There is an article on the indexer Nancy Bailey (1863-1913) in the current issue of SIdelights magazine (the newsletter of the Society of Indexers). I wrote a piece on Nancy Bailey a couple of years back after researching her background and career. This new article contains an image of Nancy I haven’t seen before (see bottom left below). I now have four pictures of her.
Most professional indexers use dedicated indexing software to help with the routine clerical aspects of their craft ‒ the arrangement and styling of entries, the generation of output files in various formats, and so on. I’ve always been a fan of CINDEX, which I use nearly every day. But here’s evidence of an earlier attempt to join technology and indexing:
The postman brought me an early Xmas present a couple of days ago − an inscribed copy of Stephen Done’s just-published collection of short stories The Mountsorrel Mystery (Hastings Press, 2016). This is the second book of Stephen’s I’ve proofread. It contains six exciting new tales featuring Inspector Charles Vignoles and his colleagues from the fictional British Railways Detective Department based at Leicester Central.
The Mountsorrel railway was once used to transport granite from local quarries. The track was lifted in the 1960s and has remained abandoned for 50 years until community volunteers restored a mile-long section of track as a heritage line. Today there is a new platform at Mountsorrel, a nature trail and coffee/tea room, and I believe copies of The Mountsorrel Mystery are on sale at the bookshop in the visitor's centre.
Last week I completed my index to Joanne Vigor’s new biography of Joseph Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’. It’s an interesting book that digs into Merrick’s family history and early years in Leicester, and examines especially the relationship between Merrick and the London surgeon Frederick Treves, who began by photographing and examining Merrick as a medical specimen and ended up inviting him to his Wimpole Street home.
As well as his reminiscences on the Elephant Man, Treves authored several medical textbooks, volumes of travel writing, and an account of his experiences treating the wounded at a travelling field hospital in South Africa during the Second Boer War. I’ve been reading his ‘The Tale of a Field Hospital’ (1900) which consists of thirty short, sombre essays. They are excellent: here he is describing a group of soldiers pretending indifference at the funeral of their fallen comrades:
They wander off in twos and threes, and they have become curiously silent. Some have dragged out pipes from their pockets, and are filling them absently. One is whistling an incoherent fragment of a tune. They look towards the horizon and perhaps see nothing but the barren veldt, or perhaps they see a familiar village in England, and within a cottage in the small street the figure of a woman with her face buried in her hands.
Yesterday the postman brought me a copy of Kate Clarke’s Fatal Affairs (Mango Books, 2016). It’s a compendium of five eighteenth and nineteenth century murder cases where ‘love and romantic infatuation ended in death.’ It features Christiana Edmunds (d. 1907), the Brighton chocolate cream killer who became known as the Venus of Broadmoor. It has a bloodthirsty cover showing James Greenacre holding aloft the severed head of his wife-to-be.
It's the third book I've indexed for Kate, and hopefully there will be one more volume later in the year..
I’m not a gardener by any means, but I have two gardening books on my shelves ‒ both of them by Muriel Stuart: Fool’s Garden (Jonathan Cape, 1936) with illustrations by Eileen Hawkins, and Gardener’s Nightcap (Jonathan Cape, 1938) with decorations by Philip Gough. They are bedtime reading for the amateur gardener, offering medleys of tips, anecdotes and practical information to dip into before going to sleep. I wouldn’t sell them for the world.
Muriel Stuart (1885–1967) is better known (although still neglected) as a poet: her themes were the Great War, lost and unrequited love, growing old, and sexual politics. I’ve been an admirer of her work for decades. For some reason she gave up publishing poetry in her later years, and turned to writing non-fiction. Except she never really stopped composing verse, and she includes new lyrics in both her gardening books, which add immensely to their charm.
Her gardening books are indexed, although a little eccentrically. I suspect the author was obliged to index her own publications. There are some not very helpful entries such as ‘Why does Your Path Wind’ (filed under ‘W’) and ‘Other Edgings’ (filed under ‘O’).
Yesterday, rooting through some old newspapers, I found two pictures of her I haven’t seen before, dating from 1915 when her poetry first began to attract critical attention. They are from (top) the Sunday Pictorial (12 September 1915) and the Daily Mirror (22 December 1915).
Sometimes I struggle to index more than two or three pages an hour, which is an exceptionally slow rate of working. My favourite Victorian indexer, Nancy Bailey, worked considerably faster than me, and she may even have been one of the fastest indexers of all time. Here’s a little paragraph about her phenomenal work ethic (from Reynolds’s Newspaper, August 26, 1894)
I’ve recently obtained a copy of Kevin Jackson’s Invisible Forms. It calls itself ‘A Guide to Literary Curiosities’, by which it means it takes a look at the paratextual infrastructure of a book ‒ the footnotes, epigraphs, dedications, appendices, bibliographies and afterwords, etc., that make up the lesser amenities of a book. At the end, there is a chapter on indexes.
Jackson has many agreeable things to say about indexes and index-makers. ‘A good index,’ he says:
‘has the satisfying qualities of all skilled workmanship; an inspired index may be a thing of joy sometimes wittier, more eloquent and more enlightening than the book whose train it follows with such deceptive humility.’
He repeats several amusing well-known stories about the history and practice of indexing, and generally revels in the weirder elements of the craft. When he’s finished, he urges his readers to proceed to the index of his own book, Invisible Forms, and ‘regard it with renewed affection and respect.’
But it’s a poor index: there are misspellings (Jean-Paul Satre and Neal Casady, for example), while important topics and themes are omitted altogether to make room for a throwaway mention of the fictional mad Arab Abdul Alhazred from H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories.
The book is excellent, though. Jackson mentions in passing an enjoyable anecdote about ‘Noel Coward and the Hot Potato’ by the indexer Gordon Carey. I don’t know that one so I’ll have to hunt it down.
In Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading the author speaks wistfully of the books he knows he won’t have time to read (or write) before he dies.
In particular, he dwells on an imaginary book ‒ The History of Reading. He pictures its rich cream pages and sensual dark cloth binding, and its ‘copious and curious index’ which he knows will give him great delight. And he quotes from this non-existent index:
Tantalus for readers
Manguel rightly points out that even if a book does not exist that is no reason to ignore it, just as we ought not to ignore a book on an imaginary topic such as unicorns or Atlantis.
I checked to see if the index to A History of Reading includes a reference to this imaginary book and its pretend index. But sadly, it doesn't.
This in the cover for Richard Whittington-Egan’s new biography of Elliott O’Donnell, The Master Ghost Hunter, which will be published later this month.
Elliott O’Donnell (1872‒1965) is an author primarily known for his non-fiction books on ghosts and haunted houses. He also wrote supernatural thrillers and an occult fantasy. It’s difficult sometimes to distinguish between the two, and the general view today ‒ as it was in some quarters during O’Donnell’s lifetime ‒ is that he embroidered many of his true-life psychic adventures for dramatic purposes. I feel it’s wrong to label him a trickster or a fraud, though: he was essentially a raconteur who knew how to tell a good spooky tale.
He certainly led an interesting life. In particular he had a penchant for séances and solitary all-night vigils in reputedly haunted murder houses… It’s been a fantastically entertaining book to index, and it’s allowed me to create several rather macabre and sinister index entries:
Holborn: creature in basement, 185
O’Donnell lived to the ripe old age of 93. Richard Whittington-Egan is in his mid-nineties as well, I believe. Long may he continue to produce exciting books like The Master Ghost Hunter.
David A. Green is a freelance indexer living in Petersfield, Hampshire.
The Indexed Word
Random thoughts about books, indexes, and book indexing.