About This Site

I’m a graduate student at Queens College, CUNY, and I’m working on an MA thesis on Hope Mirrlees’ 1926 fantasy novel, Lud-in-the-Mist. In the last few years, Mirrlees’ Wikipedia page has grown from a wee stub to a reasonably respectable article with a good bibliography, but I hope to create a more extensive resource for those interested in Mirrlees’ life and work. I write about everything but Mirrlees at blissbat.net.

The painting

The painting in the site’s header is Clara Peeters’ haunting Apples, cherries, apricots and other fruit in a basket, with pears, plums, robins, a woodpecker, a parrot and a monkey eating nuts, on a table (larger version, more info). Mirrlees’ work is infused with her literacy in visual art, and readers of her poetry and novels will recognize the resonance between her work and the symbolic register of the Flemish landscape painters.

This painting seemed especially suitable, not only because it prominently displays a decaying apricot—an image Mirrlees returned to repeatedly—but also because the career of Clara Peeters, a skilled and successful but subsequently neglected master of her period, is perhaps an appropriate cognate for Mirrlees’ own.

The long version

Somewhere around December of 2005, my partner gave me a copy of Lud-in-the-Mist. The book had come up in conversation because I’d run into two references that hit just the right note. The first was in Jo Walton’s short review of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell*:

Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is clearly written from an alternate universe where the great fantasy-defining genre-starting book of the twentieth century, after Dunsany, was not Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings but Hope Mirlees Lud-in-the-Mist. It’s not a great deal like Lud-in-the-Mist, but it’s much closer to it than it is to anything else, or than Lud-in-the-Mist is to anything else. [...] I think this is the most significant thing done with this in years. It’s as if we’ve all been building sandcastles in the shadow of a cliff and suddenly Clarke has raised a great castle out of the sea with a strange light shining through the foam-water windows.

That description got all the bells ringing. The second reference was John Clute’s explication of Neil Gamain’s cover blurb for Jonathan Strange:

Bloomsbury has used as dustjacket copy a somewhat overstated claim from [Gaiman] about the importance of the book, which, in the context of the hype blizzard, does less good than Gaiman might have hoped. This is all the more unfortunate because, stripped of excess, Gaiman’s statement points right to the heart of the book. We do, all the same, have to start with what he does actually say, which is that Strange is “unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last 70 years.” To which one’s immediate response is: bollocks. But there is a still small voice in there. What Gaiman was pretty clearly not quite getting around to saying in clear was that, in his opinion, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was the finest English novel of the fantastic since Hope Mirrlees’s great Lud-in-the-Mist (1926), which is almost certainly the finest English fantasy about the relationship between England and the fantastic yet published (a personal communication from Gaiman has confirmed this sense that Mirrlees was very much on his mind).

From Walton and Clute to a list of books to track down — a list filched and fulfilled by my own personal wish-granter. That winter, I’d been reading a lot of Woolf and Forster, and I’d gone from missing school (I graduated from Vassar in ’99 and missed academic life from the moment I stepped off that magical campus) a lot to dreaming constantly about academic research. I didn’t want to go to grad school without a solid academic research goal, and Modernism is both an extraordinarily crowded field and one that felt too far from the other half of my literary interests, which mostly coalesced around fantastic/speculative fiction. Lud-in-the-Mist turned out to be precisely the green-glowing, half-demiotic-half-hieroglyphic artifact that smushed together everything I loved and led me directly to the academic work I wanted to do.

Scholarship on Mirrlees is thin on the ground, but this is beginning to change. On this site, I’ll collect as much of existing research as copyright restrictions will allow, and I’ll also trace my own progress through the (to me) fascinating historical and artistic contexts of Mirrlees’ work. My biases run toward transparent processes and openly shared information, and I very much solicit information and analysis from scholars, fans, readers, and other people who care about Mirrlees’ work.

Erin Kissane, June, 2009

* A book that will, alas, always be Jonathan Strange and Mrs. Norris in my head.

10 Responses to “About This Site”

  1. Mike Tortorello says:

    Hello Erin,

    I’ve been a fan of Lud -In-The-Mist for many years and stumbled upon your website and was introduced to Paris. I have just started up a letterpress shop and am interested in reprinting Paris in chapbook form emulating the Hogarth press edition as it was so important to Mirrlees that the typeset was a certain way. Do you know who I could contact to get permission to reprint the poem ? Also would you be interested in contributing something ?

    Many thanks for your time and for introducing me to Paris.

    Mike Tortorello
    Pegana Press

  2. Erin says:

    Hi Mike,

    I missed this comment when it came in, and I’ve tried to locate contact info for you, but have been unsuccessful. How can I reach you?


  3. Ben Towle says:

    Erin – You mention that the U.S. copyright status of Lud-in-the-Mist is “deeply complicated.” I’m curious if you have done any digging in this area and whether you could share what you’ve found. I ask because I briefly considered working on a graphic novel adaptation of the book, but found trying to figure out what was going on copyright-wise to be daunting.

    Great work on the site! The more that’s out there about this fabulous author, the better.

  4. Erin says:

    Hi Ben,

    The tricky thing about Lud‘s copyright is that it was initially published in the UK, and until US copyright law changed in the 1980′s, it was briefly in the public domain. It has since gone back out of the public domain, as far as I can tell — the details are genuinely mindboggling, particularly since there are some pending court cases that could affect its status in at least some parts of the US. That said, there are a couple of print-on-demand and small-press versions that appear not to have been printed with permission (they’re marked copyright the press, not Mirrlees or her representative), so it seems that it’s being reprinted here without any action from the theoretical rights-holder, so you could probably get away with it if you weren’t working with a publisher who was nervous about a lawsuit.

    The safest thing would be to consider it to be in copyright until 2019, after which it will definitely be in the public domain—if Disney doesn’t manage to get copyright extended yet again—frustrating as that is. I may eventually try to track down said rights-holder, but the likeliest thing is that it’s an orphan work (that is, the US copyright holder can’t be found) that will nevertheless be considered in copyright—thought I suppose Google may end up with rights to reproduce it.

    The mind boggles, really. If I learn anything new or more definite, I’ll post it here, and please do let me know if you get any legal advice or anything. I’d love to see a really nice small press edition with annotations come out before 2019!

  5. Ben Towle says:

    Erin – Thanks so much for the information. If you do try to track down the “theoretical rights-holder” (or want any help trying to do so) please contact me via the email address I submitted. Doing a comics/graphic novel adaptation of this work is something I’d really be interested in, if copyright issues could be sorted out. I’ll certainly keep the prospect on my radar for the future–or sooner if an orphan works bill ever makes its way through the legislature.

  6. Marianne says:

    Just a quick note to say that the barnes & noble review has moved – it’s now at http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Library-Without-Walls/Lud-in-the-Mist/ba-p/820

    Thanks for an interesting site – I found you via Neil Gaiman’s blog, but I found Lud-in-the-Mist in my local library in the Gollancz edition you mentioned.

  7. Erin says:

    Thanks, Marianne! Fixed. Glad to hear you could find a nice edition locally — we’re a bit hard up for nice editions in the US.

  8. Mike Tortorello says:

    Hello Erin,

    I can be reached at peganapress@live.com. I’ve still had no success getting permission to reprint Paris. Sent a registered letter to Dr. John Saunders, one of the executors of Hope’s estate and was undeliverable. Am trying to reach Mrs. Eliot through her agent but have met with no success so far. Nevertheless, I have printed the first two pages of the poem following the spacing from your scan very laboriously. Can see how this must have driven Virginia Woolfe over the edge. Anyway, any help you might give would be appreciated. I’m determined to see this through and get Paris printed.


  9. Janet says:

    I was delighted to find your site about Hope Mirrlees. Back in 1993, I processed a small collection of her papers for the University of Maryland’s Department of Special Collections. I remember it being VERY difficult to track down information about her, especially since it was the pre-Internet era. I read some of her works at the time, and confess that I found her friendships more interesting than her writing. However, she was a fascinating woman and she does deserve to be plucked from obscurity.

  10. Alan Piper says:

    “Life and death ! Life and death ! They are the dyes in which I work. Are my hands stained?” Endymion Leer
    What I loved about ‘Lud in the Mist’ was the ambiguity of the characters particularily Endymion Leer. Good? Evil? Other? It’s a while since I read Lud but if fairy fruit aren’t simply a metaphor and the story just about the freedom to think and to imagine, the strength to dream – then the significance of fairy fruit as a explicit reference tp psychoactive drugs needs to be addressed. Paris and the lost generation were a hot-bed of drug experimentation in which for example Yeats at least dabbled. “The Violet Apple” by David Lindsay [written 1924 but which never found a publisher in the author's lifetime] is a contemporary example of a novel clearly exploring the significance of what would now be called psychedelic experience. If you don’t address the significance of Bohemian drug culture of the 1920s in connection with fairy fruit I believe you’ll be ignoring the elephant in the room. Lud, Lindsay’s ‘Voyage to Arcturus’ and other turn of the century fantasy were re-published by Ballantine against the background of the 1960′s psychedelic culture and many a well thumbed copy adorned hippy pads. In view of Mirrlees relationship with Jane Harrison, the role of altered states and almost certain use of psychoactive drugs in Graeco-Roman mystery religions may be relevant.

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