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May 1995, Week 1


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Jeremy Butler <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 6 May 1995 22:05:32 CST
text/plain (108 lines)
Forwarded by Jeremy Butler.  Replies to Donald Farren ([log in to unmask]).
---------------------------original message-----------------------------
Author:  [log in to unmask] at SMTP-LINK
Date:    5/6/95 1:07 PM
     This query originally was posted to several electronic
conferences that have a bookish or bibliophilic focus.  The
subject of the query, however, touches on the fields of theatre,
cinema, and television.  Having received inadequate responses,
insufficient in number and content, to the aspects of this query
that touch on theatre, cinema, and television, I re-post the
query here to e-conferences in those fields.
     I am compiling information about the use of false book backs
to cover walls and other surfaces and seek help from the well-
read or well-traveled among you to identify instances of the use
of this decorative motif.  I am primarily interested in false
book backs that are lettered, the lettering identifying the
putative book.
     See below for the instances about which I already know of
the use of FALSE BOOK BACKS in theatre, cinema, and television,
as well as those known in fiction and installed in real librar-
     The range of these false book backs includes jokey titles,
as at Rendcomb House near Cirencester, Gloucestershire ("How to
Cure Corns," by Bunyan, etc.), those detected as having political
meaning, as in Turgot's cabinet in Limoges, learned references, as
to lost classical texts in the Chateau de Chantilly, and the
almost purely decorative as at Vizcaya in Miami.  This subject is
perhaps best approached light-heartedly, but there are aspects of
it worthy of serious examination: what it can tell us about
attitudes toward books and libraries, the function of library
rooms, decorative taste and technique, the question of trompe
l'oeil, and the subject of imaginary libraries.
     The effect of false book backs has usually been achieved
with dummy backs fabricated of leather affixed to wooden slats,
and the false backs have often been used to mask a door.  In-
stances of such dummy book backs that I know of are at or in:
     Sir Thomas Acland's library room
     Army and Navy Club, London
     the gallery of the Round Reading Room of the British Museum
     Chateau de Chantilly
     Charles Dickens's library room at Gad's Hill Place
     Dumbarton Oaks, Washington
     Edward Everitt's library room, Boston
     Marlborough House, London
     William Hickling Prescott's library room, Boston
     Rendcomb House, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire
     Royal Automobile Club, London
     Turgot's cabinet in Limoges
     Vizcaya, Miami
     I am also interested in compiling information about false
book backs created by using such materials as wallpaper, leather
wall covering, papier mache, gutta percha, and wooden panels, and
I am interested in all techniques used on the surfaces (e.g.,
printing, painting, drawing, photography, embossing, carving).
     I am interested in fictional false book backs (e.g., those
at Aldous Huxley's Crome, in George MacDonald's _Lilith_, and in
Angela Thirkell's series of twentieth-century novels set in
Barsetshire--in emulation of Trollope) and false book backs used
in the theatre and that appear in cinema and television.  (At
this point I have had reported to me, of theatrical instances of
false book backs, only that in Charles Ludlam's farce _The
Mystery of Irma Vep_, none in cinema, and one in television, a
door masked by false book backs or a pivoting bookcase of real
books at the entrance to Batman's cave in a television series of
the mid-1960s.  I note that false book backs in the cinema and
television often mask a door featuring a "secret catch" that lead
to a secret room.  The effect intended in these cases is redolent
of sinister purpose rather than high culture.)
     I am interested, too, in cases where surfaces other than
walls and doors have been covered by false book backs (e.g.,
tambours, lamp bases).  Indeed, I am interested in any case where
book backs produce an incongruity between appearance and reality.
     As a related matter, I am interested in masked doors per se
(e.g., the pivoting bookcase section in the Grolier Club, New
York, that holds real books; the several camouflaged doors in the
Palais de Versailles; the combination window and door in the
Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis).  I draw the line at books
eviscerated to make cigarette boxes.
     I appeal to you to report to me instances of the phenomena
cited above.  All reports will be gladly received, but I prefer
reports that are documented or documentable by a published
     As per custom, please report to me directly rather than to
the list, and I will summarize to the list.
------- End of Forwarded Message
        Donald Farren                          voice 301.951.9479
        email [log in to unmask]               fax 301.951.9479
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