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Jan and Cora Gordon, 1928: Salesmanship in California

I smiled last Saturday as we found ourselves taking part in an earnest time-share sales presentation in San Diego, succumbing to some insistent and misleading salesmanship, quite alien in style and content to anything a Brit would have come across at home.

This prompted a recollection of the encounter between Jan and Cora Gordon and California real estate salesmen in 1928 recorded in "Star-dust in Hollywood". The similarities are astonishing.

".. every real estate firm, in an agony of cut-throat competition, was trying to catch every 'tourist' as he arrived with his savings, to induce him if possible to invest his money in land before he could discover the real conditions. All along the streets near the centre of the town large rubber-neck wagons waited to abduct the wandering visitor. Young and often charming women pounced upon one from doors, waving prospectuses and promising free drives, free lunches and the rest."

Cora Gordon "was willing to becom…

Jan and Cora Gordon "Painting under Difficulties" 1922 Spain

The Pall Mall Gazette, Friday 20 October 1922, carried an article on Jan and Cora Gordons' "Poor Folk in Spain." The title was "PAINTING UNDER DIFFICULTIES." The book describes a 1920 journey to Spain by the Gordons. Here is the text of the article.

"There Is a delicious irresponsibility about the newest book on Spain, "Poor Folk in Spain," by Jan and Cora Gordon, 12s. 6d.. published by the Bodley Head, and some of the illustrations are funny enough to remind one of Heath Robinson.

The pictures the Gordon have brought back with them to England each have a history. Here are some quotations from the book that will show you some of the difficulties of painting in Spain :

Skirting the fonda wall, I found a corner which seemed secluded, and, sitting down, I began to paint an old woman and her fruit stall. One by one a few people gathered behind me. Blas, the gipsy musician, came up, greeted me, and added his solid presence to the spectators. A baker c…

A 1937 review of "Three Lands on Three Wheels” by Jan and Cora Gordon: "Wifekiller" and Vin Ordinaire

The Waterford Standard on Saturday 22 May 1937, presented the Book of the Week, Jan and Cora Gordon's ‘‘Three Lands on Three Wheels.”

The text is as follows:

"One of the objections to the draft Constitution of Eire —another new name for the same old country —is that it puts women in a position of inferiority. All our most advanced women and female politicians are protesting that the new Constitution will deprive them of certain rights and drive them back to the home and family life. Personally, I don’t think the new Constitution will make one iota of difference to women; but in any case if family life can be made anything like the menage of Jan and Cora Gordon we should all be charmed with it. Robert Frost, the American poet, who is creating a new cult, says: If men were as much men as lizards are lizards They’d be worth looking at.” 

And I am certain that if family life had some of the adventure, some of the happy-go-lucky, carefree atmosphere, some of the joyous sense of pa…

A 1934 Exhibition by Jan and Cora Gordon in the Coventry Opera House Vestibule

An article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 11 December 1934 (which I had not come across before), has the following title:


The article mixes accounts of the art exhibition, Cora Gordon's talk on Sketching Through Europe" and various biographical anecdotes.

"Considerable interest is already being shown in the exhibition of artistic works by Jan and Cora Gordon in the vestibule of the Coventry Opera House this week It will be recalled that both artists are among those who have addressed Coventry Repertory Circle. Both are art critics to leading national papers as well as being artists themselves, and are also well known for their travel books. Jan Gordon is in hospital, where he is making a good recovery from a serious illness.

Jan and Cora Gordon are travellers in the true sense of the word. Wherever they have been they have been concerned less with pondering …

A 1926 Review of Two Vagabonds in Sweden and Lapland: Weak Beer, Knife-wielding Babies and Swarms of Biting Insects

I came across the following review of "Two Vagabonds in Sweden and Lapland" in the Dundee Courier - Friday 16 July 1926. This book was one of Jan and Cora Gordon's "Two Vagabonds" series and includes, amongst many others, stories about "The master fiddler" and pagan music.

Here's the review:


The menu of what was simply an ordinary lunch in will astonish most people as it certainly astonished these two clever itinerants, Jan and Cora Gordon, who have just published "Two Vagabonds in Sweden and Lapland."

Swedish men and women, are told, eat breakfast at eleven and lunch at four. The variety and magnitude of the viands the luncheon table suggests baronial feasts of the Middle Ages.

In a hotel dining-room the first thing that strikes the eye is the large table, centred with a mountain of butter, which is flanked by tall stands upon which various kinds of bread are heaped—hard bread, black bread, honey bread, &am…

Jan Gordon: "I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls" and the connection with James Joyce

Sometimes it's fun to just follow connections and see where they lead.

Jan and Cora Gordon wrote in The London Roundabout (1933):
"You try whistling Tosti's Good-bye or I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls, and see what happens. You'll get thrown out on the pavement."

The "unlucky" song (to the superstitious) they mention is from the Gipsy Girl's Dream in an 1843 opera, "Bohemian Girl," composed by Michael William Balfe with libretto by Alfred Bunn.

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls, With vassals and serfs at my side, And of all who assembled within those walls, That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count, could boast Of a high ancestral name; But I also dreamt, which pleased me most, That you lov'd me still the same...
That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same, That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same.

This verse is the same one performed by the character of Maria in James Joyce's short…

Jan and Cora Gordon in Germany 1930

Browsing old 1931 copies of Britannia & Eve, looking for articles by my grandmother (nom de plume Catherine Ives), I came across an article by Jan and Cora Gordon on "The German Girl and her Grandmother."

The account relates to a 1930 trip to Germany by the Gordons and shows that not all of their European excursions resulted in a "Two Vagabonds" book. They were travelling by the "wandering wardrobe" so vividly described in their book "Three Lands on Three Wheels" (1932), which received mixed reviews.

The story begins with "Chugging through a little German town on our old motorbike, we became aware that something was taking our attention from the five-hundred-year-old tower and the overgrown cross-beamed houses with seven stories in their attics. An enormous face printed on the cover of the weekly illustrated Blätterling was being displayed everywhere."

The face belonged to " a hurdle jumper who had leapt into a week's fam…

Jan and Cora Gordon and the Posada at Lorca

Jan and Cora Gordon made two visits to Spain, in 1920 and 1921. I retraced much of the second journey in the summer of 2009.

"Misadventures with a Donkey in Spain" (Chapter IV) contains a lengthy description of the posada in Lorca after the following introduction:

"The posada is probably the most characteristic monument of old Spain still in existence, being perhaps less modified by the influence of modernity than its rival in village importance, the church. There are posada in "Don Quixote" which might have been described from buildings in use to-day, and as the posada of Lorca was one of the most characteristic we were ever lodged in, it merits a short description."

The description begins with the courtyard, which is well illustrated in the etching shown below.

" One should view the posada from the inside outwards. It is gathered about a large cobble-floored courtyard open to the sky, and all around the square yard buildings, which look at least of…