Special Collections & Archives Blog

Finding Charles Dickens

Monday, April 29, 2013 1:44 pm

I first found Charles Dickens while at the Worrell House in 1979. I have read many of his works over the years and have enjoyed them immensely. When I started working in Special Collections & Archives, I was very excited to find out that we have some of Dickens’ works in the original parts. One of my responsibilities here in the department is the make sure everything on the shelf is cataloged. There are many titles that have been on the shelf for many years, but for some reason, were never been put into the online catalog. While doing this, I realized that the British and American literature sections were cataloged using a hybrid Library of Congress classification system. Instead of grouping titles together, everything was done chronologically. This made titles hard to find. So, starting with the British literature, I started to re-catalog using the correct Library of Congress classification system. This led me to some surprising discoveries. By far the most exciting for me were two folios that were cataloged with Charles Dickens works. These two books were by James Peller Malcolm published in 1808 & 1811. Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London: during the eighteenth century, with a review of the state of society in 1807. published in 1808 and Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London from the Roman invasion to the year 1700… published in 1811. Now these two items, while rare, wouldn’t have gotten my attention normally except for two things, one they really should have been cataloged with history titles, and two, they had two bookplates on the front inside cover, one that said Charles Dickens, and another that stated “From the library of Charles Dickens, Gadshill Place June, 1870.” These particular bookplates stated that these items were in Dickens’ library at Gadshill when he died. Wanting to know more about these titles, I started to research more about them and found out that not only had they been in Dickens library, but the one published in 1808 had been used for his novel Barnaby Rudge. In J. H. Stonehouse’s Catalogue of the Library of Charles Dickens from Gadshill published in 1935, in the entry for these titles he states: “In Vol. 2 is the plate of a charming girl, in a picturesque costume, immortalized in Barnaby Rudge, and here named in Dickens’s handwriting — “Dolly Varden”. Needless to say I was very excited to learn about this important association with Dickens works. It isn’t very often that you can trace a book’s provenance other than bookplates or knowing who gave the book, but to realize that a important author actually used these books for his research makes this discovery all that more exciting. In this case the books were listed in the online catalog, but nothing had been added that stated this association with Dickens. I guess previous catalogers thought that if they were cataloged as Dickens’ works, the association would be self-explanatory. The books were bought in 1974 for $135.00 apiece for the rare books collection. There is a note handwritten in pencil on the front inside cover of the 1808 volume that indicates that the plate number #8 is the plate when Dickens made his notation. It is possible that this was written by the book dealer where we purchased the books. The books were in pretty bad shape when I cataloged them in 2011. The 1811 volume is in better shape than the 1808 volume. The 1811 volume has a back cover that is loose, and some pages at the front that have come unbound. The 1808 volume was in much worse shape with the spine completely split and many loose pages. I sent the 1808 volume down to Craig in preservation to do some repair work. It has now been beautifully repaired and is ready for scholars in English literature as well as English social customs and history to use. I will be sending the 1811 volume down shortly. If you would like to take a look, please come up to the special collections reading room and I will be glad to show you both volumes. It is times like this that I know that I am in the right profession. Not only was I able to provide better access to our collection by cataloging the volumes correctly, but I was able to work with something that belonged to and was used by my favorite author. Most days I love what I do, but on days like the day I found these volumes I can say with a huge smile on my face that I love my job!

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, by Charles Dickens (1836-37)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 4:26 pm

The author’s object in this work, was to place before the reader a constant succession of characters and incidents; to paint them in as vivid colours as he could command; and to render them, at the same time, life-like and amusing.

Charles Dickens

In February of 1836 the young publisher William Hall dropped in unannounced on Charles Dickens at his lodgings in Furnival’s Inn. The firm of Chapman and Hall wanted to hire the 24-year-old author to provide narrative for a new serial publication featuring illustrations by the popular caricaturist Robert Seymour.

Dickens had begun to make a name for himself as “Boz”, the author of satirical newspaper and magazine pieces. But for Chapman and Hall his narrative was of secondary importance to Seymour’s depictions of lower and middle-class Londoners engaged in sporting pastimes typically associated with the landed gentry. The young Dickens, however, had other ideas.

First part of The Pickwick Papers, April 1836

The serial was titled The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club and was “edited by Boz”. Chapman and Hall published it in monthly issues beginning in April 1836 with part 1 and ending in November 1837 with a double issue containing parts 19 and 20. The first booklet, cheaply bound in green printed paper wrappers, contained four illustrations and about 20 pages of narrative. The monthly parts were priced at an affordable 1 shilling each.

Dickens was not, as undergraduate legend has it, paid by the word, but rather by the issue. His starting salary at Chapman and Hall was about £14 per month.

The first part of The Pickwick Papers was not a commercial success. Dickens’s narrative was disjointed and hastily written, and his characters– Samuel Pickwick and his motley assortment of friends and followers– were not yet well developed. Dickens’s relationship with Seymour was strained and became more so when, at a meeting arranged by the publishers, he criticized the illustrations for the second part. The hypersensitive and mentally unstable Seymour committed suicide the next day.

Illustration by Robert Seymour

After the loss of their illustrator, Chapman, Hall, and Dickens reevaluated their plans for the publication. They decided to continue, but with Dickens’s narrative as the driving force, and with the number of illustrations in each issue reduced from four to two. R.W. Buss was hired to illustrate the third part, but he proved unsatisfactory. For the fourth part, young illustrator named Hablot Knight Browne was brought in. He soon adopted the pseudonym Phiz and embarked on a fruitful collaboration with Dickens.

Illustration by “Phiz”

The fourth part also introduced the character of Sam Weller, Pickwick’s comic manservant, who proved key to the development of Dickens’s story. The popularity of the serial took off, and by the end of the year the publishers had all they could do to keep up with demand for current and past issues of The Pickwick Papers. The relative cheapness of each issue meant that even working-class readers could afford to buy them.

Serial fiction was a new form of publication in the 1830s. Newspapers and magazines often featured installments of sensational stories, but novels were typically published as triple-deckers– three volumes published simultaneously– for the convenience of lending libraries. Pickwick was the first serially published work of fiction to gain widespread popularity, amongst a more socially and economically diverse group of readers than had ever been seen in Britain before.

ZSR Library’s 19 separately issued parts of The Pickwick Papers, from the Charles Babcock collection

Publication in parts did present certain challenges to the author, which Dickens described in the Preface to the first book edition of Pickwick.

The publication of the book in monthly numbers, containing only thirty-two pages in each, rendered it an object of paramount importance that, while the different incidences were linked together by a chain of interest strong enough to prevent their appearing unconnected or impossible, the general design should be so simple as to sustain no injury from this detached and desultory form of publication, extending over no fewer than twenty months. In short, it was necessary — or it appeared so to the author — that every number should be, to a certain extent, complete in itself, and yet that the whole twenty numbers, when collected, should form one tolerably harmonious whole, each leading to the other by a gentle and not unnatural progress of adventure.

The experience of a 21st century student who encounters Dickens in a thick volume (perhaps with scholarly footnotes) is vastly different from that of the Victorian reader eagerly awaiting the next monthly installment of an exciting story! Dickens published most of his later novels in installments, and it was in the writing of Pickwick that he learned and mastered the form.

By 1837 Dickens had become so famous that when he had to delay the May issue following the death of his sister-in-law, his readers became distraught. The author had to address their concerns in a note in the June issue.

The popularity of Pickwick opened up a new source of revenue for its publishers: advertising. The first few issues featured only Chapman and Hall book notices on the back cover. But later issues contained “Pickwick Advertisers”– thick pamphlets advertising all manner of goods and services.

As the serial publication neared completion, Chapman and Hall began to advertise their single-volume edition of Pickwick.

The “new work” advertised was Nicholas Nickleby, which Chapman and Hall would begin publishing in serial form the next spring.

First edition of Pickwick as a single volume, 1837

Pickwick proved as popular in book form as it had in parts. ZSR Library’s copy of the first edition has the signature of the English artist Thomas Leeson Rowbotham, who apparently opted for the half-morocco-with-marbled-edges option for the binding of his volume. It was donated to the Wake Forest College library early in the 20th century and has clearly seen some enthusiastic use.

February 7, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth. The author whose career was launched by The Pickwick Papers remains beloved by readers worldwide two centuries later.

 

Rare Book of the Month: The Chimes: A Goblin Story, by Charles Dickens

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 10:07 am

Of the five Christmas books that Charles Dickens published in the 1840s, the first, A Christmas Carol (1843), is by far the most famous. The following year Dickens came out with The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In.

Although the book sold well in 1844, it suffered the fate of many sequels in that it was criticized for being both similar to and different from its predecessor. In The Chimes Dickens once again takes up the cause of the underprivileged classes’ struggle for survival in a rapidly industrializing society. But The Chimes is a darker book than A Christmas Carol, its social criticisms more pointed and specific and its happy ending less certain.

Dickens’s protagonist is Toby Veck, a “ticket-porter” or messenger-for-hire who plies his trade on the steps of an old church, whose tower houses the Chimes of the title. Toby, his beautiful and virtuous daughter Meg, Meg’s fiance Richard, and Will Fern, an agricultural laborer newly arrived in the city, personify the struggles of the urban poor. On New Year’s Eve they suffer unpleasant encounters with a Member of Parliament, an Alderman, and a rich young gentleman. And Toby is further discouraged by newspaper depictions of the lower classes as inevitably prone to evil. When Toby reads an account (based on a notorious true story) of a desperate young woman who drowned herself and her illegitimate child, he succumbs to cynicism and despair: “None but people who were bad at heart: born bad: who had no business on the earth could do such deeds. It’s too true, all I’ve heard to-day; too just, too full of proof. We’re Bad!”


Toby then hears the Chimes in the church tower calling his name. He finds the bell tower “swarming with dwarf phantoms,spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells.” The Goblin of the Great Bell tells Toby that “Who turns his back upon the fallen and disfigured of his kind; abandons them as Vile; and does not trace and track with pitying eyes the unfenced precipice by which they fell from Good. . . does wrong to Heaven and Man, to Time and to Eternity.”

The Goblin informs Toby that he has died and shows him a vision of his daughter Meg’s unhappy future life. Through a combination of misfortune and malicious interference by the rich and powerful, Meg too is reduced to contemplating suicide with her infant child. Toby then understands that the unfortunate people he reads about in the papers are not bad by nature, but are driven to desperate acts by an uncaring world. The “spirit of the Chimes” has taught him that “we must trust and hope, and neither doubt ourselves, nor doubt the Good in one another.”

Toby then wakes in his own rooms to find Meg and Richard happily planning their wedding for the next day. A crowd of jolly neighbors soon join them to celebrate the new year and the upcoming nuptials, and one of the revelers proves to be a long-lost friend for whom Will Fern was searching.

Dickens leaves his readers with an admonition to “bear in mind the stern realities from which these shadows come; and in your sphere. . . endeavor to correct, improve, and soften them. . . . So may each Year be happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren or sisterhood debarred their rightful share, in what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy.”

ZSR Library’s copy of The Chimes is a first edition published by Chapman and Hall in 1844. It was purchased by the library in 1970.


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