The umbrella may be the most taken for granted of all accessories. Lacking the allure of the shoe and the handbag, or the glamour of watches and other jewellery, the umbrella is however not only innately useful, it is also fascinating in terms of its history and its use as a symbol in many great works of literature.
A deft and engaging social history of the umbrella, or brolly, Brolliology is packed with facts and anecdotes about the most-misplaced of all belongings – from Nicolas Sarkozy’s Kevlar-coated security umbrella, to Queen Victoria’s chain-mail one; the umbrella that killed dissident Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov in 1978; Neville Chamberlain’s part in the rise and fall of brolly popularity; Nietzsche’s obsessively puzzling forgotten umbrella and the ‘umbrella man’ present at JFK’s assassination…
Umbrellas have – perhaps surprisingly – featured prominently in literature from Dickens to Robert Louis Stevenson, E. M. Forster, Will Self, Sarah Perry and some of the best-known characters in fiction – including Mary Poppins, Emma Bovary and J. K. Rowling’s Hagrid – have famously sported the humble (or not so humble) brolly.
A wealth of perfectly chosen and beautiful colour pictures – from vintage umbrella adverts and London underground posters, several Japanese prints, literary illustrations, to Suffragist ‘propaganda’ – compliment the rich subject matter. Over 40 illustrations make this a true delight to flick through, as well as to read in depth.
Marion Rankine guides us through all of this with a wry, quizzical and prepossessing authorial voice – full of evident knowledge and obvious delight at her chosen subject. Although it may at first appear niche, this is a book that will undoubtedly appeal to anyone interested in literature, social history and, of course, umbrellas.
Published tomorrow, the book is already courting some wonderful reviews:
“This book is an enjoyable reminder that a brolly is never just a brolly.” – The Sydney Morning Herald
“Shot through with an opulent array of beautiful illustrations and photographs, Brolliology is a little gem of a book about what actually turns about to be a surprisingly absorbing and rich subject.” – The National
This striking little book is sure to be one of the most popular stocking-fillers of 2017, and rightly so. Not simply a beautifully made and stunningly illustrated story of how umbrellas came to hold the place they do in our lives, but a fascinating guide to the iconic accessory and its part in the work of some of the greatest writers of the past few hundred years.
Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature by Marion Rankine is published by Melville House UK 2nd November (9781911545071, h/b, £12.99)