Recently I discovered a copy of the Winter 1974 issue of Folio, the quarterly magazine of The Folio Society. The Society’s mission, since 1947, has been to publish ‘carefully crafted editions of the world’s finest literature’ – current books on offer include du Maurier’s Rebecca, two Patrick Leigh Fermor travel memoirs on Greece, and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which has been mentioned several times in my current read, an ARC of Jennifer Haupt’s In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills). The Folio Society editions are a little expensive for me but I certainly recommend a browse around their website.
But let’s head back to the Winter 1974 magazine and its link with Mary Stewart. As you can see, Mary Stewart (as a novelist ‘well known in the public eye’) was asked to select her favourite choices from the Society’s 1974 Prospectus:
Other contributors included violinist Yehudi Menuhin, VS Naipaul, Joyce Grenfell, Patricia Highsmith and Marghanita Laski.
I wondered what books were listed in the 1974 Prospectus. A quick internet search shows that many Folio Society prospectuses have been uploaded onto LibraryThing, and this includes the 1974 issue. Thank you, LibraryThing! This item really is worth a look, there are some beautiful images and intriguing book titles within its 20+ pages. Scroll down to 1974 on this LibraryThing page to see what I mean. Which books would you select? It is near impossible to choose only a few but I think my book choice would have to include Gaskell’s life of Charlotte Bronte, Shackleton’s Boat Journey and the Bayeux Tapestry. More to the point, what were Mary Stewart’s choices? Here they are:
The Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Invasion, by Lewis Thorpe
From the Prospectus, this looks incredible. I would love this book. Of course, the Bayeux Tapestry is really topical since French President Emmanuel Macron announced that it will be loaned to the UK, probably to the British Museum in 2022, thus leaving France for the first time in 950 years! NB The Bayeux Tapestry scene here is from Getty Images rather than from the Prospectus or the book.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain
It is no surprise that Mary Stewart chose this book, given its role in inspiring her Arthurian series that began in 1970 with The Crystal Cave. According to the Prospectus, the Folio Society edition has wondrous-sounding ‘miniatures from early manuscripts in full colour’. Again, the image below comes from Getty Images rather than from the book.Embed from Getty Images
Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne
I know next to nothing about Charlemagne, and I suspect my only inducement to finally learning about him would be a beautifully-illustrated book (unless there is a glossy tv series on Netflix?🙂). This portrait of him is once again an image I have selected from Getty Images.Embed from Getty Images
The Universal Spider, by Philippe de Commynes
The illustration shown in the Prospectus for this book is stunning with its vibrant blues and reds. Again, I fear it might take a Netflix series to encourage me to learn more about Louis XI. Getty Images offers this gorgeous image for the French king:Embed from Getty Images
Flavius Arrianus: The Life of Alexander the Great
Yet again my ignorance is exposed. Alexander the Great is a hugely famous figure and I’m sure I know LOTS about him… until pressed and then I realise my childhood learning has gone awfully vague, and perhaps wasn’t that impressive in the first place. Never mind, here is a lovely photo of a statue of Alexander.Embed from Getty Images
Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey
At last, a book I have read! I adore Robert Louis Stevenson and enjoyed reading of his adventures with Modestine the donkey – and naturally I am reminded of Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael, which includes a painter travelling by donkey. Going one more time to Getty Images, I can’t resist this photo of a Modestine-ish donkey.Embed from Getty Images
What do you think of Mary Stewart’s choices and her reasons for them? What would be your choice? And if you own any Folio Society books already, old or new, I’d like to hear about it. Isn’t it a pity that not one of Mary Stewart’s best-selling novels made it as a Folio Society edition? (I confirmed that this was the case yesterday, in a chat with the helpful @foliosociety twitter account.) This leads to my final question –
If you could nominate one of Mary Stewart’s novels to be issued as a lavish Folio Society book, which one would you choose?