Monday, April 29, 2024

Munchausen on the Cheap

Handcolored woodcut of Baron MunchausenIf you're reading this blog on the regular, then you likely know what a penny dreadful is. We've got a bunch of them as a result of a significant acquisition made a few years ago. But have you ever heard of chapbooks?

Chapbooks were cheap and ephemeral publications made to fill a demand for reading material by the working class who, while increasingly literate, could not afford to purchase a book outright. Chapbooks were an important means of disseminating popular culture as well as improving literacy rates. In England, roving peddlers called chapmen would depart from London or other printing centers with their bags full of these flimsy, poorly made books and sell them all over the countryside.

The subject matter was always widely accessible, usually centering on popular tales of love and loss, adventures both historical and fictitious, or humor. Traditional ballads and poems were also crowd-pleasers and often would be read or sung aloud at taverns and alehouses. Chapbooks also could be abridgements of well-known novels or other works of literature, condensed for quick consumption. Here at Rauner, we have a chapbook version of Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvelous Travels that was printed in Derby in the early 1800s. Although the original novel was written by German author Rudolf Erich Raspe in 1785 and runs well over a hundred pages, the chapbook is an efficient 21 pages in length and purports to tell only "the most interesting part" of the Baron's adventures.

To see the chapbook, come to Rauner and ask for Rare G560 .B37 1830z.

No comments :

Post a Comment