Monday, April 12, 2010


Hopping on the bandwagon of TODAY'S INSPIRATION Sheilah Beckett posts, allow me to add these scans of her illustrations from a 1959 paperback edition of Voltaire's classic satire CANDIDE. (click on each to enlarge image)

I could not have been happier to come across this book, bringing to life a favorite story of mine with pictures by a favorite artist.
Candide is a kind of gullible bumpkin of illegitimate origin who grows up in a castle of a petty Germanic baron. He falls in love with the baron's daughter Cunegonde, earning him the disfavor of the baron and causing him to be ousted from his homeland, which is shortly afterward invaded and razed.
Candide spends the rest of the story traveling the entire globe in search of Cunegonde, often accompanied by his mentor, the insipidly optimistic philosopher Dr. Pangloss. Candide's predisposition to believe the "best" in everyone and everything sets him up for every imaginable trick, con, misfortune and horror the world has to offer. Although eternally innocent, he has a natural skill for swordplay and manages to kill a number of characters here and there, albeit typically in self defense and he always feels terrible about it afterward.
CANDIDE is a satire, often describing unpleasant and even awful situations (including pillage, cannibalism and the Spanish Inquisition) with exaggeratedly mild euphemism. A number of characters are mutilated, molested and killed, although several manage to survive all three fates.
There's a bit of sex here and there, but again it is euphemistically and sometimes obliquely described for comic effect. Given the reputation for raciness paperbacks had back in the 1950's, no doubt the editors wanted to play this up a good bit in the illustrations.
In my opinion, the kind of soft "R" rated nature of these drawings strangely does not seem out of step with much of Sheilah Beckett's more "G" rated artwork. Her figures often strike me as having a hint of sexiness to them, although not in a gratuitous or crude way. Similar to my eye as the romantic sensuality of Art Nouveau masters, particularly Alphonse Mucha.
Candide and Cunegonde are re-united several times in the book, but some new course of action invariably separates them and Candide's travels continue. By the time they eventually wed, both are tired and jaded. By then they have collected a little ensemble of characters from their travels, including a scullery maid from their lost homeland, now the companion of a fairly liberal man of the cloth (above). After all their searching (in vain) to find "true love" and the "meaning of life," a very ordinary farmer offers the group some highly practical common sense advice and they all settle down on a modest farm. Everyone winds up older, sadder and while not exactly wiser, more resigned to the the less than ideal nature of humankind.
This is the last picture in the book, when Dr. Pangloss turns up near the end after having been thought hanged by the Inquisition (being an optimist, he takes it altogether cheerfully). A surgeon buys his corpse to dissect and study, only to discover that the good Dr. is not quite completely dead. By this point in the story however, pretty much all the characters are dead to his claim that "this is the best of all possible worlds."

Be sure to check out Leif Peng's series of Sheilah Beckett's posts (if you haven't already) starting here. Also see Sean Smith's site , Sean is Sheilah's son and is an artist and photographer in his own right. You can contact him for information about available prints she has done, including scenes from Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan.


RooniMan said...

What incredible drawings.

Roberto Severino said...

Amazing drawings right here. I like the unique inking style and composition behind all of these. Too bad I've never heard of Sheilah Beckett until now. Kinda reminds me of Mary Blair for some reason.

Anyways, thanks for the great post, Will. I've been reading your blog for quite a while and I've enjoyed your unique opinions on the state of the animation industry. Hope you don't mind the first-time comment.

Will Finn said...

Comments welcome!

So much great work by this artist, I have a number of other books but don't know when i will get around to scanning more. these were the total number of illustrations in this particular book (it's very short).

Leif Peng said...

Will; Thanks so much for this terrific and enlightening post. And for the shout out for TI :^)

I'll add a link to this when I move Sheilah's installments to the Female Illustrators blog.