Monday, 17 January 2011

Ossip Schubin: Our Own Set

The Neglected Books Page is a great site: a wonderful resource for people looking to spend all of their money on out-of-print and forgotten books. It's also where I first learned of Ossip Schubin (real name Aloisia Kirschner), a Prague-born Austrian writer whose Our Own Set is a wonderful social comedy somewhere in the area between Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and early Henry James, but refracted through a prism of decaying, self-absorbed Austrian aristocracy, and set in Rome in 1870. The review at Neglected Books is excellent, but it does give away the end of the story. The book itself is available at the Internet Archive in Clara Bell's fine translation, and it is this version of the text which I used for the new Whisky priest edition.

I was struck by a descriptive passage halfway through the novel, setting the scene for an important plot development. It describes Monte Pincio, where the Austrian exiles and tourists mingle with locals and travellers from other countries.

The scene is now the Pincio — between five and six in the afternoon, the hour when the band plays every day on the great terrace, while the crowd collects to watch the sun set behind St. Peter's. The reflection of the glow gilds the gravel, glints from the lace on the uniforms and the brass instruments, and throws golden sparks on the water in the wide basin behind the bandstand. ... A special set of visitors haunt the shady side of the Pincio; not the fashionable world: governesses and nurses with their charges, and priests ... Separated from these only by a leafy screen the beauty and fashion of Rome drive up and down — the residents in handsome private carriages, the foreigners in hired vehicles of varying degrees of respectability, or even in the humble, one-horse, hackney cab. The crowd grows denser every minute as the stream of Roman rank and wealth swells along the Via Borghese, across the Piazza del Popolo, and up the hill.

This image represented wonderfully by a pair of paintings by American artist Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924) of Monte Pincio, teeming with tourists and sightseers. Click for bigger versions.

I wanted to use a detail from the first of these for Our Own Set's cover. As for the font, something with lovely firm, round Os was needed--a medium weight of ITC Avant Garde Gothic.

 Our Own Set is available now at Lulu, and soon from Amazon. More Ossip Schubin titles are planned.


  1. Thank you! Sorry about the delay in the comment appearing--something went astray with comments moderation.