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Under the Mantle of Balázs

In response to:

The Man Who Wrote Everything from the November 25, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

In my review of Béla Balázs’s The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales, translated by Jack Zipes (Princeton University Press) [NYR, November 25, 2010], I noted that there was a previous translation by George Leitmann, The Mantle of Dreams, published by Kodansha in 1974.

Mr. Leitmann has recently written me about the artwork in the Princeton edition. These illustrations have a curious history: in 1921, the artist Mariette Lydis commissioned Balázs to write a series of stories to accompany the paintings she had done on “Chinese” themes—in effect, to textually illustrate her illustrations. The artwork, then, is integral to the book.

As both the Princeton and the Kodan- sha books have identical illustrations, I assumed that they were reprinted from the original 1922 German limited edition. In fact, the Kodansha illustrations were adapted from Lydis by a Japanese artist, Katakura Shigeo, especially for that edition. The Princeton book credits Lydis alone, stating that the illustrations are reproduced from a 1994 Italian translation. Mr. Leitmann writes that he believes that the Italian artwork was pirated from the Kodansha book.

After my review was published, Hanno Loewy, the leading Balázs scholar, sent me his 2005 German edition of the fairy tales, which reproduces Lydis’s original paintings. Mr. Zipes cites the book in his extensive bibliography, so he is surely aware that the illustrations in his book—part of a series that he edits—are not directly by Lydis. Strangely, neither Mr. Zipes’s bibliography nor his long introduction mentions the earlier Kodansha edition, which, though long out of print, is hardly obscure.

In my review, I wrote that I preferred the Leitmann translation and I wondered why it wasn’t simply lightly edited and reprinted. Balázs, by the way, is largely untranslated and would be an extremely interesting project for an American academic publisher.

Eliot Weinberger
New York City

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