Special Collections & Archives Blog

Rare Book of the Month: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley

Friday, October 8, 2010 3:53 pm

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818.

“I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”

Mary Shelley‘s tale of the chemist Victor Frankenstein and his nameless creature is considered by many to be the first science fiction novel. The story of the brilliant but overreaching Frankenstein and his misunderstood monster has fascinated readers and critics for nearly 200 years.

The origin of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is one of the more famous stories in English literature. The 18-year-old Mary had fled to the continent with her married lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. They spent the summer of 1816 near Geneva, where they met the already infamous Lord Byron and his personal physician and traveling companion John William Polidori. The friends had been reading “some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German and French” and discussing recent experiments by Erasmus Darwin and others with galvanism-the reanimation of dead tissue by electrical current-when one rainy night Byron challenged them each to come up with a ghost story. Mary was the only one to complete her story, the first version of Frankenstein.

As Mary later described it, the story came to her in a vivid waking dream:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful it must be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

In the preface to the 1831 edition, Mary claimed that she intended her story to be “but of a few pages… a short tale.” But Percy Shelley encouraged her to develop Frankenstein into a full-length novel and seek publication. The manuscript, completed in 1817, was first rejected by Byron’s publisher John Murray, but eventually published on January 1, 1818 by the smaller firm of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones.

The first edition was issued in three volumes, a form that was becoming the standard for 19th century novels. Mary dedicated the book to her estranged father, the radical philosopher William Godwin.

Mary Shelley’s “hideous progeny” was immediately popular with the reading public. Imitations and dramatic adaptations appeared within a few years of the first edition.

Critical reviews were mixed. The first edition was published anonymously, which led to much speculation about the author’s identity. Even after Mary’s name appeared on the title pages of later editions some readers refused to believe that the book had been written by a young woman. Various critics have argued that Percy Shelley edited the published version of Frankenstein so substantially that he should be considered the true author. But recent studies of the earliest manuscripts, now in possession of the Bodleian Library, vindicate Mary’s assertion that “I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband.”

A second edition of Frankenstein was published in 1831, after the death of Percy Shelley. The 1831 text was considerably altered by Mary Shelley, and until recently it was the most frequently read and reprinted version of the novel.

Wake Forest’s first edition of Frankenstein is part of the Charles H. Babcock collection.

History of the Bucaniers of America, by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin

Friday, September 3, 2010 4:10 pm

Alexandre Exquemelin’s first hand account of the life of a pirate in the Spanish Main is the source of much of today’s pirate lore. From Long John Silver to Jack Sparrow, fictional pirates have their roots in Exquemelin’s 17th century bestseller.

The History of the Bucaniers of America has been called the ur-text of pirate narratives. It is the earliest and most complete source of information about the so-called golden age of piracy. First published in Dutch in 1674, it was immediately translated into several languages. The English editions were wildly popular, and the book was reprinted many times well into the 18th century. The 1741 fourth edition held in Wake Forest’s Special Collections Department includes additional narratives by Basil Ringrose, Raveneau de Lussan, and the Sieur de Montauban describing voyages and encounters with pirates in the South Seas.

Exquemelin was apparently a Dutch or Flemish surgeon who purchased his freedom from indentured servitude in the West Indies and joined Henry Morgan and his crew of pirates. He also gives accounts of his encounters with other famous pirates, including L’Olonnais and Roc Braziliano. Exquemelin describes daily life on a pirate ship and gives vivid (if not always entirely believable) accounts of the peoples, flora, and fauna of the Caribbean islands that they visited.

Exquemelin does not shrink from recounting the extreme cruelty of the buccaneers, often describing in grisly detail the tortures inflicted on the victims of pirate raids. But he also admires the pirates’ daring exploits, their defiance of an oppressive social order, and their peculiar but strict code of honor. It was this view of pirates as swashbuckling rebels that took hold in the popular imagination in the 17th century and retains its tremendous appeal today.

Wake Forest’s copy of The History of the Bucaniers of America was purchased, probably between 1939 and 1950, with funds from the Tracy McGregor Plan for the Encouragement of Book Collecting by American College Libraries.

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, published at the Hogarth Press

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 3:38 pm

T. S. Eliot’s bleak “anti-epic” The Waste Land is considered by many to be the most influential poetic work of the twentieth century. It was first published in book form by the New York firm Boni and Liveright in 1922, but Eliot offered the first British edition to Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

The Woolfs had already published Eliot’s Poems at their Hogarth Press in 1919.

The Hogarth Press was founded by the Woolfs in 1917. In the early years it was a hand press in the dining room at Hogarth House in Richmond, England, on which Leonard and Virginia hand set and printed their own works and those of their friends and associates. Between 1917 and 1946, the Hogarth Press published 525 titles (34 hand-printed by the Woolfs), including works by T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Graves, H.G. Wells, and many others. Leonard Woolf later wrote that “The publication of T.S. Eliot’s Poems must be marked as a red letter day for the Press and for us.”

By the time they began work on The Waste Land in 1923, the Woolfs had gained experience and skill as printers. Virginia hand set the type for The Waste Land, and Eliot’s innovative use of line spacing made it one of her most challenging typesetting projects.

Wake Forest purchased this copy of The Waste Land in 1979. The Rare Books Collection at Z. Smith Reynolds Library has a near-complete collection of Hogarth Press imprints as well as an extensive T.S. Eliot collection. Both of the Eliot books published by the Woolfs are on view in the exhibit “The Modern Muse: 20th century American Poetry”, which runs from August 2010 to January 2011 in the Rare Books Reading Room.

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press

Monday, June 14, 2010 1:53 pm

William Morris (1834-1896) is a towering figure in the artistic and cultural history of Victorian Britain. The multi-talented Morris was a poet, artist, and craftsman whose design influence persists to this day. Much of his work was in the decorative arts– textiles, furniture, stained glass, wallpapers, and book design. Morris is credited with founding the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century.

Much of Morris’s life’s work as an artist and thinker was devoted to counteracting what he viewed as the corrupting influence of the industrial revolution on craftsmanship in general. Morris and others looked back to the medieval guild system for a better model for the production of goods and the relationship between artisans and their society.

Late in his life Morris realized his longtime goal of setting up his own printing press, the Kelmscott Press, which would publish books of his design. The Kelmscott Press edition of the works of Chaucer was Morris’s most ambitious undertaking as a printer and designer. Begun in 1892, the Kelmscott Chaucer was finally completed just a few months before Morris’s death in 1896.

Morris also created his own typefaces, inspired by those of 15th century Venetian engraver Nicolas Jensen. The “Chaucer” typeface was designed specifically for this book.

The 87 illustrations were drawn by Morris’s longtime friend, the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and printed as woodcuts.

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer was printed in an edition of 425 copies on paper, with 13 additional copies on vellum.

Wake Forest’s copy is on paper and is one of approximately 50 bound in blind-tooled white pigskin by Thomas Cobden-Sanderson at the Doves Bindery. The binding design is by Morris himself.

The library purchased its copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer in 1952 with funds from the endowment of Oscar T. Smith.

Isadora Duncan: Vingt-Cinq Planches, by Jules Grandjouan

Monday, May 3, 2010 5:02 pm

“What is the first law for all art? What answer would a great sculptor or a great painter make? I think simply this: ‘Look at Nature, study Nature, understand Nature– and then try to express Nature.’ … The dance is an art like these others, and it also must find its beginning in this great first principle: study Nature.” — Isadora Duncan, The Art of the Dance.

Isadora Duncan was the toast of Paris in the early years of the 20th century. Reacting against the classical ballet tradition of the day, Duncan believed that “the dance should simply be. . . the natural gravitation of the will of the individual, which in the end is no more nor less than a human translation of the gravitation of the universe.” Many artists were inspired by her dance of nature, but Duncan herself was not always happy with their attempts to capture movement in two dimensions. The pastel studies by artist Jules Grandjouan, however, met with Duncan’s approval. In 1912 Duncan’s lover Paris Eugene Singer (heir to the sewing machine fortune) paid for the publication of an edition de luxe of Grandjouan’s drawings.

Isadora Duncan: Vingt-cinq Planches dessinees, gravee & imprimees par Grandjouan was privately printed in Paris in an edition of only 50 copies. The silkscreen reproductions of Grandjouan’s pastel drawings are printed on various colored papers.

The introduction to the volume is a facsimile manuscript in Duncan’s own hand.

Jules Grandjouan also designed the art nouveau style inlaid morocco binding.

“The artist without this first consciousness of proportion and line of the human form could have had no consciousness of the beauty surrounding him. . . All art– does it not come originally from the first human consciousness of the nobility of the lines of the human body?” — Isadora Duncan, “The Dancer and Nature”

“All the conscious art of mankind has grown out of the discovery of the natural beauty of the human body. Men tried to reproduce it in sand or on a wall, and painting thus was born. From our understanding of the harmonies and proportions of the members of the body sprang architecture. From the wish to glorify the body sculpture was created.”– Isadora Duncan, “Movement is Life”

This volume was purchased by Special Collections in 1994. It is part of a small but important Isadora Duncan collection at Wake Forest. Some other works in the collection include:

Clara, J., Denis, G. A., & Bourdelle, E. A. (1928). Isadora Duncan.: . [Paris?]: Editions Rieder. GV1785 D8 C5 1928

Duncan, I. (1915). Dionysion: . s.l.: Committee for the Furtherance of Isadora Duncan’s Work in America GV1785 D8 D56

Duncan, I. (1927). My life: . New York: Boni and Liveright. GV1785 D8 1927m

Duncan, I., Cheney, S., Duncan, R., Duncan, M., Roberts, M. F., O’Sheel, S., Eastman, M., Le Gallienne, E., Jones, R. E., Bakst, L., Bourdelle, E. A., Clara, J., Denis, M., Grandjouan, J., Kaulbach, A. v., Perrine, V. D., Rodin, A., Dunoyer de Segonzac, A., Walkowitz, A., Genthe, A., & Steichen, E. (1928). The art of the dance: . New York: Theatre Arts, Inc. GV1783 D78 1928

Duncan, I., Dallies., Divoire, F., Meunier, M., Delaquys, G., Bourdelle, E. A., Clara, J., & Grandjouan, J. (1927). Ecrits sur la danse: . Paris: Editions du Grenier. GV1600 D85 1927

Genthe, A., & Plimpton Press. (1929). Isadora Duncan : twenty-four studies: . New York ; London: Mitchell Kennerley. GV1785 D8 G4

Jou, L., & T’Serstevens, A. 1. (1925). A? la danseuse: . [Paris]: Les E?ditions Lapina. GV1596 J68 1925

Lafitte, J. P., & Faure, E. (1910). Les danses d’Isadora Duncan: . Paris: Mercure de France GV1785 .D8 L24 1910

Lecomte, V., & Duncan, R. (1952). The dance of Isadora Duncan: pencil studies from life made during recitals in the theatres of Paris from 1903 to 1927. [1st ed.] Paris: Raymond Duncan. GV1785 D8 L4 1952

Sechan, L. (1930). La danse grecque antique: . Paris: E. de Boccard. GV1611 S4 1930

Stokes, S. (1928). Isadora Duncan: an intimate portrait: . London ; New York: Brentano’s ltd. GV1785 D8 1928i

Paradise Lost, 1669

Monday, April 5, 2010 4:03 pm

The first issue of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost appeared in 1667. The anti-royalist Milton, blind and near sixty years old, had fallen on hard times in Restoration England, but Paradise Lost fit the apocalyptic mood of a nation that had recently suffered an outbreak of plague, the great fire of London, and defeat in the Anglo-Dutch wars.

Milton’s legal agreement with printer Samuel Simmons is one of the earliest English author contracts to survive. In it Simmons agrees to pay Milton £5 for the manuscript, plus an additional £5 after 1300 of the 1500 copy initial print run have sold, with any additional profits going to the printer. This was a fairly standard author contract of the day.

Sales of the work were sluggish at first, and Simmons reissued the first edition sheets of Paradise Lost with seven different title pages between 1667 and 1669. The 1669 reissue included, as per Simmons’s note to the reader, a 14-page “Argument” that provided a prose summary of each book’s plot.

The Printer to the Reader
Courteous Reader, There was no Argument at first intended to the Book, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procur’d it, and whithall a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not.
S. Simmons

It also includes Milton’s impassioned explanation of “why the Poem Rimes not”:

The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter…. This neglect then of Rime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem’d as an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover’d to Heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing.

It is not surprising that Milton’s first readers were nonplussed by his use of unrhymed iambic pentameter, since it was seldom used at the time except for dramatic works. But his influence on succeeding generations of English poets was great, and by the 19th century blank verse was the standard form for long poems.

Wake Forest’s Special Collections holds two copies of the 1669 Paradise Lost. The first copy was purchased in 1949 by the Friends of the Wake Forest College Library in memory of alumnus Joseph Quincy Adams, who was the first Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. This copy has been rebound in 20th century red morocco.

The second copy is from the library of Charles H. Babcock. It is bound in an unmarked brown calf leather typical of inexpensive bindings of the 16th-18th centuries. This book’s known provenance begins with a Robert Wynne who signed and dated the volume on April 20, 1719. It passed through the collections of railroad millionaire Ross Winans and well-known collector Marshall Clifford Lefferts before being purchased by Babcock, who eventually donated his library to Wake Forest College.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, First Quarto Edition

Monday, March 15, 2010 1:50 pm

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

First Quarto Edition (1684)

Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto editions – individual plays printed in small format – prior to the 1623 first collected edition (first folio) of Shakespeare’s works. Julius Caesar was not published in quarto until much later: the first edition, of which ZSR’s Special Collections holds a copy, did not appear until 1684.

The quarto format, so named because sheets from the printing press were folded into quarters to assemble the book, was the Renaissance equivalent of a modern trade paperback. Small, portable, and fairly cheap to produce, quartos were the standard format for plays, poems, and other non-scholarly works in 15th -and 16th -century Europe.

Julius Caesar was reprinted in quarto many times throughout the 1680s and 90s, a testament to the play’s great appeal for Restoration audiences. The first quarto edition includes, on the title page verso, a cast listing of the actors who appeared in a production at the Theatre Royal.

Wake Forest’s copy is from the library of Charles Henry Babcock. Babcock apparently purchased the book from the estate of Washington, D. C. lawyer Frank J. Hogan, who had the volume bound in red morocco leather by Rivière.

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