Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Lurid covers 3: Leonardo

"The first and only novel written by one of mankind's ranking geniuses..." - San Francisco Chronicle

From the monumental works of Leonardo da Vinci have come some of the most thrilling discoveries of all time - among them the manuscript for The Deluge, a powerful and violent story of life and love in a time of blazing turmoil and savage upheaval.

One man... Two women... haunted by terror, pursued by destruction, caught up in the coils of desperate mob frenzy, of unfulfilled desires, of the primal hunger for survival...

This - click image to enlarge - is the blurb of The Deluge, Leonardo da Vinci, edited by Robert Payne, Lion Books, 1955. For those who missed out on this particular work of Leonardo, the small print for this curiosity says that it was put together by fleshing out material from Leonardo's enigmatic letters to "Diodario di Soria": see The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Drafts of Letters and Reports referring to Armenia, 1336 / 1337. These provide an outline and sketchy plot details of the destruction of a city by a deluge.


* The praise and confession of the faith
* The sudden inundation, to its end.
* The destruction of the city.
* The death of the people and their despair.
* The preacher’s search, his release and benevolence
* Description of the cause of this fall of the mountain
* The mischief it did.
* Fall of snow.
* The finding of the prophet.
* His prophesy.
* The inundation of the lower portion of Eastern Armenia, the draining of which was effected by the cutting through the Taurus Mountains.
* How the new prophet showed that this destruction would happen as he had foretold.

Payne appears to have filled this out with further detail from the variety of notes and drawings on the concept of a deluge that Leonardo made toward the end of his life. See, particularly, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, VIII Botany for Painters and Elements of Landscape Painting, Of depicting a tempest, items 606 / 607 / 608.

In the editor's note, Robert Payne writes that other material came from the fictional Sir John Mandeville's account of the use of carrier pigeons between Syria and Cilicia. The three main characters, Thresylla, Cecilia and Andreas, "are, of course, imaginary, and Father Anastasio has been introduced on the basis of a single sentence in the notebooks". The cover has a slight resemblance to Leonardo's sketch Deluge over a city, and the book is actually quite readable, seriously intended, and a clever (if short) execution of Leonardo's idea.

See the Robert Payne Collection, Stony Brook University, for more on Payne, who was a prolific and erudite writer on historical topics. His Times obituary on Feb 23, 1983 says of him, "He was, more than anything, a phenomenon of prolificity; probably no author of this century has produced so many books at such a relatively high level of scholarship" (see the bibliography). Cool guy...

Pierre Stephen Robert Payne was born on December 4, 1911 in Saltash, Cornwall, England; came to the U.S. in 1946; attended Diocesan College, Rondebosch, South Africa (1929-30), University of Capetown (1931-32), University of Liverpool (1933-36), University of Munich (1937), and Sorbonne, University of Paris (1938); was shipwright's apprentice, Liverpool (1932-33), shipwright (1939-41) and armament officer (1941), Singapore Naval Base; translator, British Ministry of Information in Chungking, China (1941-42); professor of English poetry and lecturer in naval architecture (1943-46); head of English department, Alabama College, Montevallo (1949-54); war correspondent in Spain (1938), and correspondent for the Times of London in Changsha, China (1942); was founding director of Columbia University Translation Center; wrote more than 100 books in a variety of subjects; publications include Love and peace (1945), Forever China (1945), China awake (1947), The rose tree (1947), A house in Peking: a novel of 18th-century China (1956), and Lawrence of Arabia: a triumph (1962); he died on February 18, 1983.

- Finding Aid for the Robert Payne Papers, 1946-1964, Online Archive of California

... and perhaps it's a pity The Deluge was packaged in that way. Then again, would I have spotted it and read it?

See BookScans for many more examples of pulp covers from Lion Books, which mostly focused on sensational novels, but occasionally tackled classier works, such as Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, Nigel Balchin's The Small Back Room, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Jack London's South Sea Tales, Voltaire's Candide (a quite restrained cover), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife, Graham Greene's Nineteen Stories, and Candide again (less restrained version). The Deluge (Lion #233) appears to be the last published title in its 25cents series.
- Ray

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