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The Rubaiyat of Ned Wethered

May 3, 2021

Over the years, Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has turned up in many varied formats, produced in different countries around the world. Bob Forrest recently found another of these far flung editions, and it is the subject of the latest research article on his web site (see link at end). Bob writes as follows.

For me, one of the most unusual, quirky, and fascinating interpretations of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat is the edition illustrated by Ned Wethered, published by Gilmour’s Bookshop, Sydney, New South Wales, in 1926. Its cover bearing the title The Australian Omar Khayyam, it uses the text of FitzGerald’s first edition and features short biographical notes on Omar and FitzGerald, pointing out, as had been noted by others before, that FitzGerald’s rendering of Omar was so extraordinary that it was as if the Persian poet had somehow been reborn in his English translator. This little booklet of 24 pages is Potter #177. Its ten cartoon illustrations led Potter to describe it as a parody, which arguably it is, even though FitzGerald’s verses are quoted verbatim. Potter dates it to [1927], but contemporary newspaper advertisements show it to have been published in 1926. …

In discussing Ned Wethered’s illustrations, Bob quotes from The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 October 1926, p.10:

“The text of “The Australian Omar Khayyam” is the familiar version by Edward Fitzgerald (sic). The only novelty is the illustrations by Mr Ned Wethered, which depict Australian types such as swagmen, deadbeats in Persian costume, and usually in alcoholic surroundings. It is sometimes held that the allusions to wine and taverns in which the Rubaiyat abound are merely symbolical. Mr Wethered, however, has taken them literally, except that beer is substituted for wine.”

As Bob adds: Actually, it isn’t quite true that beer is substituted for wine, as both – and whisky – feature in his illustrations. As the above quote makes clear, though, the illustrations are to be examined in the light of the artist’s life–experience, specifically, as it turns out, his experience of life in the goldfields of Western Australia in the early years of the twentieth century, …

In his article Bob sets out the information he has unearthed about Ned Wethered’s life and work, as well as providing images of all the Rubaiyat illustrations (one is shown left), and a detailed analysis and interpretation of the often unusual symbolism that they contain. The article makes a fascinating read and provides yet more proof of the wide ranging impact that FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat has had on people of all times and places. Our thanks to Bob for sharing his findings with us. The full article is available on http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Ned_Wethered/Ned_Wethered.htm.

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