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book (design) story #24

eric knight:
dir selber treu

humanitas verlag, zürich, 1942
size: 21 x 14 cm
designer: richard paul lohse

Book image

this book is the german translation of a novel by eric knight (1897-1943), a writer who was born in yorkshire, england, but emigrated to the usa in 1912. "this above all", published in 1941, proved to be a bestseller and was made into a hollywood film in 1942. the romantic story was very contemporary: an english working class hero runs away from the army after the dunkirk debacle, disappointed with britain's class society. but then he falls in love with a posh girl. at the end of the day the hero acts bravely in the london blitz.

the book's title is from shakespeare's "hamlet" – "this above all: to thine own self be true". interestingly, the german edition preferred the second part of the verse – "dies über alles: sei dir selber treu". i can imagine why: the term "über alles" was too close to nazi germany's national anthem ("deutschland, deutschland ..." etc.).

the typography of the book is nothing special, but the dustjacket is quite impressive. its designer is not credited but it is listed in the catalogue of richard paul lohse's (1902-1988) graphic designs (isbn 3775709916).

Book image

when we compare this jacket to lohse's design for last week's book (see story 23) we notice some surprising parallels: again a yellow/black/white colour scheme, and again "beams of light". but what a difference in style: no longer line-drawings, but a great photograph showing anti-aircraft searchlights (the searchlight motif actually also appears on the jacket of the english first edition, but not this photo and a more traditional design). the letters are no longer hand-drawn, but typeset ranged-left in akzidenz-grotesk semi-bold (repeated on the grey linen cover) – a war-time example of modern swiss graphic design.

Book image

today, eric knight is chiefly remembered for his one children’s book that turned into a cult: "lassie come-home", published in 1940, was made into a film starring pal (the dog) and elizabeth taylor (the girl). a few months before the release of the film, knight was killed in a mysterious plane crash in the jungles of dutch guiana (now suriname).

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