Friday, June 28, 2013

"Hastily executed & altogether immature"

One of the joys of working in Rauner is stumbling on something that takes your breath away. That just happened with these two books by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a first edition of An Essay on Mind (London: James Duncan, 1826) and a first edition of Prometheus Bound (London: A. J. Valpy, 1833). They were both gifts from Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (as she called herself before her marriage) to John Kenyon, a cousin and confidant. It was Kenyon that introduced her to many prominent literati of the time, but who also arranged for her first meeting with Robert Browning. That private meeting in her rooms on Wimpole Street started one of the most famous literary romances of the nineteenth century.

Elizabeth wrote out her autobiographical poem "The House of Clouds" on the back flyleaves of Prometheus Bound and also included the self-effacing inscription:
For this version, which is cold stiff &
meagre, unfaithful to the genius if
servile to the letter of the great poet,
too hastily executed & altogether immature,
the translator's only apology is--
her remorse.

Tipped into the copy of An Essay on Mind is a long note from Barrett to Kenyon commenting on this work, on Prometheus Bound, and thanking him for taking her sister to Strawberry Hill. At some point, John Kenyon gave both books to George Ticknor (Dartmouth 1807) and added a personal inscription to An Essay on Mind:
Printed when the Writer--EB. Barrett was only seventeen--She wishes that it had never been printed--I on the contrary--as her friend and relation--feel proud of it as a work of extraordinary power, and of a promise which she has far more than justified--The smaller poems--some of them--appear to me of exquisite beauty.
To see them ask for Ticknor VA B82p and Ticknor PR4190.E8 1826. The letter is separately cataloged but still in the book: Ticknor MS 842231.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Judging an Author by His Covers

Over the past year, Shan Williams '12 has been processing our extensive collection of Erskine Caldwell's papers. This is the last week of her internship, so in her honor we look at the ups and downs of Caldwell's career as reflected in his book covers.

When God's Little Acre came out in 1933, it was packaged as serious literature. Viking treated him as a brave voice in American letters on par with Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson and Mark Twain. His proletariat fiction resonated with the left-leaning literati and critics loved his stark realism.

By the late 1950s, Caldwell's star was dimming. His books were still known, but had become more famous for the violent sexual scenes that got them banned in many localities. The covers reflect the change by accentuating the raging passions in lurid covers. And, of course, there was a chance for a movie tie-in (yes, that is Ginger from Gilligan's Island).

By the 1970s, Caldwell's books had slipped into the past for most Americans, though they maintained a worldwide audience. It was not until the 1990s that the resuscitation process began when the University of Georgia Press reissued his most famous works. Gone were the flashy covers and sensational blurbs: they were replaced by Walker Evans's photographs and statements like "What William Faulkner implies, Erskine Caldwell records."  What had been a dirty book transformed again into high culture.

Come in and take a look by asking for
God’s Little Acre (New York: Viking, 1933) Caldwell 182
God’s Little Acre (New York: Signet, 1958) Caldwell 180
God’s Little Acre (London: Pan, 1960) Caldwell 172
Guds Lille Åker (Oslo : Ernst G. Mortensens Forlag, 1982) Caldwell PS 3505 .A322 G66 1982
God’s Little Acre (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995) Caldwell PS 3505 .A322 G6 1995