“Perhaps there are no Angels. Only fairies. Oh, what a wicked world…I cannot bear to think of it…”
“Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book” by Terry Jones and Brian Froud
When this book was released by Barnes and Noble in 2001, I was fairly obsessed with it. I always had the calendars and it cemented by already budding love and adoration of Brian Froud and Terry Jones (and, along the line, Ari Berk, whose class I had the pleasure and privilege of taking in 2007). It is a slight book, mostly whimsical, but I absolutely love it and it made for a good quick book to throw in during a dry spell in finishing books. Essentially, it takes the premise of an old photo of a girl with fairies and develops it into a more intricate and mischievous story of the girl (Lady Angelica Cottington) who begins to see fairies and “press” them in a book meant for pressing flowers. Jones, in a “publisher’s note” to the tome, assures us that no fairies were harmed in the pressing of these images; when Angelica snaps her book on them, they leave only a spiritual impression of their distorted and grotesque images on the pages.
Froud’s colourful and shameless artwork was what drew me to this book in the first place, way back when, because I was incredibly transfixed by his work in the films Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. But the paintings, I discovered, were not even the best part of the book. The diary entries that go along with the fairy pressings is a real joy and a very bright and vivid story following Angelica through her first fairy in July of 1895 to the final rumination that the fairies have abandoned her in December of 1912. And the crux of the story is the fairies as they exist as a metaphor for puberty, lust, and sex.
It starts out innocently enough, but this book is in a sense very, very dirty, but it’s marvelously done. As Angelica gets older, the fairies around her become more and more mischievous and troublesome, lurid and lecherous. Are the fairies really the ones causing Angelia to giggle in response to the hairy-eared Lord Crowley’s hands? Are they really the ones who lead Angelica out to dance their Dainty-Four naked in the night to be discovered so disrobed by the Reverend Cowdry, who, it turns out, wished to ask Angelica’s hand in marriage that very morning? Or are the fairies a figment of her imagination, a way of her coping with these situations that are so out of the realm of her understanding that she creates a sort of mythical scapegoat to cling still to some sense of innocence?
I adore this book; I love the ever-present question of if Angelica is being driven mad by fairies, or if she is just simply mad. And it’s fairly scandalous, too; that was a pleasant, blushing surprise when I first read it, and now it makes me ruminate on how I found this little book more salacious and shocking than Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I know a few new anniversary versions have been released lately, but I’ve yet to get a chance to check those out. For now, it’s just the same little book I fell in love with when I was just a little bit younger, still in high school, and I enjoy it just as much today.
It’s definitely something I could see myself using or referencing often if I ever delve into anything that has to do with late Victorian repression of sexuality. Sure, it’s entirely possible I’m reading too much into it, but that’s just what us English majors do.
Books read: 8 out of 100.