A handful of months past, Books and Vines took a look at a magnificent 1932 Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of The Golden Ass, by Apuleius. In this article we look at a new (2015) limited edition of The Golden Ass, this from The Folio Society. First, a refresher on the work. The Golden Ass is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It was adapted from an earlier Greek work, now lost. It can be described as an early example of what was to be called an episodic picaresque novel, an influential style that particularly flourished in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The Golden Ass contains several off-shoot short stories told by characters within the main text; some more or less standalone, others interplaying with the main plot, all entertaining. With a plot the revolves around the protagonist having been transformed into an ass, and the trails and tribulations he then encounters on his road to salvation, the work is devilishly funny and a joy to read. The Golden Ass holds a significant place in the Western Canon. Even if the rest of The Golden Ass was not as wonderfully comedic, witty and hilariously irreverent as it is, it would still be considered a great work simply due to the tremendous influence of Cupid and Psyche, one of the tales from this work which subsequently has propagated across the classical arts (poetry, drama, painting, sculpture,etc) throughout the nearly two millennia since written.
Readers of Books and Vines know I am a big fan of The Folio Society (FS). While most of their works are not done using traditional methods that Books and Vines usually focuses on (i.e., letterpress, ‘old school’ illustrative reproduction techniques, hand-made, etc), they do fill a very important gap in today’s otherwise soulless publishing world. Even FS’s ‘standard’ editions are typically well thought out, nicely designed, high quality in execution, and a pleasure to read. In a world awash in thoughtless e-books and dreary, mass produced physical books, The Folio Society stands like a beacon trying heroically to present literature in a manner deserving of itself. The FS’s Limited Editions are the pinnacle of their work. While I hope to see more like their Letterpress Shakespeare and their recently published — via letterpress and using lithographs — Selected Poems of Rupert Brooke, there is little to quibble about in their selection of high quality facsimiles and original publications of great literature.
FS’s limited edition (LE) publication of The Golden Ass follows their earlier, excellent LE editions of Fifty Fables of La Fontaine and Voltaire’s Candide. All three of these editions were illustrated by the great English illustrator, cartoonist and author Sir Quentin Blake. Blake’s style is an inspired match for all three of these works, though arguably most so for the wit of Apuleius. As The Folio Society tells us in describing this book:
It is hard to imagine an artist better suited to the frenetic pace of Apuleius’ narrative and its exquisite blend of wit, cruelty and humaneness than Quentin Blake. In his illustrations for this edition he captures the exuberant quality of the text while conveying all its variety and complexity of tone. His sequence of images depicting Lucius’ transformation into the ass – as the hapless hero moves from hopeful anticipation to panic and horror – is uproariously funny. The central story-within-the-story of Cupid and Psyche is the subject of ten illustrations of extraordinary range, shifting between violence, eroticism and gentle humour. And in a supremely witty twist worthy of Apuleius himself, Quentin Blake has a sceptical reader turning in incredulity from the book to a slightly discomfited ass peering over his shoulder. Where in the recent limited edition of Voltaire’s Candide, Quentin Blake demonstrated his sharp satirical eye, and in Fifty Fables of La Fontaine displayed effortlessly expressive powers of characterisation, The Golden Ass shows off his full comic range, as he shifts mesmerizingly through the book’s vagaries of mood and content.
Blake’s work here, with a voluminous 46 illustrations, is humorous, colorful and a nice combination of serious yet irreverent. This edition is also graced with another must for me, when it comes to finely done limited editions…an excellent introduction. This edition from FS contains a specially commissioned introduction from James Wood, Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. Mr Wood’s introduction “offers a subtle and searching analysis of Apuleius’ comic power and makes a compelling case for the work’s enduring impact and relevance.” The translation used is that of the 2004 Penguin Books edition of E.J. Kenney. I really enjoyed the Jack Lindsay translation from the 1932 LEC, and have not had much of a chance to compare Kenney’s to it, nor to the many other translation choices available (for those interested in some translation comparisons of The Golden Ass, see here).
This FS edition is bound by Kösel (Germany) in full Indian Goatskin leather blocked in gold foil with a design by Quentin Blake. It is typeset at The Folio Society in Poliphilus and Blado and printed by Kösel in Germany on Old Mill Stucco paper. It has a gilded top edge. The edition is limited to 1000 copies. The Blake/FS collaboration on Fifty Fables of La Fontaine as well as Candide both sold out rather quickly. The Golden Ass will do the same, already being down well below 200 copies left after just a few months on the market. Here’s to hoping for another Blake/FS collaboration!
As an aside, this is not the first time The Folio Society published The Golden Ass. See here for a Books and Vines review of their 1960 edition, with a translation by Robert Graves.
About the Edition
- 46 Illustrations by Quentin Blake
- Translation and notes by E.J. Kenney, from the 2004 Penguin Books edition
- Introduction by James Wood
- Typeset at The Folio Society in Poliphilus and Blado
- Printed by Kösel in Germany on Old Mill Stucco paper
- Bound by Kösel in full Indian Goatskin leather blocked in gold foil with a design by Quentin Blake
- Gilded top edge
- Gold-blocked slipcase
- 256 pages, 11¼˝ x 8½˝
- Limited to 1000 copies, signed by Quentin Blake
Pictures of the Edition
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