Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pocket 601 (1949)

Title : Lani
Author : Margaret Widdemer
Cover art : Robert Graves
  [New York, Pocket, 1949. No. 601. Fourth printing. "Tense drama unfolds against the colorful backdrop of the flaming tropics."]
style **
substance **
collectibility *

  For this steamy plantation romance in Old Hawaii, artist Robert Graves [1] gives us a cover in a quasi-expressionistic style that’s a nice contrast to the hyper-realistic vintage covers in favor in the late 1940s. Pocket 601 features the main characters in the novel, rendered in a rather cartoon-like fashion, with the title character being the the well-coiffured, fully dressed, Eurasian(?) woman on the left. 

  More interesting, however, is the depiction of the half-naked native woman on the right. It’s a good example of an obscure but important unwritten rule which contributed to the spicy brew that was vintage paperback cover art in its golden age. This was the practice of presenting selected, usually female, character types -- artists’ models, sci-fi amazons, mythological characters, and ‘native’ (i.e. non-Anglo) women -- in more risqué fashion, up to [sometimes] fully unclothed [2]. In contrast, Caucasian women - even femmes fatales - had to be treated somewhat more discreetly. Artists usually opted for the suggestive approach : various states of dishevelment and undress, or tight fitting clothes which emphasized the subject's décolletage charms.

[1] Presumably no relation to the famous author.

[2] oops! apparitions & hallucinations, too; see Maguire’s famous cover for Black Opium, with the vision of a naked blonde emanating from an opium pipe.

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