A review of Clarice Cliff by Lynn Knight
A recent bout of a bad cold afforded me the ideal opportunity to complete my reading of Lynn Knight's book "Clarice Cliff" without interruption. Aided by steamy fumes of Olbas Oil and syrupy medicine, and supported by a couple of phenylephrine-laced sleepless nights, I am proud to report the deed was done!
To begin, I must echo remarks made elsewhere by members M & H, that this is a remarkable book by a remarkable lady. Let me get this out of the way before any misunderstandings. The author clearly researched extensively for the book, and along avenues seldom travelled. This was not it's downfall. The downfall was in the editing and the advice the author should have received over the extensive period of re-writing for publication. The structure and focus of the book was fragmented.
The author, in my opinion, weaved two 'voices' without subtlety and often without sense.
The voice of The Researcher
We have the researcher who pulled out evidence for Clarice Cliff's background and way of life. The evidence was minutely and carefully documented with extensive and pertinent notes for the reader to follow-up or ignore as the mood took them. There was a nice account of the coal strike and the suffragette movement. However, the author often seemed to be extravagant with documenting her research and it appeared in the body of the book where it would have sat more easily in notes, which broke the flow and became frustrating for this reader. Also frustrating was the omission of a more contemporary historical viewpoint, clearly documented by Cheryl Buckley in " Potters and Paintresses: Women Designers in the Pottery Industry 1870 - 1955", The Women's Press, 1990.
Vera Brittain was quoted but not noted. Whoops! Please reply to this review if another reader finds the first reference or proper introduction to the context of Vera Brittain. I may have missed it.
More details of the sources of information would have been helpful to collectors as well as academics. For example, there is no indication as to how the author knew that Clarice Cliff designed for Shorters (p 158). Lynn Knight provided a reference to "The Shorter Connection" and referenced The Pottery Gazette with no details. What a disappointing aspect of the book! It would have been more honest had the author gone into more details, or declared that this was heresay and left the reader with a question mark?
The Voice of The Story-teller
We have the story-teller who took the particular context they described and invented scenarios surrounding Clarice Cliff and her life and associates. The voice of the story-teller was not unlike the voice in The Art of Bizarre. Whether we have rain in Paris or trips to the theatre, the effect is the same. An example, page 102.
"'Ostentation is not in the pottery tradition',(note) but there was nothing more ostentatious than driving your own car. How the lace nets must have twitched when Clarice Cliff drove down Edwards Street the very first time - and countless times thereafter. There were unlikely to have been other privately owned cars in the vicinity. Women drivers were, anyway, something of a novelty: 'There's a woman driving that car!'(note) was the reaction of some in Stoke-on-Trent at the sight of Clarice Cliff behind the wheel. It took a while for her to get the hang of things, however. Taking a corner too fast in Burslem as a relatively new driver, she overturned the car and brought Colley rushing to her side. Fortunately, no damage was done, either to Clarice or the Austin Seven; from then on, she took corners more sedately.(note)"
The first quote was taken from an established source, the second from Nancy Craddock quoted by Griffin, The Art of Bizarre, p55, the third note was taken from Leonard Griffin in conversation with the author with no further details of source of information.
A further example, page 209.
"As a family with four adults in employment, and with Clarice one of them, the Cliffs were able to enjoy some of the luxuries of the day - frequent trips to the cinema and local theatre, visits to the opera when the Carla Rosa company toured, a gramaphone and a wireless, not forgetting the new delights of the tinned food that was becoming popular, and to which Clarice was partial."
There were moments of success in the book, highlighted by the extract published in The Mail on Sunday on August 21st 2005. Passages frequently become fluent and readable. The abridged version serialised on the radio last winter was also well thought out. The account of Ann Cliff's life at the start of the book was readable and would have sat well in an historical novel.
Where was the voice of the editor?
The fanciful story-telling was a bad fit within the framework of contextual research. Who was the reader here, dear author? If I was an academic, I might respect your particular viewpoint, even if I did not always agree with it. If I enjoyed a good novel, I might have found some of the book enjoyable, but much was extremely dry and too frequently dotted with those fanciful and cheesy moments. If I was a collector, I would want less of the painstaking background research up front and more context. And certainly none of the 'Penny Deadful' approach to use of language.
Significantly, and possibly the reason why many pick up the book and put it down too soon, the first few chapters felt like a first draft. The author would have benefited from more editorial support. I often found the background to Clarice Cliff's family stodgily documented and where it flipped between generations, impossible to follow.
The Historical Style
The start of the book did not do justice to the parts of the book that clearly flowed, and to which the author should be very satisfied. In an ideal world, this reader would very much welcome a re-write of the book in the historical style to which Lynn Knight is clearly able to articulate with some strength.
Clarice Cliff by Lynn Knight, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2005.
Reviewer: Edith Neele, member of The Clarice Cliff Collectors Club
Reviewer's interest: No interest to declare, book purchesed by reviewer at retail price.
I hesitated to post in the first thread 'reviewing' this title as I could find nothing good to say about it and I admire Mrs Neele for her persistence in reading the book through.
Anyone familiar with Lynn Knight as an editor will be acquainted with her work 'The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Taylor' and the way the reader is drawn through every page, sadly the same cannot be said of 'Clarice Cliff', it does not read well as a biography. I also found it too fragmented and trying to introduce too many elements into the life of Miss Cliff and it was at this point I realised 'Clarice Cliff' not only attempts to examine the designer but also the wider changes in social attitudes of the time. Viewed from this angle the book becomes easier to read and understand, although possibly of less interest to collectors and I was interested to find that others better qualified than me to offer opinions have published similar sentiments.
The Guardian's review said of the title,
and also remarks,
Whilst The Financial Times said,
Members/collectors hesitant to buy the book at £20.00 may be interested to know that the title is scheduled to become available as a 336 page paperback on the 18th September 2006 with a published price of only £8.99.
I also found Lynn Knight's book heavy going and very disjointed in places, almost as if it were written by two people. As a book about Clarice Cliff it was for me a disappointment but as a study in social history it does work better. I could find little new in it about Clarice and am very relieved to find that my misgivings about the publication are not only confirmed by the press critics but other collectors who choose to post elsewhere.
Maybe more collectors will be encouraged not to 'leave it on the shelf' when the price comes down to £8.99.
Moderator's note: The source of the *quotes has been supplied to the moderator's office and we can confirm them all as genuine.
*The quotes are taken from an 'open' message board on a commercial website operated for CC 'enthusiasts' and were published by them free of any identifiable copyright lien, hence the lack of source identification by the contributing member or ourselves.
Having used Latin in one posting I thought I would add a coment to this one in the same language!
'Nullus est liber tam malus ut non aliqua parte prosit'.
Moderator's note: Misericordia temperantia penuriosus please.
I really do not understand why a book like this that gets such bad reviews from press, trade and the collectors themselves is turned into a paper back although I suppose at only £8.99 it will be cheaper than most pulp fiction and appeal to the penny dreadful reader.
The only good review I read was from one of the contributors which I guess does not count.
I suspect a lot of books go into print with plans of being reprinted as a paper back after the first year.
I did not like the Lynn Knight book which I had to have sent over from England as it seems unavailable here but changed my opinion on reading it as a social review of the times rather than something about CC and believe the faults have more to do with editing than content.
I agree that much of the success of a book is down to the editing and many an author has come unstuck when they move away from the professional editors some publishing houses insist on using, The Bizarre Affair owed much of its success to the effective editing of its text as I suspect does Comprehensively Clarice Cliff which comes from the same publishers.
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