The Ballad of Frans Masereel

May 3, 2010

It is sweet to dance to violins
  When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
  Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
  To dance upon the air!

That verse is,of course,from The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde.Why would I include it in a post about Frans Masereel,you say?Who the feck is Frans Masereel,you say?Well,sit back and I`ll explain.

Recently I went on a ramble to the Hill of Tara (yes,that Hill of Tara)with my dad.If you`ve ever been to the Hill of Tara chances are you went for a drop of tea in the cafe at the bottom of the hill.Chances are you saw a small shed with a green door right next to the cafe.Chances are it was closed.But,if it was open chances are you saw inside one of the best secondhand bookshops to be found in the land.Yes.In the shed.

It was in this shed that I spent an hour or so hunting for paper-bound gems.And I found them,alrighty.One especially made my day:The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde with Woodcuts by Frans Masereel.

Frans Masereel is credited with being the pioneering force behind the graphic novel and his “wordless novels”,such as the famous Passionate Journey, are brimming with life and rage in equal measure.From Graphicwitness.org:

A pacifist in World War I, he tried to make his art accessible to the ordinary man. His works were banned by the Nazis and widely distributed in Communist countries. But he rejected “political” art and party affiliation, condemning all enslavements, oppression, war and violence, injustice, and the power of money.

One work in particular became a printed “anthem” for anti-fascists the world over.De Idee is a wordless novel about an idea,embodied by a naked woman,who is hunted by the powers that be.The book is a powerful cry against fascism and the burning of books(and indeed,people).I`ve included two scences from the book below,along with this animated adaption:

Anyway,The Ballad of Reading Gaol with the Frans Masereel illustrations seems to be easy enough to find online and is an essential book to have,even if just to stand as a reminder of two great artists ahead of their time who were brave enough to rage against the unjust world they found themselves in.

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