Gill Partington

Gill Partington is a fellow at the Institute of English Studies, University of London.

Every Watermark and Stain: Faked Editions

Gill Partington, 20 June 2024

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’sSonnets, a pamphlet of just 48 pages, was once the holy grail of book collectors. Copies that came to light were, to quote one biographer, ‘literally worth … more than their weight in gold’: at auction on Madison Avenue in 1930 one fetched $1250 (around $23,000 in today’s money). The book’s value was due not only to its...

In the Mad Laboratory: Invisible Books

Gill Partington, 16 February 2023

The problem​ with owning an invisible book is that it’s hard to lay your hands on it when you need it. This I know from experience, having recently searched the bookshelves at length for mine, which I bought several years ago from its creator and author, Elisabeth Tonnard. It cost €0, and I have an invoice as proof of purchase. It was one of a limited edition of a hundred, neither...

Your hat sucks: UbuWeb

Gill Partington, 1 April 2021

In​ 1988 the veteran conductor Nicolas Slonimsky, having built a career on the most experimental of repertoires, sat at the piano to record a ditty about a constipation remedy. The music was his, but he had lifted the words – verbatim – from an advertisement that had appeared many years earlier in the Saturday Evening Post. ‘Children cry for Castoria!’ Slonimsky...

From The Blog
11 November 2020

Cain’s Jawbone, one of the more demanding puzzles of the 20th century, was recently solved for the third time. Devised by the inventor of the cryptic crossword, Edward Powys Mathers (aka Torquemada), it was first published in 1934. Perhaps inevitably, it has taken another crossword buff to crack it in 2020: John Finnemore sets puzzles for the Times under the moniker Emu (when he isn’t appearing in his own Radio 4 comedy series). Cain’s Jawbone isn’t a crossword, however, even if it has some of the same cryptic, sideways logic. It’s a whodunnit mystery novel with a structural twist, in that its 100 pages appear out of sequence, making the plot unintelligible and obscuring the identities of the murderers and their victims. The task is to find the correct page order, working out in the process who dun what to whom. 

From The Blog
23 October 2020

On Wednesday, Donald Trump tweeted a series of photographs with the caption: ‘Kayleigh McEnany presenting Lesley Stahl with some of the many things we’ve done for Healthcare.’ The pictures showed his press secretary handing some papers and a hefty volume to the 60 Minutes reporter, just before an interview which the president cut short acrimoniously. As many Twitter users were quick to point out, one of the images showed Stahl opening the book and peering inside at an apparently blank page. Had the book been mocked up for the purposes of the interview, embodying not only the lack of an actual health policy, but also the fakery and pretence at the heart of the administration? Others responded that the absence of text proved nothing, since it could have been a flyleaf or title page: ‘Haven’t you ever read a book?’

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