A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel

Adam Smyth writes:

On a Saturday morning in November 1966, Tom Phillips picked a book at random from a pile of novels at a house-clearance sale in Peckham Rye. Phillips had never heard of W.H. Mallock’s A Human Document (1892), but he liked the title and the yellow cover and handed over threepence. Back at his kitchen table, Phillips began a process of remaking or ‘treating’ the book: by painting over most of each page with acrylic gouache or ink, he left visible a stream of text which, in dialogue with the images he added, told a new story. By folding the title-page, Phillips contracted the words ‘a human document into a neologism he liked: ‘a humument. ‘An earthy word,’ he writes in the afterword to this fifth edition, ‘I like even the effortful sound of it.’

(LRB 11 October 2012)

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