This Folio Life: Recreating one of literature’s most imaginative books

In our latest blog we explore an ancient bookmaking technique that ensured our limited edition The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was a truly authentic tribute to the original novel.

Limited edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman from The Folio Society

Limited editions often present very specific production challenges. This could mean sourcing artisan materials, moving schedules to commission our first-choice illustrators and introducers, accessing rare archives and locating specialist craftspeople. Tristram Shandy included many of these challenges, however, with our expert production and publishing teams on board, we knew we could produce an exceptional edition that honoured the original, while also adding a Folio flourish or two.

 

Unique marbled page in every edition

Tristram Shandy is an intoxicating mix of brilliantly madcap narrative and visual experience and we have recreated Laurence Sterne’s novel down to the blacked-out mourning pages, a blank page for you to draw the Widow Wadman and a missing chapter. However, it’s the individually marbled sheets that truly mark this limited edition as unique. The first two volumes appeared in 1759 and proved to be wildly popular, with the next seven volumes being released over much of the following decade.

An 1802 edition of Tristram Shandy which included the score of Uncle Toby’s favourite air ‘Lillibullero’

An 1802 edition of Tristram Shandy which included the score of Uncle Toby’s favourite air ‘Lillibullero’

Sterne relished pushing the boundaries of the literary form and included a marbled insert on page 169 of Volume III, which he referred to as the ‘motley emblem of my work’. Almost 250 years later, this creative endeavour was celebrated by The Laurence Sterne Trust when 169 artists, writers and composers were invited to submit a piece entitled ‘The Emblem of My Work‘ for an exhibition at Shandy Hall. One of the artists was marbler Jemma Lewis and it is Jemma who created the marbling for our edition.

 

Introducing artisan crafts to modern bookmaking

A rare technique in the 1700s, marbling remains a labour-intensive and highly skilled craft. Jemma has worked on a number of Folio limited editions, including the marbled bindings on our Letterpress Shakespeare series, and we were delighted to commission her studio to produce the marbled sheets for Tristram Shandy.

Marbled paper drying, created by artist Jemma Lewis

Jemma’s designs are tailored for each project with inspiration taken from the source material: ‘We might be inspired by the synopsis of the book, any illustrations combined within, or any other parts of the book that inspire us. We work through many different options and experiments and this is all part of the fun in creating just the right piece.’

 

Traditional and contemporary marbling patterns

Working from her Wiltshire studio, Jemma used gouache paint and 90gsm Fabriano Ingres paper to craft 75 original hand-marbled sheets, which were cut down to ten individual folios per sheet. Each design requires a specific colour palette, with the paints added in precise quantity and order before the treated paper is carefully laid down to collect the pattern.

Marbled paper being created by Jemma Lewis

‘The papers developed organically which very much fitted in with Sterne’s own belief to let things develop naturally. We have pretty much covered all the well-known marbled paper designs. We have the “Italian Vein”, “Turkish Spot” and some combed designs like the traditional “Nonpareil” and “Peacock” styles, which sit nicely alongside some of the more contemporary designs. I’ve also added a couple of “Tigers Eye” patterns and a small amount of “Spanish Ripple” but trying to ripple a 90gsm paper is pretty tricky as they are so lightweight.’

A range of different marbled papers by artist Jemma Lewis

One of the joys of creating limited editions is the opportunity to celebrate traditional materials and techniques and to showcase the works of artisan craftspeople like Jemma. ‘For us, marbling papers for use within books will hopefully always continue, whether it be recreating historic papers for rebinding and restoration, or creating customer marbled designs for special limited editions.’

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, limited edition from The Folio Society

Find out more and order The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

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