Joseph Bisat MarshallDe Profundis2014
This is a book design project based on De Profundis, an epistle written by Oscar Wilde in 1897, during his time serving a two year sentence in Reading Gaol for gross indecency. The text was set inside the pages of a French-fold and Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was set on the outside making it immediately visible when the book is opened. To expose De Profundis, the pages must be forcibly ripped apart. This feature references Wilde’s trial, where The Picture of Dorian Gray was used as evidence of his homosexuality. The action of tearing a page is meant to pain the reader and further the experiential quality of the book as a tactile and personified object.
The Picture of Dorian Gray was set in a typical, novel format with flourishing type. In contrast, De Profundis was constrained to narrower columns where the text runs continuously without paragraph breaks at a smaller point size. At random intervals, the text breaks and plunges into blocks of solid black ink that fill the remainder of the page. The periods of time in which Wilde was allowed to write in prison were unpredictable and limited; the type was set in such a way that allows the reader to experience this frustration and despair.
The cover was created by running a single sheet through a press multiple times. The solid blocks of black ink from each inside page were copied onto the sheet as a very low tint. Hundreds of runs through the press created an oil-like density at the bottom of the sheet where there are more layers.
In its wider context, the project was concerned with notions of design and literary authorship. It attempted to explore the challenging questions that the act of designing an existing text evokes.
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