Sunday, September 27, 2009
The foliage shifts into its autumn hues as we enter into my favorite season of the year. Having grown up in Salem, MA, however, I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with October in particular: at no other time is the city more crisp and alive, and yet we also must suffer from the invasion of hundreds of thousands of tourists (many of whom have a dubious relationship, at best, with reality). Perhaps the last remaining tourist attraction in Salem that is both family-friendly and terrifyingly engaging for adults as well is the Salem Theatre Company’s annual Chilling Tales -- a series of live performances of classic ghost stories of the sea, staged by professional actors on board “Friendship”, Salem’s tall-ship replica of a square-rigged East Indiaman trading vessel from the eighteenth century.
This year, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), the Salem Theatre Company will be performing adapted versions of several of Poe’s greatest tales of horror on the high seas. I felt, with the approach of October later this week, it might be interesting if I highlighted a beautifully printed copy of one of these tales in my own collection.
The book is a distinct edition of the Poe short story A Descent into the Maelstrom, printed by the (then three-year old) Powgen Press of New York in March, 1936, and published by William R. Scott. It retailed for $1 according to the price printed inside the front dust jacket flap (about $15.50 in modern dollars); today collectors value it between $20 and $42. Design of the book was done by Powgen’s Ted Gensamer; interspersed throughout the book are nine loosely art-deco style prints (woodcut?) illustrating scenes from the narrative, all made by print artisan Charles E. McCurdy. No doubt to complement the tale’s nautical theme, McCurdy’s artwork is all in a rich but very icy blue.
One of these illustrations appears again on the paper dust jacket (which is quite beat up on my copy); the boards themselves are a deep pebbled blue cloth with the title on a paper slip glued to the spine. The paper is a firm but soft stock with no discernible watermarks; the only foxing appears on the fly-leaves and paste-downs. Each page measures 12.5cm x 17.25cm. Pagination runs - from the start of the story to the end; the half-title, title, and colophon are unpaginated but are integral to their gatherings; there are no signatures. There is conflicting information from dealers online about the format of the book; some claim that it is octavo (“8vo”) but it would appear that the few who refer to it as small duodecimo (“12mo”) are correct according to the American Library Association standards of measurement.
This difference of opinion likely stems from a disagreement about format: in hand-press books the designation refers not to size but to the number of times the full sheet is folded to make up each gathering of leaves (which often results in certain sizes, but this is dependent on the size of the sheet with which the printer begins). Folio is a single fold resulting in two leaves (four pages) per gathering; quarto is four folds for four leaves; octavo is eight; duodecimo is twelve; sixteenmo is sixteen. Because modern books (those printed on machine presses after 1850) are often printed and bound without fidelity to the sheet, and often lack printer’s signatures to mark gatherings, it is almost impossible to discern the number of gatherings, even staring closely down the spine and trying to count the number of leaves in each gathering. Very often -- especially in books printed in the last fifty years -- there are no gatherings at all. To adjust for this, bibliographers of modern books tend to use the old format terminology to refer exclusively to the size of a book. Different people doing this might plausibly see different things, and hence the disagreement about some unsigned modern books’ formats.
Scott's edition of Maelstrom was part of a series of six titles all printed for him by Powgen Press, all in the slim duodecimo format with various colored cloth bindings, and all in 1936. They were issued in board slipcases, which my copy is missing. The other titles in the series were Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Thoreau’s Life Without Principle, Whitman’s Song of Myself, Emerson’s Compensation, and Hawthorne’s Legends of the Province House. Each book was illustrated with art designed by a different, noted print artist of the period (besides McCurdy these include Mary Dana, Joseph A. Low, Barney Moore, and Jean Lamont). The full series, if complete with slipcases and dust jackets, is valued at around $200-$250 (many dealers erroneously list Powgen Press as the publisher; Scott was the publisher, Powgen was the printer).
This collection of craft-printed books is known as the American Renaissance Series and features some of the nineteenth century writers who helped define American literature as a culture distinct from its European forebears. Usually dated from 1850-1855 “American Renaissance” was a critical period, not just for artistic expression by American artists, but also for the renewal of civic pride and nationalism that these writers inspired in the public. My guess is that Scott and Powgen’s decision to issue a series dedicated to recalling this enriching and transformative period in American culture was linked directly to the difficult and depressing context of the mid-1930s.
Certainly the choice of Maelstrom as the Poe story for the series seems to reflect sentiments dominating the national mood during the dark years of financial collapse and European war. Perhaps a modern publisher should reissue the book to speak to our current context as well...that would certainly make for a chilling tale...
Friday, September 18, 2009
Browsing in bookstores can be an enjoyable way to pass the time (though one risks ending up with a permanent crick in the neck from turning one’s head to read the titles on the spines). But never forget that looking at a book and handling a book are two very different sensory experiences. Even the simple act of picking up a book can reveal something about the story it has to tell.
This week’s book is Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic adventure novel Tarzan of the Apes, in its first American edition. The story first appeared in the October 1912 issue of the pulp All-Story Magazine and was published in book form by A. C. McClurg & Co. in Great Britain in June 1914. Later, the New York firm of Grosset & Dunlap -- which did not actually publish its own first editions until the 1960s -- released the first American edition. I suspect that my copy of this edition, wherever it falls in the lengthy sequence of issues of this incredibly popular book, appeared considerably later than McClurg’s first edition (perhaps as much as three years later) for reasons I will explain below.
The title page of this copy includes a black-and-white illustration of Tarzan riding a lion and carrying a spear in one hand. The illustrated dust-jacket, which includes the publisher’s advertisement of nine forthcoming titles (including another Tarzan novel), is missing and seems to be (judging from dealers’ descriptions online) very rare.
The book is bound in firm red cardboards with ornate black lettering. The paper is a fairly flimsy stock that has faded with age; it was printed in duodecimo and the pagination runs [i]-vi, 1-314. The pages measure 13.5cm x 19.5cm. A slightly heavier and less faded paper was used for the flyleaves. It was clearly machine-pressed quickly and cheaply, in large bulk quantities. In some places in this copy, the binding has split slightly and one page has a slight tear in the lower edge. There are the usual marks of wear, including bumping and chipping to the covers. Otherwise, the copy is in good condition. The only reader's marks are a series of gray pencil underlinings of some words in Chapter II; the words are mostly long or complex ones, suggesting that the markings were a guide to troublesome vocabulary (at least one, however, points out a misspelling -- the word "indiffrent" on page 15).
Burroughs’s novel, relating the trials and perils of the orphaned John Clayton Lord Greystoke as he is raised in the wilds of Africa by apes (his name, “Tarzan”, means “White Skin” in the language of the apes), needs little explanation. It was so remarkably popular that over the thirty years following its publication Burroughs wrote 24 sequels. Since 1918, when it was first adapted as a silent film, the story and its spin-offs have also been much-loved fodder for Hollywood (Tarzan figures in the titles of 116 films).
Certainly the publisher of this first edition had a prophetic understanding of just how popular the book would be: in the lower margin of the final page of text (just after the end of the story, which it is connected by an asterisk, and the ultimately “The End”) there appears a brief advertising note.
The further adventures of Tarzan, and what came of his noble act of self-renunciation, will be told in the next book of Tarzan.
To return to my initial statement, however, I was most struck by the weight of this book when I picked it up. The volume is a svelte 1.25 pounds; a comparable modern book of 13.5cm x 19.5cm and approximately 300 pages weighs in at a more tubby 2.25 pounds.
The sylphlike quality of this book, which strikes me as a testament to the graceful and efficient use of materials in the manufacture of the book, also stands as evidence to a more grim and unhappy fact: the volume was printed sometime after the United States had entered the brutal conflict of the First World War and after the federal government imposed strict rationing on materiel with a potential military application (such as paper). On the title page, Grosset & Dunlap have inserted an assurance to the reader:
This book, while produced under wartime conditions, in full compliance with government regulations for the conservation of paper and other essential materials, is COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED.
It’s a testament to the printers employed by the firm that they were able to ensure that the book’s content would not be physically reduced in the process of reducing the book’s material cost. To comply with the restrictions, the printer used a paper size that was smaller than the original first edition and of a lighter stock (hence the flimsiness), but they also used hollowed cardboard covers for the hardcover binding. Combined, these two efficiency measures shaved 1 pound's worth of unneeded weight from the volume's heft.
The United States did not enter the War until after April 1917 (the hostilities in Europe began in June 1914, the same exact month McClurg first published the book in England). Because this is clearly a war-time publication of Tarzan of the Apes, I presume, therefore, that it appeared much later than the date printed in the colophon of the copyright page. All you have to do is pick the book up in your hands to realize this.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
One of the highlights of my summer was escaping to Maine for a good week-long vacation in August. Part of the trip included a visit to my grandparents in their new home on the coast. And one of the highlights of this highlight was pouring over piles of my grandfather’s old books as he emptied the contents of an old barrister’s bookcase onto the sofa. We flipped through them, talked about their points, their oddities, their marginalia, their stories. I reveled in some of the gems in the collection. Before I left, he had packed up a large stack of them into a bag for me to take home and add to my collection. Yet again, I’m proud that the core of my collection is built around my grandfather’s books.
This week’s book is one of the volumes he gave me during this trip. The book is the novel The Lost Girl by English writer and critic D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930). It was published in 1920 by Martin Secker of Number Five John Street, Adelphi, in London. According to the colophon on the verso of the final page of text, the book was printed by The Dunedin Press, Limited, of Edinburgh. This copy is the second issue of the first edition (there were three issues of the first). Subsequent to Secker’s 1920 publication of the book, it was republished by Secker in 1930 and again in 1934 and by Heinemann (also of London) in 1936 and 1955. An American edition, published by Thomas Seltzer of New York, appeared in 1921. Translations in Italian, German, French, Swedish, and Romanian all appeared in the forty years after its first publication in English.
The book is bound in the publisher’s original camel brown cloth, with gilded title and borders on the spine and blind tooled borders on the front and back boards. The paper is a fairly heavy stock, now slightly faded, with mesh rather than chain-lines; the edges of the pages are often rough-cut. Each page measures 12.5cm x 19cm. Pagination runs from the half-title recto through the last page of text -371; running titles present the title of the book on the verso of each opening and the title of the chapter on the recto. Two somewhat stained blank flyleaves begin and end the volume.
Like many mass-produced books of the period, the gatherings are actually slightly out of line with each other, giving the bottom edges of the paper a very uneven appearance. Interestingly, some of the leaves within gatherings that were meant to be cut short were accidentally left full by the binder, but the dent in the paper where it was meant to be trimmed can still be seen. The collational formula is 8o: [#] [A8]-2A2 [π]; $1. The first, second, and third issues of the first edition of this book seem to be fairly similar in their assessed values, at approximately $40 to $100.
In general it is in good condition, with some slight bumping to the corners of the boards, slight fading of the paper in places, and a bit of a separation forming in the spine between gatherings B and C (p. 32/33). Evidence of past readers or owners is scarce. On the inside of the back cover is a bookseller’s sticker for The Holliday Bookshop of New York, which specialized in importing English titles to the United States; the shop opened at 10 West 47th Street (the address given on this sticker) in 1920 and moved to 49 West 49th Street in 1925. Given this, my suspicion is that Holliday was the point of original sale when the book was new. Some reader has marked a few places with a thick gray pencil (the colophon and a passage on p. 17), perhaps looking for bibliographic points. If this is the case, though, the annotator missed a considerably important one.
Pages 255/256 and 267/268 of the book, though integral to their gatherings, were actually “tipped in” -- bibliographic parlance for inserting a loose page, usually along the inner margin (the “gutter”), by pasting a narrow part of its edge to an adjoining page that is bound in to the book. This method is often used to insert illustrative plates, maps, errata, and other addenda to books that have already been printed and (often) bound. In the case of the 1920 edition of The Lost Girl, these tipped-in pages -- added by the publisher to correct a press error in the initial run of the issue -- are one point that the copy is not the first first. Another point is the text on p. 242, beginning “‘What do you want?’ said Cicio, rising...” (transposed with the first first’s “Miss Pinnegar went away into the scullery...”). Finally, the publisher took liberties with Lawrence’s text, making two unauthorized revisions on pp. 45 and 223; these appeared as cancel pages, tipped in, in the first first, but by the second issue were included with the primary printing. (As with so many unauthorized publisher “revisions”, these alterations actually became confused with Lawrence’s original and appeared in the standard text of the novel for many years.)
The Lost Girl was Lawrence’s sixth novel and won for him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction when it appeared in 1920. Coming off the success of his 1913 Sons and Lovers, Lawrence was living in Germany when he began writing a book tentatively titled The Insurrection of Miss Houghton. After getting about two hundred pages into the draft, he abandoned the attempt. Following World War I, while in self-imposed exile in Italy (a “savage pilgrimage”, as he called it, to escape persecution by English moralists who decried his fiction’s critique of industrialism and puritanism), Lawrence was able to track down and recover his manuscript. After making some revisions and improvements (and changing the title to The Lost Girl), he finally saw it to the press in November 1920. Because of the odd place it occupies in Lawrence’s career -- note quite the early breakthrough novels nor the later, short-form “leadership” novels (as Eunyoung Oh calls them) -- the book is often overlooked. More recently, however, critics have begun to recognize its importance as a piece of transitional fiction both in the oeuvre of this important author and in the history of English literature.
The following is from Fiona Becket’s The Complete Critical Guide to D. H. Lawrence:
The Lost Girl (1920) began as Lawrence’s attempt at an English novel of provincial life written at an ironic distance from those by his contemporaries, Arnold Bennett...and John Galsworthy.... The period of composition of The Lost Girl, however, in the end straddled the writing of The Rainbow and Women in Love. It was put to one side in 1913 as “The Insurrection of Miss Houghton”, and not taken up for seven years when Lawrence rewrote it. The experience of writing The Rainbow and Women in Love in the interval was telling. If the beginnings of The Lost Girl are in what Virginia Woolf calls in “Modern Fiction” the style of the Edwardian materialists, its revision demonstrates the effects of Lawrence working through the Brangwen books and his “theory” of the novel, which anticipates some of his central themes to come. Unlike The Rainbow and Women in Love the tone of The Lost Girl is frequently satirical.
The novel describes the fortunes of Alvina Houghton, a middle-class girl born and brought up in Woodhouse, based on Lawrence’s home-town of Eastwood. Tired of the limitations of her provincial life, Alvina challenges her family’s expectations both in her decision to work -- she becomes a maternity nurse -- and in her relations with men. Her way out of Woodhouse, and England, is made possibly by her marriage to Ciccio [in the novel this is spelled “Cicio”], a peasant from a village in the Abruzzi mountains, and one of the artistes in a touring “Red Indian troupe” called Natcha-Kee-Tawara, who perform in the local theatre. They leave wintry England for Italy, and the simpler, harder life of the peasant farmer. History overtakes them, however, and the book ends on the eve of Ciccio’s departure for the army and his promise that, on his return from the war, they will start a new life in America.
It has been noted that Alvina has a representative function in as much as she shares the dilemmas of Lawrentian women...who are “drawn to primitivist solutions.” Ciccio is laconic and uncultivated compared to the worthy but unexciting bachelors who have previously had claims on Alvina. Impersonal desire moves in him rather than romantic love or sentimental attachment, and it is this quality which makes him attractive to Alvina. The book is another step in Lawrence’s examination of the sexual relations between men and women. In Ciccio, it also introduces the figure of the self-assured, non-intellectual male who gratifies his sexual needs and thereby, controversially, brings about the transformation of the “modern” woman. John Worthen comments on this, calling the novels which precede The Lost Girl “exploratory and painstaking”, in contrast to this new style of writing which is “brash, often comic, polemical and offensive.” (65-66)
The parallels between character and author are intriguing (the escape from England into Italy), but so too are the parallels between the story and this particular copy of the book. Was Cicio’s promise that he and Alvina would “start a new life in America” ever fulfilled? Because Lawrence does not say, the reader cannot say. But at least Alvina and Cicio’s story -- in the form of this copy of The Lost Girl -- did eventually make its way to the New World.