A Look at Folio Works of the Yolla Bolly Press, Part 1: The Man Who Died, aka ‘The Escaped Cock’, by D.H. Lawrence

{Ed. Note:  As I consider Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl a treasure trove of knowledge on fine press books, I asked him for “more, more” after his article on Allen Press.  Below is his response.  I have decided to break it into multiple parts. Part one introduces you to the Yolla Bolly Press and also highlights their publication of D.H. Lawrence’s The Man Who Died. Subsequent installments will follow over the coming days with a look at three other of their marvelous publications.}

Introduction to Yolla Bolly Press

In my continuing quest to deplete your net worth, I am now going to introduce you to another obscure private press that is all but forgotten — one you have almost surely never heard of.  If you have been enjoying your initial foray into the body of work from the Allen Press then this will be of great interest to you. Ironically, there are many parallels and similarities between this press and the Allen Press.  And that private press is… The Yolla Bolly Press.

Who??  What??

Trust me on this one.  The Yolla Press was the brainchild and work of another northern California husband and wife team, Carolyn and James Robertson, similar to Lewis and Dorothy Allen of the Allen Press.  Interestingly, their publishing careers paralleled the path of the Allen’s.  They began as printers for other entities (from 1974 to 1983), focusing their attention on publishing educational material for pre-school children.  They had a close relationship with the Sierra Book Club and helped develop the Sierra Club’s children’s book program.   The Allen’s began their publishing careers by publishing commissions from the Book Club of California before going their own way.  In 1983, the Robertson’s did likewise and began publishing fine press books of their own choosing using letterpress technique; books of exceptional quality, aided by a skilled pressman named Aaron Johnson.  Many of their books are smaller editions of authors and topics that were of interest and importance to them.   However, they also had their own ‘Great Folio Series’ and published six folio-sized books of extraordinary quality.  They are:

(note: asterisked books to be reviewed in this and subsequent posts):

1. The Man Who Died*, aka ‘The Escaped Cock‘, by D.H. Lawrence  
2. Theseus by Andre Gide
3. The Winged Life* – The Poetic Vision of Henry David Thoreau
4. My First Summer in the Sierra* by John Muir
5. One of the Missing* – Tales of War Between the States by Ambrose Bierce
6. Bread of Days , translated by Samuel Beckett with an introduction and comments by Octavio Paz.

‘Yolla’ and ‘Bolly’ are Native American words which roughly translate as “white mountains to the north”, referring to the 40-acre area of wilderness in which their barn-like printing facility was located.  The Yolla Bolly Press operated in a remote region of northern California deep in the Coast Range Mountains, several miles from the small town of Covelo.  From what I can surmise, the Robertson’s were very involved and concerned with issues revolving around environmentalism, quality of life, and man’s/woman’s place in the universe. Their liberal and humanistic bent drove the selection of books they decided to print.  The press operated much as a family or commune, and the Robertson’s and their small staff were unified in their vision of producing forward-thinking books of uncompromising quality.  Unfortunately, just as they were hitting their stride, James Robertson suffered a devastating stroke and died in November 2001 at the age of 66 .  Subsequently, they published the book they were working on at that time, Loren Eisley’s The inner Galaxy,  but never published another volume after James Robertson’s untimely death.  They still maintain an active website and sell the remaining volumes of prior publications but are no longer actively publishing new titles.

The quality of materials, book design and workmanship in their six folio editions are the equal of anything you will have seen to date, aside from a few of the most expensive Limited Editions Club titles.  Typically, they sell from $900 to $2500 on AbeBooks, depending on the condition of the book and whether it is the deluxe edition of the printing.  They are all highly recommended. You and your offspring’s college education funds will curse me for this but your private press collection will thank me many times over.

{Ed. Note: I would encourage you also to review what works are still available on Yolla Bolly’s website, as they have a handful of other outstanding works not mentioned in this article, at a variety of prices. I had a chance to talk to Carolyn Robertson a few days ago, which was a real pleasure, and I look forward to owning some of their books.}

The Man Who Died, by D.H. Lawrence

Also known as The Escaped Cock, the title preferred by Lawrence,  this novella is a parable about a man who represents Jesus Christ.   Briefly, it is satirical and blasphemous, expressing Lawrence’s contempt for the sexual repression Christianity had come to represent.   Following World War I, the emphasis in Christianity was entirely on the darker aspects — the crucifixion, death and suffering, to the detriment and exclusion of the joys and pleasurable aspects of life, especially its sexual and physical aspects.  Upon his resurrection from the dead, this man encounters a farmer giving chase to a rooster who will not perform as the farmer  desires and has broken free from his restraints.  The bird’s struggle to escape the farmer’s tether symbolizes freedom and a lust for life,  It is a resurrection of sorts except that it is a physical rather than a spiritual resurrection.

This man (Jesus) is hardly an heroic figure.  He is eager to live a life entirely counter to the values he had been preaching to men prior to his crucifixion and he sees the rooster (which he helps the farmer recapture) as a symbol of his plight — trapped and defined by others expectations as to how he should perform and act.  Jesus now travels to Egypt where he is seduced by a follower of the goddess Isis.  There is a sexual encounter in which Lawrence expounds upon his concept of full body resurrection.  Jesus thereafter encounters some Roman soldiers but escapes, leaving behind a slave boy who is mistaken for Jesus and captured in his place.  Jesus then pursues a physical rather than a spiritual life with additional sexual adventures/misadventures. On the face of it this  fable is silly and contrived, but it nevertheless demonstrates how Lawrence believed Christianity had tethered man and separated him from his physical and sexual nature.

About the Edition

  • Printed in 1992
  • 15″ height x 10 3/4″ width
  • This is an edition of 130 copies of which 100 were offered for sale
  • This is one of 85 copies bound in Japanese cotton over boards with a crucifix embossed onto the front cover, then enclosed in a slipcase of grey linen
  • 35 copies (30 for sale) were bound in full vellum by Renee Menge, along with a suite of unbound signed prints, and enclosed in box made of bay laurel and cedar woods
  • 10 copies were unsigned and unbound, reserved for sale to bookbinders
  • The illustrations were drawn and cut in wood by Leonard Baskin
  • Composed in Bembo types
  • Text and illustrations were printed by Aaron Johnson at the Press, using mould-formed Somerset paper, imported from England
  • Endsheets handmade at the Twinrocker Paper Mill in Brookston, Indiana
  • The novella is followed with a commentary by John Fowles
  • Signed by Baskin and Fowles

Pictures

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Cloth-covered slipcase
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Slipcase with Label
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Front cover with embossed crucifix, nubby cotton over boards
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Opening Page
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Sample Woodcut Illustration
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Sample Page with Text
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Second Sample Woodcut Illustration
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Second Sample Page with Text
The Man Who Died, Yolla Bolly press, Colophon

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