Monday, February 25, 2019

Wowed by "Wymps"
(Evelyn Sharp & Mabel Dearmer)

Strolling through the internet and all of its galleries of books, I recently came across the utterly amazing cover of Wymps.

With a full title of Wymps and Other Fairy Tales, it was published in 1897 by John Lane through The Bodley Head, London.

But while it was the knockout cover design that first caught my eye, what I love about this book is that it spurred me to learn more about the author and illustrator, a pair of amazing women.

The author is Evelyn Jane Sharp (1869–1955), who was, according to Wikipedia "a key figure in two major British women's suffrage societies, the militant Women's Social and Political Union and the United Suffragists." She was a journalist, activist, pacifist and tax resister. That last part got her imprisoned during World War I. Amidst all of this, she found time to write children's literature, including Wymps.

In 1933, Sharp published an autobiography, Unfinished Adventure. There has also been a biography of her, Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Woman, 1869-1955, penned by Angela V. John. AS Bryant wrote about how those two volumes complement each other for The Guardian in 2009, stating that Sharp "writes with dry wit, curiosity about social and private life, and an unerring sense of the telling detail," while her biographer is good at "filling out what Sharp discreetly omits from her own account."

And then there's the illustrator, Mabel Dearmer (1872-1915), who was born Jessie Mabel Pritchard White and educated in London. She contributed eight full color illustrations and the cover for Wymps, and you can see all of them in a PDF of the book at the University of Florida Digital Collections. I especially like her illustration for "The Boy Who Looked Like a Girl."

But Dearmer was much more than an artist. She was, per Wikipedia, a novelist and dramatist. She was married to a socialist priest, Percy Dearmer (1867–1936). And, like Evelyn Sharp, she was a pacifist.

In an extensive biography of Dearmer on the yellow nineties online, Diana Maltz writes this of Dearmer's artwork:
"By all accounts, Mabel Dearmer was an inspired and energetic personality, and these qualities surface in her illustrative art of the 1890s. ... In contrast to the ornamental style of many other late-Victorian illustrators, Dearmer’s images appear strikingly modern. Male contemporaries minimized her talent as a draftsperson, but viewers were captivated by her vibrant colour choices and often eerie landscapes. Further elements of her style include a deliberate asymmetry, allusions to Japanese art, bold colour blocking, and the use of heavy outline."
The British Library's Untold Lives blog describes Dearmer's death:
"She was opposed to the war on the basis of her Christian faith but threw herself into work with the Women’s Emergency Corps, as Chairman of the Publicity Department, and into fundraising for Belgian refugees. Her younger son Christopher enlisted soon after the outbreak of war followed by his elder brother Geoffrey. ... In March 1915, busy organising the production of one of her own plays, she attended a farewell service for the Third Serbian Relief Unit to support a friend. There she heard her husband, Percy, then vicar of St. Mary’s Primrose Hill, announce that he had just been appointed Chaplain to the British units in Serbia and would soon be departing there. Mabel made the sudden and dramatic decision to volunteer to join the Third Serbian Relief Unit ... [She] left for Serbia in early April, appointed orderly in charge of linen. She proved an efficient and effective member of [the] team in Serbia and describes her happiness there (slightly guiltily) in a letter of 16 May. However, by June 1915 she had fallen ill with enteric fever (typhoid). Although she subsequently appeared to rally, another letter in the Society of Authors Collection, dated 23 July, tells of the sad conclusion to this story, namely that Mabel died in Serbia on 11 July 1915. ... Poignantly her son Christopher died at Suvla Bay (Gallipoli) only a few months later in October 1915."
Her older son Geoffrey lived until 1996, when he died at the age of 103, having outlived his mother by more than eight decades.

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