see something online. The author is my grandfathers sister my ‘Áunt Elizabeth’. She is in a nursing home now; my mother takes care of her as she never married nor had children and has recently taken a turn for the worse. Her contributions to the literary world and the air force during the war are remarkable.

And yet, even in this age of online, eternally available information – even leaving oneself all those words – one passes from this world all but unnoticed. There is an online obituary available, but only if somebody is willing to pay the price to have it accessible. And apparently nobody is.

Who is Josephine Margaret Bagot? nee Barritt

Her story of typical of its period – young girl, loved writing, but her stories were rejected in her teenage years. In 1908 at age 19, she married Walter Hervey Bagot, grandchild of Sir Henry Ayers and lived the life one would expect of an upperclass lady married to a prominent Adelaide architect. She travelled a lot and continued to write, but only for her private amusement. After her death at 55, her husband collected together some of her writings for private circulation.

The volume we have is inscribed by her husband, whose influence can be seen all over Adelaide, including the Bonython Hall and St Peter’s Cathedral.

The first Richard Hughes

You might have seen the ABC program a couple of years ago about this rather interesting family. Working backwards there is Christa Hughes (Machine Gun Fellatio), the jazz musician Dick, Richard Hughes upon whom both James Bond and a le Carre character is based, and then, Richard Hughes senior who was a notable ventriloquist in his day. I discovered all this when listing one of his books on ventriloquism – they seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth now.

For more on the family try You Only Live Twice and Spies with the write stuff

Why do newspaper headlines have this addiction to corny puns???? And is it, as somebody suggested to me recently, only an Australian thing?

Who is John Galt?

No, not that John Galt, the Rand craze-about-town.

I’m talking about the John Galt, Scottish writer of Lawrie Todd, a tale of early Canadian settlers which I happen to be listing. A prolific writer, whose works include the first major study of Byron whom he knew well, he was also a traveller, explorer, entreupreneur, establishing towns in Canada – his name is remembered in various ways there and in Scotland. Indeed although he returned to Scotland, his sons became important figures in Canadian politics. The wiki entry looks quite reliable as wiki goes, if you want more detail.

In a program on the BBC ‘Reformers and radicals in Scottish literature’, Carl MacDougall comments that:

Galt was the first writer to show the effects of the burgeoning industrial revolution, making him the first political novelist in the English language, and though his reputation has been overshadowed by Scott and Hogg, he is now recognised as one of the great writers of the age.

Another notable historical and literary figure I’ve never heard of, another for my ‘to read’ shelf.

HE Kugelmann A 19th century Herbalist.

This is one of the fascinating unusual items we’ve been preparing for our latest list:

Kugleman's soap
Kugleman’s soap

Kugleman's soap

Kugelmann, Mr. H.E., Consulting Herbal Practitioner

Instructions on Diet, Exercise, Bathing, Sleeping, Etc., Including Hygienic Recipes ‘Pocket Guide’ on Cover. (Melbourne and Adelaide: Australian Head Office, Consulting Chambers and Warehouse 311 and 312 Flinders Street, Melbourne, Vic., and Torrens Chambers, Victoria Square, Adelaide: no date) Pencilled date of 29.8.79 on rear fixed endpaper. Not in Ford, who notes that the Author appears in Bruck’s ‘List of Unregistered Med. Practitoners’ (1886). Decorated boards pp. 80 (140 x 90 mm). On the title page H.E. Kugelmann describes himself as ‘Inventor of the Standard Herbal Magnetic Remedies’. On p. 80 the book shows that he gave consultations on a two-monthly basis in Adelaide and South Australian Country Towns as well as in NSW, and every sixteen weeks at Brisbane and Toowoomba, Queensland. A subject of fierce attack from the Medical Establishment.

Looking around the web, I found this page which gives more of the story of this 19th century medicinal man and his family.

An ad from the Sydney Mail of February 6, 1897, as well as providing a detailed testimonial from Mr WT Franks, whose wife was saved by Kugelmann’s treatment proudly states that Kugelmann possesses the power to tell his Patients what is the matter with them without being informed of the nature of the Disease.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising, then, that the business is still going and there is a short page on its history here too. it is the source of the pictures on this post.

I especially like this ad from a 1901 Brisbane newspaper:

“Mr. H.E.Kugelmann, of 15 Bridge Street, Sydney, and 14-16 Queen Street, Melbourne, and who has visited Brisbane regularly for nine years, wishes to intimate that owing to his Practice increasing so largely, and to insufficient accommodation at Gresham Hotel, his Brisbane consultations will next week, and in future, be conducted at The Commonwealth Buildings, Adelaide Street, corner Albert Street, Brisbane. Consultations free on all Chronic and supposed to be Incurable Diseases next week …. and about every sixteenth week thereafter. Also at the following Provincial Towns on dates named, and thereafter at regular intervals, as usual, of about sixteen weeks…”

It was headed “DON’T DIE!”

My sentiments exactly, Mr Kugelmann….

One can only suppose that a man of his profession and ambition must have lived an interesting – and perhaps even precarious – life? Prior to WWI he acquired a Murray river property that had been Dame Nelli Melba’s, leading to the following WWI story:

The Kugelmann case was bizarre from beginning to end. South Australian born, Kugelmann had moved to Melbourne where his professional life first attracted attention. He was a famous herbalist: after all, what concoctions could a herbalist produce to poison Melbourne’s water supply? In 1912, Kugelmann had purchased the Gooramadda estate on the banks of the Murray River. The previous owner had been content to let neighbours hunt on the estate or cross it to swim in the Murray River, but not Kugelmann. Perhaps he wished to protect the irrigation plant he built after buying the estate: perhaps he lacked the broad tolerance of the estate’s previous owner when it came to the recreational pursuits of his neighbours. With the outbreak of war, however, Kugelmann’s anti-social nature and the power plant meant only one thing — disloyalty. The plant was being used to send wireless signals to submarines lurking off the Australian coast: the estate was being used to store arms for the Germans at Walla Walla (‘many mysterious heavy cases’ had been delivered to the estate); and it housed a field gun to be used for shelling the railway line. No less than four official complaints were made, one by an area militia officer, the other three by a neighbour, F W D Kelly. The police investigated the charges and Intelligence even sent one of their own in 1918. They found nothing beyond an irrigation plant doing what it was supposed to do and an employee, a German national, who became decidedly ‘antibritish’ when he had had a few too many. The investigating officer reported, Kugelmann ‘apparently does not bear the reputation of being disloyal in this district’. He added almost wistfully, ‘but at the same time there is a good deal of suspicion’.15 If the defence department had been relying on the local police and Kelly to intern the herbalist they were sorely disappointed. German Australians in Rural Society 1914-1918 John McQuilton

Not to mention the odd law suit. The infamous rag ‘The Truth’ took a stab at discrediting him which resulted in a highly publicised libel suit by Kugelmann against John Norton and the paper. You can see many references to it and other Kuglemann stories by going to the NLA’s online newspaper site here. The last report I found saw the jury dismissed after failing to come to agreement. One can observe that the case seems to have done neither The Truth nor Kugelmann any damage. Any advertising…as they say.

Netta Syrett: working by stealth from within.

Netta Syrett is one of those writers who, despite having published many books, becomes unfashionable and thence ‘forgotten’.

She did work as a teacher as well as a writer until, quoting from wiki:

Syrett’s first novel, Nobody’s Fault (1896), was published by The Bodley Head in their Keynote series. Her writing and teaching careers coincided until 1902, when her play The Finding of Nancy received negative attention after Clement Scott, writing for the Daily Telegraph (9 May 1902), insinuated that the play was thinly disguised autobiography. Syrett was asked to resign her teaching position after a student’s mother read Scott’s review. By that time, novel writing had become for her “a sure thing” and Syrett continued to turn out a novel per year until retiring in 1939.

That’s an awful lot of writing now so completely ignored that on, I notice that although a few of her books are listed, there is not one review or rating of them. Syrett was the first to acknowledge this process:

At the end of her autobiography, The Sheltering Tree (1939), New Woman author Netta Syrett questions the legacy of her writing. She states matter-of-factly, “I have no illusions about the importance of my work. In a few years, or even less, everything I have written will be as dead as the dodo. Already my novels are being swamped by those of the beginners in the art of fiction, who in their turn are destined to be superseded by children now at the nursery” New Woman Fiction

But surely, aside from the general feminist attempts to regenerate interest in the female authors of this period, the fact that Syrett’s genteel books written for conservative middle-class audiences are nonetheless chockablock with homosexual characters affords her some chance of attention now. For more on this see Netta Goldsmith’s article on the Lesbian Heroine of Syrett’s work.

The amazing thing about Syrett is not only that she did what a lot of writers like Woolfe weren’t willing to – risk the social and legal difficulties that could arise from this – but she wrote about lesbians in a context of happiness, which somewhat later Patricia Highsmith still wasn’t permitted to do in public. Her novels were simply of a type where she could add these characters without the least issue from the reviewer or the reader. As if it were some sort of Svengali effect where her novels were so nice that nobody could see the wood for the trees.