If you know Lennon, you’re going to know McCartney, and if you don’t know Morecambe, it’s pretty much a given you won’t know Wise. There are precious few joint operations where, despite equal status on the playbill, one partner is a household name and the other an obscurity, especially when the work itself remains vital.
Willans falls into that category. The name alone draws a blank even from people who know and love his work. Understandable, if tragic.
For one thing, he died relatively young. For another, his partner was then young Ronald Searle; Searle who illustrated Willan’s greatest creation, Nigel Molesworth, the Curse of St. Custards. Continue reading →
The nineteenth century saw the first mass market for books and concomitantly the first serious bestsellers. Dickens and Twain, of course, made quite nice livings by writing, thanks very much, and Harriet Beecher Stowe had more than her fifteen minutes of fame. But however well these people did, the kind of DaVinci Code phenomenon never really hit the Victorian century.
That is, not until 1894 when George du Maurier came out of nowhere with the game changing novel Trilby. And, no doubt to the fury of a generation of would-be scribblers, he wasn’t even a proper writer.
Du Maurier was born in Paris of Anglo-French stock (his grandmother was Regency courtesan Mary Anne Clarke, on whom more next time) and for the better part of his life was chiefly known – well known, in fact – as an illustrator.