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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…

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 Bl├Ątterling 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…

A Cora Josephine Gordon lecture in 1947: "Off the beaten Track in Europe"

Cora Josephine Gordon (1879-1950) continued to give public lectures and to write on art following the death of her husbandJan Gordon in 1944.

The Hull Daily Mail of October 4th 1946 carried a public notice detailing upcoming Tuesday talks at the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society, at the Queen's Hall.

Cora Gordon's talk, "Off the beaten Track in Europe," is shown for Tuesday January 14th 1947.

Before Jan Gordon's death, the couple had given public lectures together, often including musical performances. On their American journey in 1927 and 1928, they had given illustrated lectures under the management of William B. Feakins (Wm. B. Feakins, Inc., Times Building, New York).

From 1931 onwards there are reports of lectures given by Cora alone, including the following.

1931. Sheffield; "I do know that Cora Gordon is going up to Sheffield at the end of the month to give two or more lectures about the travels which she and her husband have done together. Their…

Jan Gordon on War Artists in WW1

Jan Gordon delivered a lecture on the 28th February 1943 as part of a series of six talks presented at the National Gallery on the topic of "The Artist and The War." His talk was on "The Artist and the War of 1914-18."

Shortly before this series, the National Gallery had begun showing a "Picture of the Month" as bombing raids lessened during 1942.

Jan Gordon argued that the "war has made people feel vividly the limitations of the academic school. They have begun to realise that to express things of such a nature extraordinary methods are not only permissable but essential." (Foss 2007).

He had earlier written on the war art of Paul Nash in a similar vein: "And it is precisely this clearness of understanding which makes Paul Nash's war pictures so vividly engrossing. It is not possible to paint truly how this war has swept man, because horror will not permit this truth to be told. It is possible to depict the devastation of Nature, becau…

Jan and Cora Gordon and the Pilgrimage to Fatima

Reading about the pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Fatima in Portugal today, I was reminded of the journey Jan and Cora Gordon made there in 1933, 84 years ago. A gallery of illustrations made by the Gordons during this journey can be seen here.

It is today 100 years since three children reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary while tending sheep. Two of the children (Jacinta and Francisco Marto) died in the 1918-1919 European influenza pandemic. The third, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, died in February 2005.

The Gordons had timed their visit in 1933 to be able to participate in the Fatima pilgrimage honouring the vision seen on May 13, 1917. "We had hurried our departure from London to reach Portugal before the 13th May. For on that date each year a remarkable pilgrimage takes place, celebrating an event, from what can be gathered, seems to be the best-authenticated account of a genuine miracle than can be offered." However, they noted that, "Catholic miracle experts ar…