Tuesday, 17 March 2009


While it's not quite the Vernal Equinox (which is March 21st) this week has been pretty close to Spring - we just took the very nice round walk from Exmouth to Sandy Bay - along the beach and back along the cliffs via Orcombe Point (which is the official western start point of the Jurassic Coast heritage site).

The tulips are already out at Exmouth's Manor Gardens, which is excuse enough to blog about tulips, in part to draw attention to Tulip Press in Vancouver. Its proprietor Senka Kovacevic sent us a very kind e-mail and comment, and I've added a permanent link to the Tulip Press weblog; it's very worth following for its nice mix of literature, art, book illustration, photography and video. Also check out the Flash flipbook of her poetry anthology Where the Sun Reposes, which is accompanied by photographs of her family in 1960s Yugoslavia (Senka is another of those annoyingly talented people, who has managed to combine being a good poet and photographer with being a champion gymnast).

The tulip is a flower with a particular history in episodes of cultural obsession. The tulpenmanie ("tulip mania") in 1600s Holland is well-known, largely via Charles Mackay's Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Gutenberg EText-No. 24518) - though the view nowadays is that Mackay may well have exaggerated the impact of this early speculative bubble. Less-known is the Tulip period of the early 1700s, during which the elite of the Ottoman Empire became fairly tulip-obsessed; as Tulips of Turkey describes, tulips are actually native to central Asia and Turkey, and the name itself derives from tuliband, the Turkish proununciation of the Persian dulband (= turban, which the flower resembles).

It's easy to list a long string of tulip-related novels since then: Dumas' 1850 adventure The Black Tulip (Gutenberg EText-No. 965) has espionage elements that are echoed in Lauren Willig's The Masque of the Black Tulip (one in a series of botanically-titled Regency romance/espionage novels by the same author) and Milt Bearden's The Black Tulip: A Novel of War in Afghanistan (the Great Game updated to the 1980s). Just a few others include Deborah Moggach's 2000 Tulip Fever ("A novel of art and illusion, doomed love and a tulip bulb"); The Tulip touch (a children's novel about peer pressure and dealing with evil) by Anne Fine, best known as the author of Madame Doubtfire; and Richard Lourie’s A Hatred for Tulips (see Wartime Lies, Elena Lappin, NYT, August 12, 2007), which is about an old man who fills in the historical lacuna of who betrayed Anne Frank's family. Perhaps the tulip's real-world history makes it appealing as a title and motif for novels that seem, in their different ways, to focus on scheming and obsessions?

Of a rather different flavour, there's Tulip by Dashiell Hammett: an unfinished novel, it broke away from his normal hardboiled detective fiction and would have been enlightening as the nearest thing to a Hammett autobiography. The narrator is "Pop", a white-haired thin man whose eventful life - exactly resembling Hammett's - has led him to the point where he has nothing left but to write about it.

I'm just out of jail ... The last of my radio shows went off the air while I was doing my time, and the state and federal people slapped heavy income tax liens on me. Hollywood's out during this red scare. So he [Pop's friend Swede Tulip] figures I'll have to do another book - which doesn't take much figuring.

The existing fragment begins with Pop living at the house of Gus and Paulie Irongate, whose estate is not unlike Lillian Hellman's Hardscrabble Farm. His Hemingwayesque reminiscences begin with his time as a young soldier in World War I and subsequent spell in a tuberculosis ward. I read it a while back: it's not bad. You can find it in the collection The Big Knockover: and Other Stories.
- Ray


  1. Here's kind of an interesting update on the (possible) dating of the arrival of tulips in Europe.

    The description of the flower is rather mysterious:

    "Its flower is yellow inside and pink outside, shaped like a cube. Another beautiful and aromatic flower is found in its interior."

  2. Mice on a beam again. I don't know about the ancestral tulip, but the internal colouring and stamens of some modern ones do resemble another flower.