+ History and Horrors in Wax +

by Sylvia Martin + illustrated by C. Walter Hodges

History illustration

Condensed from Sylvia Martin's book I, Madame Tussaud, published in 1957 by Harper. This is another story in the Reader's Digest Junior Omnibus where the actual story didn't excite me so much as the illustrations. And in the case of History and Horror in Wax, the title. When I first got my omnibus, I was five, and I couldn't read all of it. I couldn't make out the word History, so I substituted: Hindus. Over and over I read: Hindus and Horrors in Wax.

I was fascinated by both the illustrations. In the main picture, people had their names printed below, and not in one straight line. It was great fun looking back and forth between the jagged line of names (and fancy names at that) and the asembled people, who also were not in a straight line. Some were behind, and smaller. Something about the way Edward the First was holding the baby, that he didn't actually grasp the child but just supported it in the crook of his arm was intriguing.(Edward actually seems to have his hand looped through the strap of a cradle, but I never recognized that.) I felt that Marie Antoinette's dress, especially the embellishments near its hem, must hold some secret writing, like the way Al Hirschfeld incorporated the name of his daughter, Nina, into his drawings.

The other drawing showed Mary, Queen of Scots kneeling just before her head was chopped off. There was always something about the puffiness of her cap and the way the shape of the chopping block was echoed on the wall.

When I read the story of Madame Tussaud now, I see she was a woman dedicated to her craft, and at times forced to practice it: in 1789 the French Revolution began and Tussaud was condemned to death and jailed in Paris. Her captors forced her to make wax models of the heads of guillotined: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre. Tussaud was not executed; she lived until the age of 88, in 1850.

Sylvia Martin

Sylvia Pass Martin was born in 1913. Martin published a few travel books, all written with Lawrence Martin:
  • Enjoying Europe (1975)
  • You Meet Them in Mexico (1948)
  • Europe: The Grand Tour (1967)
  • England! An Uncommon Guide (1963)

She died in 1981.

C Walter Hodges

C. Walter Hodges photo Cyril Walter Hodges was born in 1909 in Beckingham, Kent, England. He illustrated books for children by authors including Rosemary Sutcliff and Elisabeth Goudge. Hodges was an expert on Shakespearean theatres, and his own book, Shakespeare's Theatre, won the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration in 1964. He was married for 63 years to Greta Becker.She died in 1999; Hodges died November 24, 2004 in Moretonhampstead, Devon. His obituary is online.

History illustration
+ Omnibus Home Page + The City That Died to Live + Man Overboard! +
+ Pigs is Pigs + The Princess Who Wanted the Moon + Annie Oakley and the Wild West + I Killed "Moby Dick" +
+ Hector, the Stowaway Dog + The Day I Met Midnight + Hunter + The Night My Number Came Up +

+ If you want to comment about History and Horrors in Wax, please write to omnibus@chebucto.ca
+ If you have an extra copy of the Reader's Digest Junior Omnibus, I'd be happy to send it on to someone who has lost theirs.
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+ A labour of love by Jane Kansas, last updated on July 5, 2011.