Thursday, 20 October 2011

Hairy hands...

Just been to see the Mervyn Peake exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. It's fascinating, and offers quite a rich selection of the artist/author/poet's book illustrations. As well as drawings for the Gormenghast novels and other of his own works, Peake illustrated several classics. The pictures on show are for Treasure Island, The Hunting of the Snark, Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.




Each illustration is accompanied by the usual little notice telling you something about it, and in the case of the classics they often include quotes from the books. In the case of Jekyll, one is particularly interesting. Peake - after some preliminary attempts - decided not to show Hyde's face, because it's described as pure evil (always tricky to draw, I'd guess) and also because nobody who sees it can remember much else about it. So in the drawings actually used for the book we never see Hyde's face, only his back or his hands. The passage that struck me as familiar is a description of Hyde's hand on the bedclothes, and is taken from Chapter 10. The hand is described as:
...corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth...
This struck me as familiar. I have of course read Stevenson's story, but it bears a strong resemblance to an even more familiar tale:
Pale, dusky skin, covering nothing but bones and tendons of appalling strength; coarse black hairs, longer than ever grew on a human hand; nails rising from the ends of the fingers and curving sharply down and forward, grey, horny and wrinkled.
From 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book', by M.R. James. This has probably been pointed out before. But I'm sure the young Monty James read his fare share of Stevenson, and it would be surprising if some images - especially the scary ones - hadn't taken root.

Here's the famous McBryde illustration for the story.







3 comments:

James Everington said...

I'm a big fan of Jekyll and Hyde (out of those 'classic' horror novels it's my favourite) but I've never seen Peake's drawings for it (I've seen his ones for the Alice books at the British Library, which are amazing)

And I'd certainly not spotted the MR James connection, although I've read that story a good few times too. I've obviously not be paying attention...

Great post.

valdemar said...

Thanks, James. It's a brilliant exhibition and I'm sure I'll be returning to the Laing regularly - there's so much detail in the drawings. The Jekyll and Hyde illustrations are fascinating, as you can see Peake trying to get Hyde's face right in preliminary sketches, but then deciding not to show it for the finished works.

Oscar Solis said...

This is probably one of the few drawings of Hyde that gets it right as far as the stature.

Since I don't live in England, I'll have to miss what is certainly a marvelous exhibition. Peake was/is fantastic.