7 May 2008

Lionel Britton's Distinctive Signature

Lionel Britton inscribed the above on the f.e.p. of his Spacetime Inn (1932) to his niece, Flora Britton (later Hughes), when she was 13 years old. She is the first daughter of Reginald Percy Leopold Britton, a younger brother of Lionel's. As a science fiction play, Spacetime Inn is highly unusual. And as this is a space where Eve (of Adam and Eve), the Queen of Sheba, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Napoleon, Karl Marx, Bernard Shaw, and two interchangeable members of the working classes of the 1930s all converse with each other, the content is also a little out of the ordinary.

The quotation is from page 96 of Spacetime Inn. After learning that Bill and Jim have lost their money, Eve says ‘Is it so wonderful? What can be more than the delight which breathes through all the world? There is a thrill which quickens every limb, there is a yearning answered through the eyes watching the light of other eyes wake softly like a happy day as we come near them, there is a music underneath a word which kisses the ear of one who listens for it coming from those we love. These things make life wonderful, as sun and moon colour the day and night. Let me give you these!’

Flora's son Robert Hughes comments: 'The full quotation makes a deal of sense in the context of my mother's life, for most of which she either had no regular income at all, or had to work damn hard to produce one. The philosophy behind those few lines helped her through it all and she was certainly a light to us.'

The image on the right shows Harry Peter Smolka's stamp on the first prelim, with another inscription by Lionel Britton (1). Lionel Britton's first play, Brain (1930), concerns the building of a giant brain in the Sahara Desert. This too is a science fiction play, and frequently cited as one of the first plays in which a computer is represented. From Smolka, this book passed to Flora Hughes.

(1) Harry Peter Smolka was born in Austria in 1912 but educated in England. He later became a British citizen and changed his name to Smollet. In 1937 (still as Smolka) he published Forty Thousand Men against the Arctic: Russia's Polar Empire (London: Hutchinson).

Again, many thanks to Robert Hughes for providing me with these images.

No comments: