The Folio Society (FS) produces some of the finest limited edition books in the world today, as well as some of the nicest ‘standard’ editions for the past seventy years. One of their latest limited edition’s, also one of their quickest to ever sell out, is a 1,000 copy limited edition of Voltaire’s Candide, specially commissioned with illustrations by Quintin Blake and an introduction by Julian Barnes.
There has been much chatter in the various book discussion forums (such as Library Thing’s Folio Society Devotees group), around whether Blake’s style is one that is appropriate for Candide. In short, many feel he is good for children’s books (he is most famous for his long collaboration with Roald Dahl), but question whether the style works for a book of this substance. Others say his style is perfect for it. As stated by The Folio Society:
Quentin Blake is one of the world’s greatest living illustrators. His style is instantly recognisable – it combines an appearance of effortless immediacy with a precision of line that manages to capture character, mood and expression with just a few strokes of the pen. Who could be more fitting to illustrate the great satirical comedy of French literature? Just as Voltaire manages to make the report of a wartime atrocity both funny and agonising, so Blake’s pictures capture a world at once comic and horrific.
This edition contains 18 full-page colour illustrations and nearly 30 pen and ink drawings by Blake. On the surface, visually I like the watercolor. I also understand FS, when they link Voltaire’s almost sardonic, comedic style with Blake’s own artistic style. Though my preferred style of illustration (or art in general, for that matter) is more classical in nature than Blake’s more modern, scribbly style, I am not ready to venture my own opinion here until I read the book to see how well it fits the mood. I have read Candide before (many years ago), but I believe real criticism of a books illustrations should only come after immersing yourself in the work and seeing how much of an emotional or intellectual connection the illustrations add. Here are some photo’s of his work in Candide, you can form your own initial opinion. <Ed. Note: I know am a huge fan of Blake’s illustrations in this edition.>
As FS states on their website, Voltaire was the greatest of French Enlightenment writers – a historian, poet, playwright, scientist and philosopher. Candide is his most famous and popular work, and is considered a significant part of the Western Canon. It was written sometime in the late 1750’s. His intent was to “”bring amusement to a small number of men of wit”. His satire runs deep, targeting religion, societal class structures, intolerance, colonialism, philosophy itself, and about everything else that pervaded society is his day. As such, secular and religious authorities hated the work and banned it wherever they could. He was an advocate for civil liberties and his ideas were reasonably influential in the American and French revolutions. I will wait to give my review of Candide itself until I get a chance to re-read it.
The translation used is by Tobias Smollett, done in the 1760’s and generally considered one of the best translations of Candide. Other features of the book, from FS’s website include:
- Signed and numbered by the artist.
- Bound in burgundy full Nigerian goatskin leather.
- Blocked in gold foil in a design by the artist.
- Top edge gilding.
- Printed on Modigliani Insize Neve paper by Grammlich, Pliezhausen, Germany.
- Binding by Beltz Fine Books, Bad Langensalza, Germany
- Typeset in Garamond
- 208 pages.
- Size:10¼” × 8½”.
- Presented in a rigid slipcase blocked in gold foil.
I will say the cover is ultrasoft as are the pages (which feel thick, soft and rich), both of which are very high quality. I love the ‘new’ smell of the leather and the pages. Here are some other photo’s of the FS Candide.
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