A tale of three designers: the mystery of design attribution in Belaso and Long's The Darling of the Gods staged at His Majesty's Theatre, London, in 1903.
In the winter of 1903, actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree staged David Belasco and John Luther Long's Japanese-themed melodrama The Darling of the Gods. Based on an original Japanese folk tale and set in the period of the samurai downfall, it told a story of the forbidden love between outlawed samurai, Kara, and naive young princess, Yo-San. The plot seemed to contain all the elements necessary for an opulent melodrama but, as so often with Tree's endeavours, its success was largely down to its stunning sets and costumes rather than great narrative finesse. Belasco and Long's 1902 debut on Broadway secured the play's popularity in New York, and was probably a useful tool for Tree and his team when constructing their version. However, the playwright's opening run had the significant benefit of employing a Japanese designer on staff, illustrator Genjiro Yeto. His drawings and ideas were interpreted by artist Madame. E. S Freisinger into costume designs, and were declared "rich and gorgeous in colour" by The New York Times (21 November 1902). The credit for costume designs used in Tree's production can be less confidently attributed, and the mystery surrounding their authorship is the focus of this article. It will also explore the corresponding aesthetic trends and cultural shifts connected to the artistic movement of Japonism, and the implications and complications that influence our reading of theatre design during this era.
Ever since Japan's trade links with Europe were opened in 1854 a surge of enthusiasm for Japanese textiles, painting, furniture and interior design flowed through Britain to America. The London Exhibition of 1862 and the Paris Exposition of 1867, followed by the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, presented:
Large displays [particularly the 1867 and '76 events] that tantalised visitors with exhibits from the mysterious and previously unknown archipelago. Just as they had "fallen" for Chinese art ... in the heyday of the China trade in the eighteenth century, Europeans and Americans were enchanted by Japanese aesthetics and styles. (McClellan, p.22)
In Japan, traders were of course keen to capitalise on this growing demand, and "Industrial Exhibitions" were held in the cities to familiarise vendors with the types of products they should be marketing. This resulted in the exportation of both original and reproduction goods that provided the taste of an alien culture: perhaps a line of ornaments on the mantelpiece, a dressing gown with cherry blossom motif, or a heavy lacquer-work footstool. By the early 1900s middle-class consumers as well as society's upper echelons could enjoy the novelty of another culture's design traits, and the power of Japonism is evident in its duration: for the last twenty years of the century its influence carried on in painting, and decorative aspects of the culture were enjoyed well into the first decade of the twentieth. Referred to under the title of "transcendental aesthetics" by Paul Kuritz, Western perceptions of Japan were the result of the transcendence of "Romantic theatrical art":
Art embodied the ideal, and it showed reality as pathetic in light of the ideal ... The transcendental vision acquired a physical presence in art ... emotion could not be contained. Gardens housed Japanese pagodas as shrines to the transcendental experience of art ... The East knew how to make art work the romantic magic. (Kuritz, 256)
Such views were also typical of the Primitivism evident in the work of Modernist artists such as Paul Gauguin, Marcel Janco and Henri Matisse. As Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighton have emphasised, these artists' aim was to:
Critique the social and aesthetic order--in this case of the visual arts, state-sanctioned academicism--by embracing an imagined primitiveness whose authenticity they opposed to a "decadent" West, an attitude seeped in the Enlightenment tradition. For them, [such] art offered visual models of simplification and ornament representing authentic primitive expressions of thought and feeling. (Antliff and Leighton, 228)
By the time The Darling of the Gods was revived in 1914, such attitudes were well ingrained in the public consciousness, although a large amount of fear and suspicion of what were seen as degenerate societies of Asia, Africa and Oceanic countries still remained. In the midst of Western colonialism, there also existed a patronising sense of wishing to return to the primitive states of those people the West was trying to Christianise and expose to their idea of culture. Although less virulently expressed, this was still the case with Japanese art, which, through lack of sympathy with cultural and social differences, was frequently seen as naif.
Considering these ideas, and especially taking into account Kuritz's transcendental vision exemplified through Eastern romantic magic, it is hardly surprising that many of the knick-knacks and fashions accompanying the Japonism craze were actually Chinese in origin. This was the embodiment of a higher ideal encased in the fraud of a highly commercial, economy-driven art market. In some ways this treatment of Japan ran parallel to the late Victorian and early Edwardian love for historicism and fancy dress costume parties, showing a fervent desire to hang on to a simpler and prettier time; and, of course, it fitted beautifully into the blend of realism and romanticism sought after by many nineteenth-century theatre professionals. In a broader sense, Western artists' response to this cultural influx was very much tailored to suit Western taste and ideology and, at the dawn of a new century and in the aftermath of the Second Boer War, the quaint antiquity and nostalgia of Belasco and Long's Japan was a comforting (and at the same time exotic and exciting) return to antiquity. It presented an ancient Japan such as the audience would have recognised from paintings and woodblock prints (ukiyo-e, meaning "the image of") by artists such as Kitagawa Utamaro (1754-1806). His works were introduced to Europe after 1868 ("The Golden Age"), and the pictures portray startlingly beautiful kimono and samurai armour, painted in vivid colours with wearers at their toilette or standing in the porches of paper houses, looking out at bonsai trees and glorious sunsets.
These seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth-century artists depicted the Japan of their time and, with works in high circulation dining the 1870s-1910s, they became indicative to Europeans of what Asia must be like (this is particularly true of the idealised Kuchi-e "beauty prints"). As late as 1900, artists such as Eiho Hirezaki (1881-1970) were producing images in a similar vein, no doubt encouraged by the surety of their positive reception in England and France. Tree's souvenir programme for The Darling of the Gods featured much ukiyo-e artwork, creating an ubiquitous "Japanesey effect" (Blathwayt). Raymond Blathwayt, in his introduction to the programme, expressed admiration for the "charming little mousmes" (young unmarried girls), and this could be indicative of the fact that their kimonos were reproduction, made by English costumiers--and thus retained only the charm of the Other, without the confused amusement and fear provoked by the unknown. Klaus Berger, in his study Japonisme in Western Painting: from Whistler to Matisse (1980), points out that the "Japanesey effect" sought out by the West was in fact an interpretation of many different sources--and sometimes, indeed, a fabrication: "What counted was not the culture of Japan, or even an objective history of Japanese art, but purely and simply those things that artists in Paris (as well as London) wanted to, and were capable of, seeing". (Berger, 6)
For the general populace, though, there does seem to have existed a genuine interest in Japan and its art, however coloured that interest may have been by Western interpolation. Elements of kimono construction and surface decoration soon made their way into mainstream Western fashion, and the Japanese woman in her kimono was one of the most popular designs for Japonica crockery, lacquer work, fans and figurines. By the early 1900s, Jan van Rij tells us, the movement "began to fade", having "outlived itself" as a style. Nevertheless, despite any lapse of interest--and despite the fact that the economic success of Japonism was on the wane by 1900--the country continued to inspire Western artists. Van Rij asserts that a "new view of Japonisme" was emerging in the early 1900s:
A view that recognised the existence and importance of an ancient art in Japan only remotely or not at all related to the popular art of the blockprints and the utensils of the nineteenth century ... the rise of Japan to a modern world power altered its image abroad ... The country was no longer viewed as having "that most divine sweetness of disposition which ... places Japan in these respects higher than any other nation" as Sir Edwin Arnold wrote in 1891. (Van Rij 55-56)
It is significant that, as late as 1914, Tree was spending time and money reviving The Darling of the Cods: something he would not have done were he not fairly certain of its financial rewards.
Van Rij's suggestion that Arnold's description of Japan was no longer valid by the early 1900s could not be more contrary when considered in light of The Darling of the Gods. Tree's play was a perfect way to present the country on stage--as an ancient, other-worldly paradise that was centuries away from attaining global influence to equal that of Britain and America and which did not pose a threat to the British Empire's enviable position in the world.
To create his representation Tree enlisted the help of Japanese artist Yoshio Markino, although it is not known whether he occupied a permanent place on the production team, as Genjiro Yeto did during Belasco's Broadway debut. Tree's opening night was also graced by the presence of the Japanese consulate and associates who, according to several press cuttings, were "absolutely ... home-sick, so vividly did it recall the glories of their much-loved and ancient land ..." (The Standard, 21 January 1904). Only two negative accounts of the play written by Japanese observers have emerged to date. The first appears in a volume of criticism from 1903, where an un-named authority reports:
I am afraid Mr Belasco has been too much inspired by the furnishing of Valentine's, or some other American shop which makes a specialty of Oriental things ... [The play] can hardly be said to be a drama of either old or new Japan. It is an amazing melodrama. It is not Japanese ... He confuses Japanese with the vague notion of the word "oriental", which to the Western mind seems to mean chiefly gorgeousness, luxury, lavishness ... (The Critic 70-73)
The second was Japanese writer Yone Nuguchi (1875-1947), several years later in 1918. He commented to American readers that: "my Japanese correspondent in your country often informs me of your almost appalling ignorance of our country". But Japanese consultants present at the time of The Darling of the Gods' staging were often more than a little fawning in deference to Tree, and so for reasons we cannot be sure of may have been wary of proffering too much criticism, however constructive. Such diplomacy, coupled with the extent to which critics were enchanted by Hemsley's stage, mean that all reviews of the time must be taken with a degree of caution. Tree was also a diplomatic and well-reasoned responder to any criticism, and said of The Darling of the Gods: "It is not the case that the play is in any respect 'absolutely perfect as a correct representation of the Japanese'" (The Standard, 21 January 1904). His prime intention then was probably to create a gorgeous mise-en-scene, as he was so famed for doing, and to provide a representation that the audience would understand and enjoy. However misdirected or wrongly influenced the designs may have been, they certainly succeeded in delighting a Japan-obsessed English audience.
The costume designs for The Darling of the Gods are fascinating, not least because their creator's identity is open to debate, something that was extremely rare in reviews by the nineteenth century theatrical press. Acquired several years ago by the University of Bristol's Theatre Collection, they do not show any artist's signature, nor does their style correspond to any notable Western theatre designer's. Although we know that Markino did design costumes for Tree's 1914 revival, the sketches do not appear to have survived, and it has not been possible to find any further information regarding them. The designs that do exist, from 1903-04, have clearly been drawn in direct imitation of ukiyo-e style, some bearing startling similarity to Japanese artwork in their treatment of faces, postures, and costumes (figures 1 and 2). Though produced well before The Darling of the Gods, the print shown in figure 3 is a good example of the work of Kitagawa Utamaro, one of the best-known ukiyo-e artists, and the breadth of his influence for Japonism. From the shape of the nose to the soft, low hairline, these images bear extraordinarily close similarities to one another.
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So who did Tree employ to design his costumes? I shall consider two plausible alternatives to Hemsley who, it seems, never travelled extensively and certainly not to the Far East. As such, his biggest influence for design would therefore comprise what he saw in ukiyo-e and other traditional Japanese artwork, particularly the more recent creators of ukiyo-e such as nineteenth-century printmakers Toyohara Chikanobu and the aforementioned Eiho Hirezaki, whose work still followed traditional techniques and influences as well as informing the popular kuchi-e artistic movement. (1) Our artist seems to have copied precise details from works such as Kikugawa Eizan's The Modern Seven Komachi (c.1867-1880), which depicts a ninth-century poet and beauty, imbibed with an almost mythological status --not dissimilar to Yo-San's portrayal in The Darling of the Gods. This will be examined in depth, but first an overview of the most likely artistic sources and influences for Tree will be presented.
Press reviews for The Darling of the Gods did not make frequent mention of any of the traditional Japanese artists who so evidently influenced Tree and Belasco/Long before him. The name most credited is that of aforementioned contemporary artist Yoshio Markino (1874-1956), a native of Toyota who spent most of his life in London (Rodner 26-29). His drawings appear in The Darling of the Gods programme for His Majesty's Theatre and, whilst clearly derived from traditional Japanese paintings, still carry a distinctly Westernised appearance, particularly in the faces and stance of the figures (though, if he copied these images directly from rehearsal or performance, this may explain the disparity). However, Markino's art as a whole certainly followed the Western canon of painting, and his illustrations for Olave M. Potter's The Colour of Rome (1909) and William Loftie's The Colour of London (1914, figure 4) owe more to the watercolours of the French Impressionists than to the likes of Utagawa Toyokuni or Toyohara Kunichika. The New York Times wrote in 1910 that Markino's art "charmingly combines the technique of the West with the poetic fancy of the East". But an interesting comparison of Markino and Czech artist Tavik Frantiaek Simon (1877-1942, known as T. F. Simon) should be mentioned here, as it may have been a source of inspiration for the designers of His Majesty's and for Markino himself. Simon studied and travelled extensively in Europe, with his first major exhibition in Prague in 1905. His success allowed him to travel for inspiration and pleasure, and one country providing both of these was Japan. The printmaking techniques of that culture would become a lifelong inspiration, and Simon's delicate treatment of nature--his bold yet intricate lines and soft palette--are remarkably similar to Markino's images of trees, buildings and people, in the soft and slightly blurred way that both sometimes treated their landscapes (figure 5). His sketches and paintings of Japanese women, with simple features and clean lines, suggest a vague but tangible possibility that the designs could be his.
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Both artists' work fits into the Sosaku Hanga school, a movement at its peak in the early twentieth century which promoted the concept of art for art's sake with self-drawn, carved and printed works indulging the self. This was modern Japanese art at its best, influenced heavily by Western techniques and making a bold departure from the Shin Hanga movement that appeared at roughly the same time. Shin Hanga, in fact, is probably closer to what Tree was trying to achieve: the re-emergence of traditional ukiyo-e prints of the Edo and Meiji periods. Embracing the collaborative system employed throughout ukiyo-e history, this artistic process--unlike the freeform Sosaku Hanga--brought artist, print-maker, and publisher together as one work unit.
Other contemporary Japanese art, such as that by watercolourist Jirokichi Kasagi (1870-1923) is a less traditionally inspired style that may have been of interest to Tree and his designers. In an opposite approach to Markino, Kasagi focused on scenes from Japanese life but with a clear Western flavour. His delicate paintings, mainly depicting a (somewhat idealised) rural life, succeed in detailing both male and female costume and aesthetic carefully and realistically. Although the kimono shown are worlds away from the rich, silk brocades of Yo-San, their shape and construction still provide valuable insight into how real people's clothes were made in late nineteenth-century Japan. Designers for The Darling of the Gods were keen to create a luxurious, flowery Japan for the stage, as closely in keeping with Belasco and Long's text as possible, but as discussed it was also important for them to create a recognisable Japan, particularly for the benefit of the Japanese authorities and well-travelled English members of the audience. Recognisable Japan in this context would also have referred to various nineteenth-century (and earlier) Oriental paintings that portrayed scenes and figures, particularly women, in a similar way to that of Japonism inspired art. For example, Lilium Auratum (1871) by John Frederick Lewis shows a girl and a young woman picking flowers (interestingly, the title of the piece refers to a lily originally grown in Japan). The image highlights a common view of the Eastern harem, the woman in the foreground a concubine and the other a servant or slave. To wile away the hours, the women in Lewis's images undertake suitably quiet and feminine tasks: picking flowers, tending to pets and household duties (Captured Doves, Cairo, 1864), or simply waiting (Interior of the general life, from the casa di chapi, c.1860s). These figures are, by the very nature of their surroundings, trapped--in much the same way as is Yo-San, being a daughter, princess and the companion of a fugitive. Their days are spent waiting for the men in their lives, as are the kimono-clad women of Western Japonism art and in Robert Lewis Reid's Japan-inspired Blue and Yellow, 1910, and William Merritt Chase's The Blue Kimono from 1888.
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
With such inspiration to hand Tree mixed fusions of original Japanese artwork, paintings tailored for the West, and interpretations by contemporary European artists to produce his representation of the "Other" alongside the familiar and popular. This desired contrast is made apparent in a Pall Mall Gazette review of December 29, 1903. The author concludes his article by commenting that: "The pleasant contrast afforded by the interior of His Majesty's was greatly enhanced by the air of (Japanese) cordiality which prevailed". This could be interpreted as an admission that, charming as the Eastern scene before him was, the knowledge that he was really in familiar territory--His Majesty's Theatre, London--served as a significant comfort throughout the performance. Other key artists might have included George Breitner, J. M. Whistler (though in his case, more of a fancy dress homage since he made no attempt to copy the Japanese style of painting), Charles Spencelayh, Robert Lewis Reid and Claude Monet. It is perhaps inevitable that in consequence, as one reporter suggested, Tree and Belasco's characters were "little more than lacquered Occidentals" (Dublin Evening Mail, Tuesday 12 April 1904). The same reporter concluded, however, that "by his dressing [Mr Tree] has provided ... the glamour of Orientalism" to the British public, and this idea of "glamour" sits alongside the idealized works of art mentioned above.
A Japanese Artist in London (1910) contains a chapter detailing Markino's involvement in The Darling of the Gods. In no passage does he refer to actually designing the costumes--the closest suggestion we have is the comment "I had to look after costumes, coiffure, and scenery painting, to see if all the details were correct" (112). He also maintained, perhaps partly for the sake of Tree and the London public, that the actors "were so wonderful the way every one of them caught the real spirit of Japan" (Markino, 99-100). Because other authorities found grave fault with the piece, Markino's vehement enthusiasm seems slightly fawning. According to this first-hand report, his principal role was purely as consultant:
They asked me to make them "real Japanese," and "to be very particular for everything, and not a bit of mercy for that." Every word of mine was the rule for them. I knew I was such a dreadful demon to them. (Markino, 111)
Other than this, his account deals mainly with his impressions of Tree, Morton and their rehearsal and production techniques. Most importantly however, any doubt as to Markino's ownership of the designs must be largely due to their style. His drawings for the programme might suggest that he had influence in the aesthetic, but when viewed alongside the designs these examples are different in treatment: although the depiction of clothing has its similarities, his characters have entirely Westernised features, mirroring art of several decades into the future due to their use of colour and line. The images in fact bear more comparison to 1950s artist Tatsumi Shimura than to traditional ukiyo-e or kuchie. A follower of the Shin-hanga movement, Shimura is known for his combination of Japanese and Western styles, including French Impressionism, and faces are drawn more realistically than those of ukiyo-e, in which just a few lines make up the whole expression. The closest evidence found suggesting he had anything tangible to do with the costumes comes from an article by Sidney Dark in the St James's Gazette in December 1905. Dark commented that Markino was "of immense service in advising as to the colouring of scenery and dresses, and Geisha dances". If he were the principal designer responsible for these drawings, it seems likely his role would be described as greater than advisor. It is true that Markino possessed a significant interest in fashion, particularly Western dress. A New York Times article from 1912 discussed the artist's impressions on female attire, and Markino admitted that when he first came to England, he "did not know that ladies put on their skirts over their heads. It was an amazing new lesson for me". (Hawthorn) Could a man have designed costumes for an English production who, only a few years earlier, was ignorant of the basics of Western dress? Surely such knowledge would be necessary in order to work out how best to adapt kimono to Western actresses, and to instruct them in the wearing. The same could be said of European designers working on Oriental plays, but in their cases the research undertaken is usually well documented. If W. T. Hemsley is responsible, the same is probably true, although we have no reason to suspect that his impressions would have differed much from the rest of the Western theatrical world.
Finding information about Hemsley is much more difficult than for Markino. The British Library holds no concrete works either by him or about him (although it does possess two production posters from 1890 and 1894, which refer to him as having provided scenic effects). Of course, it is possible that the designs were executed by more than one hand, but bearing in mind Tree's very organised backstage team roles in previous productions this seems unlikely. The Harry Ransom Centre, an arts and humanities research institute at the University of Texas (Austin), holds a substantial archive of material from B. & J. Simmons, the renowned nineteenth-century theatrical costumiers who made many costumes for Tree and his company. In this archive are over fifty costume designs for the 1903 production of The Darling of the Gods at His Majesty's. Private correspondence with the Harry Ransom Performing Arts Collection revealed that the designs are not signed; moreover, no artist information is available anywhere in the archive. Although they also have a copy of the souvenir program with illustrations by Markino, it is not possible to ascribe the costume designs to the same artist with any great confidence. Portfolio 61 in their B. J. Simmons archive contains photographs, clippings, and ephemera of the production, but no information about the costumes designed. Coupled with the equal anonymity of the Bristol Theatre Collection's acquisition, we reach something of a dead end. The Collection's Tree Archive was consulted to see if any of Hemsley's other work corresponded to The Darling of the Gods designs, but for the other productions he was involved in--Dick Whittington (Prince's, Bristol, 1891-92, J. M. Chute production), Hall Caine's The Eternal City (Tree Tour, 1902-03), William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (Adelphi, Oscar Asche production, 1904-05) and William Shakespeare's Richard II (Haymarket, 1906-07), there are either no costume designs bearing his name, or he is credited only for scenery.
Apart from several very basic line drawings of stage plots, there are not even any detailed scenic designs by Hemsley surviving. We do of course have images of the stage from production photographs, but these do not provide the artistic style on paper that would be needed for comparison with the costume designs. Of course, it is extremely fortunate that so many complete designs are held by the Theatre Collection in Bristol. For some productions, such as Oscar Wilde's A Woman of no Importance (1892-93), Paul Potter's stage adaption of George Du Maurier's Trilby (1895-96) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan's A School for Scandal (1909-12), no designs exist at all, although for the last two there are character photographs. This is a particular disadvantage since designs give vital clues as to initial sources, preliminary ideas, and a presumed ideal of what the designer wanted to produce. The result, seen in accompanying photographs, can vary wildly from its first incarnation on paper. It is always crucial to bear in mind that initial designs may have been idealized, outstripping a theatre's funds and resources, but they give a fascinating glimpse into the lengths a designer's imagination could run and are crucial signifiers of the cultural climate and aesthetic surrounding a production.
(1) Kuchi-e and Bijin-ga were images of beauties, often idealized Japanese women wearing either kimono or Western dress. As the Library of Congress's 'The Floating World of Ukiyo-e' exhibition explained, no matter the situation depicted the women were always 'surrounded by an aura of captivating beauty'. Here presented an ideal influence for the ethereal and 'perfect' Japan of Tree's production.
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Blathwayte, Raymond. "Programme" for Herbert Beerbohm Tree's production of David Belasco and John Luther Long's The Darling of the Gods at His Majesty's Theatre London, 1903-04. University of Bristol Theatre Collection.
Dark, Sidney. Title unknown. The St James Gazette. Tuesday 19 December 1905.
Hawthorn, Hildegarde. "John Bullesses: Yoshio Markino Quaintly Tells his Opinion of Englishwomen". The New York Times. Sunday March 311912. Web. 14 May 2010.
Kuritz, Paul. The Making of Theatre History. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988.
Longford, Joseph H. "Reply". The Standard. 21 January 1905.
Markino, Yoshio. A Japanese Artist in London. London: Chatto & Windus, 1910.
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Nuguchi, Yone. "To the Americans". The Bookman: A Review of Books and Life. July 1918.
van Rij, Jan. Madame Butterfly: Japonisme, Puccini, and the search for the real Cho-Cho-San. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2001.
Rodner, William S. Edwardian London through Japanese Eyes: The Art and Writings of Yoshio Markino, 1897-1915. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Nelson, Robert S. and Shiff, Richard. Critical Terms for Art History. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.
Winter, William. The Critic: An Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art and Life. Volume 42. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1903. Web. 19 May 2015.
"The Floating World of Ukiyo-e. Shadows, Dreams and Substance." Exhibition running from 27 September 2001 to 19 January 2002 at the Library of Congress, Washington DC
"The Golden Age of Colour Prints: Ukiyo-e from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston". Shepparton Art Museum. 2013. Web. 18 May 2015.
"Japan Without Corsets." Dublin Evening Mail. Tuesday 12 April 1904.
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|Title Annotation:||David Belasco and John Luther Long|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2015|
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