Methuen’s Sixpennies

Methuen were a relative latecomer to the ‘sixpenny’ market established by Penguin in 1935.  Other companies had reacted much more quickly, so by the time Methuen finally launched their new series in 1939, it was a crowded market.  The Collins White Circle series was well established by then, as was the Hutchinson Pocket Library, and many other series too.  All of these new series shared the key elements of the Penguin revolution – same size, same price, standard designed covers without cover illustration, and dustwrappers in the same design as the book cover.

Several of them also shared the idea of using a bird as their logoJackdaw Books, Toucan Books and Wren Books had already joined Penguin and Pelican.  So for Methuen to choose a Kingfisher as their logo, as well as copying all the other elements that had become standard, was hardly breaking the mould.  At least they didn’t call their series Kingfisher Books, settling instead for Methuen’s Sixpennies.

methuen-sixpennies-1

The series launched with the first four books in April 1939, although the list of titles on the back cover of the books already anticipated a roll-out of books up to number 14.  In practice further batches of four books appeared in each of May 1939, June 1939 and July 1939, taking the series up to sixteen books, before it paused.   There was nothing more for a full year, until another batch of four titles appeared, dated August 1940.

By this time of course the war was well under way and paper rationing was starting to bite.   The effects of it are seen in the abandoning of dustwrappers, and the limiting of the length of the books to 192 pages.  Pre-war issues had up to 320 pages and looked generally much bulkier.  The wartime books have smaller type, smaller margins and thinner paper as well, so look meagre in comparison.  The August 1940 batch are also coloured a pale yellow on the cover, although later titles revert to the pre-war white.

Methuen Sixpennies 17

There were twelve more titles to come, published in three batches of four, in January, February and March 1941.  Other than going back to white on the cover, they follow the same format as the 1940 issues and all are limited to 192 pages.  The final eight books resort to advertising for ‘Shadphos’ tonic tablets (‘commonly known as “brain sparklers”‘!) on the back cover, rather than a list of other titles.

Methuen Sixpennies 32 rear cover

The selection of titles published in the series is generally middlebrow – the type of book that could easily have been published by Penguin.  There are titles by Arnold Bennett and A.P. Herbert, Jack London, P.G. Wodehouse and Marjorie Bowen.  Indeed all of these authors did, sooner or later, have books published by Penguin.  There’s a good range of crime titles and thrillers too, if not by the very best known crime writers – they had mostly been snapped up by Collins.  Authors such as Sax Rohmer, George A. Birmingham, Walter S. Masterman and E. Phillips Oppenheim were popular though in their day and still attract some interest today.  And then there’s a single Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Methuen Sixpennies 22

Overall from a selection of only thirty-two books, that’s not a bad list.   It seems unlikely that the series failed because the books weren’t good enough.  In the end it probably failed just because of bad timing – three years earlier and it might have succeeded.   But launching in April 1939 into a crowded market, just before war and paper rationing were about to hit, was about the worst timing possible.

Methuen Sixpennies row of spines cropped

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Thomas Hardy in Tauchnitz Editions – Part 2

At the end of Part 1, I left the story  in 1882 after Hardy’s first five novels had been published in the Tauchnitz series in two volumes each.  His next novel, ‘Two on a Tower’, published that year in the UK, followed in the Tauchnitz Edition in 1883.

For the previous novel, Hardy seems to have considered leaving Tauchnitz to return to the Asher’s Series, but with that unpleasantness behind him, he now expresses full confidence in the firm in a letter of 12 December 1882.   The price offered returns again though to the lower level of £40, earlier paid for ‘Far from the madding crowd’.  ‘Two on a tower’ appears in two volumes in February 1883, as volumes 2118 and 2119 of the Tauchnitz series.

Tauchnitz 2118 title page and half-title verso

Tauchnitz at this point also asks Hardy to name a price for two of his earlier novels, ‘Desperate remedies’ and ‘A pair of blue eyes’.  The first of these never appears in the Tauchnitz series, but ‘A pair of blue eyes’ does appear the following year as volumes 2282 and 2283 of the series.  The first printing is dated September 1884 in paperback and copies in hardback should list only 6 other Hardy titles on the half-title verso of the second volume.

  Tauchnitz 2283 front cover  Tauchnitz 2283 back cover

Front and rear wrappers of a rare first printing paperback copy of vol. 2283

After this though there’s a long gap before publication of anything further by Hardy in the Tauchnitz series.  Between 1884 and 1891, Hardy publishes ‘The mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘The Woodlanders’ and ‘Wessex Tales’ in the UK, but none of these appear in continental editions.   It’s not until August 1891, with publication of ‘A group of noble dames’ that Hardy is taken up again.  This collection of short stories appears in a single volume as volume 2750, shortly after its UK publication.

The more significant event of 1891 though is the publication of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ in serial form in the UK publication ‘The Graphic’.  Tauchnitz seems to realise quickly that this is a major work and pays Hardy £100 for the continental rights, a significant increase on earlier payments.  The book appears in January 1892 as volumes 2800 and 2801 of the Tauchnitz Edition, shortly after UK publication in book form at the end of 1891.   The first printing lists 8 other Hardy titles, from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘A group of noble dames’, on the back of the half-title of volume 2.  There are multiple reprints, listing different numbers of titles (usually between 9 and 12) on the half-title of either volume 1 or volume 2, over the next 40 years.

  Tauchnitz 2801 front wrapper  Tauchnitz 2801 rear wrapper

First printing copy of Tess of the D‘Urbervilles, volume 2 in original wrappers

Another collection of short stories, ‘Life’s Little Ironies’ is published in a single volume in May 1894 as volume 2985, before the appearance of ‘Jude the Obscure’ in early 1896.  This is again in two volumes as volumes 3105 and 3106, only very shortly after UK publication and dated January 1896 on the first printing in paperback.   Hardback copies are even harder than usual to date.  They should certainly list ten other Hardy titles in the first printing, but should also show ‘Printing Office of the Publisher’ at the back (page 296 in volume 1).   Copies that instead show ‘Printed by Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig’ are much later reprints, even if they list only ten, or even fewer, titles.

  Tauchnitz 3105 front wrapper  Tauchnitz 3105 rear wrapper

First printing copy of Jude the Obscure, volume 1 in original wrappers

After ‘Jude’, Hardy gave up on novel writing and concentrated on poetry, although it’s not entirely clear whether that was because of the critical reception and the controversy generated by his last novel.  He wrote a handful of further short stories and in 1913 a collection of short stories was published in the UK under the title ‘A Changed Man and other tales’.  Tauchnitz as usual bought the continental rights, but rather than publishing it as a single two-volume work, obtained Hardy’s agreement to use two different titles.  The first seven stories were published in volume 4458 as ‘A Changed Man … ‘, dated December 1913, and the other five stories appeared under the title ‘The romantic adventures of a Milkmaid’ in volume 4461, dated January 1914.

  Tauchnitz 4458 front cover  Tauchnitz 4461 front cover

It’s worth noting that six of the twelve stories had originally been published before 1891 and were no longer under international copyright protection by this point.  In line with the practice that had originally made the reputation of Tauchnitz, there was no attempt to capitalise on this.  Hardy received an advance of £30 on each volume, with an agreement to pay a further £10 for every additional 1000 copies sold over 3000.

In terms of the main Tauchnitz series, that was that. Nine novels, in two volumes each and four volumes of short stories, adding up to 22 volumes, published over a period of almost 40 years.  Other than a few verses in a later student textbook, Tauchnitz never published any of Hardy’s poetry.

DSCF9668

The full set of Hardy volumes in Tauchnitz, in the usual ragged selection of bindings

During the First World War, when Tauchnitz could publish almost no new works, they did publish a short volume reprinting an excerpt from ‘Life’s little ironies’.  After the war there were also two schools volumes of excerpts from his work (volumes 4 and 20 in the Students Series, Neue Folge’), and another selection again after the Second World War (volume 8 of the Tauchnitz Students’ Series, published from Hamburg).  But these were just postscripts in the long collaboration between publisher and author, from 1876 to 1914.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Hardy in Tauchnitz Editions – Part 1

In the early 1870s, when Thomas Hardy’s first novels were published, the Tauchnitz Editions were well established as the leading continental publisher of English language novels, but their position was not uncontested.  The Berlin bookseller Adolf Asher started a rival series in 1872 and for the next few years the market was fiercely contested between the two publishers.  The ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ tried to tempt away as many established authors as it could from Tauchnitz and of course tried to identify and sign up the most promising new authors.

Some authors, including notably George Eliot, were able to play one publisher off against the other and for a few years did very well out of it.  Hardy seems to have been less successful.  He was certainly not an established author when the Asher series launched and hardly even seems to have been identified as a promising new author.

Thomas Hardy 2

But ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, published anonymously in 1872, had some success, and attracted the attention of Asher, who published it as volume 53 of the Asher’s Collection in 1873 (under Hardy’s own name).   Sales were probably disappointing as neither Asher nor Tauchnitz rushed to publish Hardy’s subsequent novels.  ‘Far from the madding crowd’, published in the UK in 1874, seems to have been ignored at first by both publishers.

It was Hardy himself who took the initiative to approach Tauchnitz, writing to them on 2 April 1876, after suggesting to his UK publisher that it might be useful to enter the Tauchnitz list as ‘a sort of advertisement for future works’.  Tauchnitz was happy to oblige, but as usual wanted to publish the latest work, rather than bringing out one of the author’s previous novels.   By 22 May, Tauchnitz was sending Hardy a cheque for £50 and an agreement to publish ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, which then appeared in two volumes as volumes 1593 and 1594 of the series in June 1876 – less than three months after the initial approach.

A damaged copy of the first printing of ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, vol. 1, dated June 1876

Emboldened by this success, Hardy pressed on, with further letters on 20th September and 22 October 1876, suggesting that Tauchnitz might follow up by publishing ‘Far from the madding crowd’.  Tauchnitz agreed, but was clearly in no hurry, and was not willing to pay the same £50 fee.  Noting that ‘you will be perhaps kind enough to consider that the book is not a new one and thereby has not the charm of novelty’, he proposed to reduce the fee to £40.  ‘A new work of the usual length would be entitled to the same sum as for ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, he went on.

Hardy accepted. but even so, the book did not appear until early 1878, again in two volumes, as volumes 1722 and 1723.  There is no recorded remaining copy of the first volume in its original wrappers, which would be dated March 1878, although a single copy of volume 2 survives at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

As usual with Tauchnitz paperbacks from the 19th Century, copies rebound in hard bindings are easier to find, but harder to date.  First printing copies should certainly list only one other Hardy title (‘The hand of Ethelberta’) on the back of the half-title of volume 1.  It can’t be said with confidence that copies meeting this condition are first printings, but it’s certainly the case that any copies listing more titles are not first printings.

Tauchnitz 1722 Half-title and Title

A (possible) first printing of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ vol. 1

When Hardy shortly afterwards came out with a new novel, ‘The return of the native’, Tauchnitz was perhaps honour bound, not only to publish it, but to pay the higher fee of £50.  It appeared early in 1879 as volumes 1796 and 1797 (paperback first printing dated January 1879, hardback first printing distinguished by the list of the only two earlier Hardy titles at the front of volume 2).

But still it seems that continental sales were disappointing and the upper hand in the negotiations remained with Tauchnitz.  When Hardy offered ‘The Trumpet-Major’ to Tauchnitz in January 1880, he was disappointed by the offer of £50, but Tauchnitz would go no higher, noting that he was still carrying a combined loss of around £112 on the three earlier published novels.   With the benefit of hindsight, we don’t need to feel too sorry for Tauchnitz – both ‘Far from the madding crowd’ and ‘The return of the native’ were still in print over 50 years later and amongst the company’s best selling books, so we can be pretty sure that he eventually turned a profit.

Hardy must have been considering a return to the Asher’s series, at that time enjoying a renaissance under the ownership of a new publisher, Grädener & Richter.  But Tauchnitz issued a barely veiled threat.  If he were to go elsewhere ‘I shall very much regret it – the more as it is a principle with me now, if an author gives a book of his into other hands for the Continent, not to issue also any of his future books’.

Tauchnitz 1951 Title page and half title verso

First printing of ‘The Trumpet-Major, showing three earlier Tauchnitz titles

Hardy did not defect, although it is worth noting that Tauchnitz did accept back others who did.  ‘The Trumpet-Major’ eventually appeared as volumes 1951 and 1952 in January 1881 and just over a year later, Tauchnitz was not only happy to accept ‘The Laodicean’ for publication, but asked to put a value on the work, offered an increased fee of £60.  It appeared as volumes 2053 and 2054 of the Tauchnitz series in April 1882.  As the fifth Hardy novel to appear it showed four other novels (from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘The Trumpet-Major’) on the back of the half-title in first printing.

So after his first decade as a published novelist, Hardy had five novels and a total of ten volumes in print in the Tauchnitz Edition.  For a novelist whose works had frequently been controversial that represented both success and respectability of a sort.  I’ll come back to the publication history of his later novels in a second post.  (Follow this link for Part 2).

Thomas Hardy first five

The Spanish Albatross

The Albatross editions in Portuguese that I wrote about in my last post, were far from being the business’s only experiment in foreign language translations of English novels.  Perhaps not surprisingly they also tried Spanish, publishing about ten translations between about 1947 and 1950.

Spanish Albatross 8 Polonesa

The Spanish books looked completely different, although the design is clearly a development of the classic Albatross design.  The same colour coding is used, but the writing around the border becomes much larger and rather dominates the central section.  It produces a design that is quite striking, but to me seems to lose the simple elegance of the original.  The books are also larger than the standard Albatross size, again losing in elegance what they may gain in impact.

They were published by Ediciones Albatros, a Spanish company based in Madrid and presumably set up for the purpose.  Unlike most of the other post-war ventures by Albatross, there is no evidence in the books of this being a joint operation with a local partner, although it may have been.

Spanish Albatross 1 Diplomaticos en Pekin

The series started with ‘Diplomaticos en Pekin’, a translation of ‘Peking picnic’ by Ann Bridge, a book that had not previously been published in English by either Albatross or Tauchnitz.  It was followed by translations of ‘Highly inflammable’ by Max Saltmarsh, which had been published as Tauchnitz volume 5242 in 1936 and ‘Soldiers from the war returning’ by Jerrard Tickell, which had appeared as Albatross 552 in 1946.  Six of the seven other books I know about had previously been published by either Tauchnitz or Albatross.

Spanish Albatross Spines 2

The books are numbered from 1 to 13 but I have never seen books numbered 4, 7 or 12 so I only know of ten titles.  Although the series lasted only for a couple of years and I doubt that any new titles were published after 1950, it appears that some of the books were reprinted later under different covers – showing even less respect to the traditional Albatross design.

Polonesa

The Portuguese Albatross

In the 1930s, Albatross Books had been massively successful in selling English language novels in continental Europe.  But by the end of the Second World War, Europe was a completely different place.  Attempts to recreate the series in the new circumstances were doomed to failure.   The market for English language novels could be more efficiently served by the cheap paperbacks that flooded in from Britain and from the US.  In the end it was probably Penguin, that owed so much in concept and in design to Albatross, that was to kill off its own inspiration.

But if there was to be no future in selling English literature in the original language, what about English literature in translation?  In the years from 1946 through to about 1950 there were various attempts to create new Albatross series in local languages.   A small number of Albatross Books appeared in German, others in Swedish and Norwegian, in Portuguese and in Spanish.

Portuguese Albatross P1 Myra Carrol

Of these various series, the one that looked physically most similar to the classic Albatross design was the short Portugese series.  It was produced in collaboration with Portugalia Editora, the local publishers who were also the post-war distribution partners for Albatross in Portugal and in Brazil.  As far as I can tell, only three books ever appeared, although more were clearly planned.  A leaflet launching the series explains the colour scheme that would apply, as with other Albatross books – red for crime and adventure, blue for love stories, green for travel and so on.  Only yellow and red seem in practice to have been used.

Portuguese Albatross leaflet back

In typically enthusiastic style, the leaflet reports that the books would be rigorously selected by a committee in London from amongst the works of leading contemporary novelists and assigned to the best translators.  The first book was to be ‘Myra Carrol’ by Noel Streatfeild, a book that had earlier appeared in the Albatross series as volume 572 in 1947.  The exact date of the Portuguese publication is not entirely clear, but my best guess would be 1948 or 1949.

Portuguese Albatross leaflet front

Surprisingly the next two books to appear had not already been published in the English language series.  ‘Died in the wool’ by Ngaio Marsh was translated as ‘Um cadáver na lã’ (which I suspect loses some of the nuance) and ‘The case of the constant suicides’ by John Dickson Carr appeared as ‘O caso dos suicidios’.  I’m not sure why these books took precedence over the many other crime novels that had already been published by Albatross in English, but it may have been to do with rights for translation, or perhaps even the availability and preferences of translators.

And that it seems was that.  I’ve seen these books several times, but never any other Portuguese Albatross books, so I suspect the series ended there, presumably because of poor sales.  Albatross had other problems anyway, so may not have had the time, the money or the inclination to continue.

Dating Tauchnitz paperbacks

Bound copies of the Tauchnitz Edition are very difficult to date.  Most of the key dating information is on the original wrappers that have usually been discarded by the bookbinder.  But what if the wrappers are still present?  Surely then it’s easy to date them, and to identify first printings?

In most cases, it is – the date, both month and year, is shown at the top of the back wrapper.  But not always, and even when it is, there can still be complications.  Firstly the early editions were undated and by early, I mean for the first 30 years of the series, roughly from 1842 to 1872.  Copies from this period in their original wrappers do still turn up from time to time, and although all are 150 years or so old and certainly rare, they’re still often a long way from first printings.

Tauchnitz 80 rear wrapper

Some of the earliest paperbacks are best dated by comparing the other titles listed on the back.  This one is from 1846.

Todd and Bowden in their Tauchnitz bibliography, introduced a system for classifying and dating these early editions, which relies in large part on the dictionary adverts on the back wrapper.  In a reversal of their practice with novels, Tauchnitz always recorded the printing date and the edition number for their dictionaries.  So if the wrapper advertises the 16th edition of the English-German dictionary, it comes from 1865 /66, if it advertises the 20th edition, it’s from 1869/70, and so on.

Tauchnitz 464 rear wrapper

This paperback is one of the first to advertise Tauchnitz Dictionaries on the back.  Reference to the Eleventh Stereotype Edition dates it to 1859-1860

This method is fairly reliable, but it’s not the full story.  When a book was rapidly reprinted, it can exist in two different wrappers, both advertising the same edition of the dictionary.  Then the only way of identifying the first printing is the laborious process of checking through the list of other titles to make sure that the wrapper doesn’t include any later-published titles.

From June 1872 until December 1934, the process gets much easier, as the back wrappers are dated.  If the wrapper date is later than the year shown on the title page, it must be a reprint.  If it’s in the same year, then it comes down to checking the month against the bibliography.   For much of this period though, there’s a simpler way, because Tauchnitz adopted a different style of wrapper for first printings and reprints.

The new style for first printings appears around volume 2990 in 1894.  The front wrapper is still identical, but the list on the back switches to a much larger typeface for the titles, with a very short description underneath – often just ‘A new novel’.   Instead of being just on the back wrapper, this list, on first printings only, stretches over the inside wrappers as well.   In fact the distinction that first printing wrappers have a list extending over the inside and back wrappers, whereas reprints have the list only on the back wrapper, seems to predate the change to the new format by  a year or so.  The first example I’ve seen of this is dated May 1893.

Tauchnitz 2990 New format Continued from page 3

An early example of the 1st printing format – June 1894

The picture below shows a comparison between the style of wrapper used for first printings and the style for reprints, that continued from 1894 through to 1903.   Throughout this period a quick glance at the style of the back wrapper can identify first printings much quicker than a comparison of dates or volume numbers.

Tauchnitz 3220 rear covers July 1897 1st printing and reprint

1st printing style on left, reprint on right

Then at the beginning of 1904 a new two-column style was introduced for first printings, now with a slightly longer description of each book, still extending over the inner wrappers as well.   The comparison below of first printing and reprint formats shows them still easily distinguishable.   In some cases, as below, where books were reprinted very quickly after first printing, both first printing and reprint exist with the same month at the top of the back wrapper.  Then only the difference in format can distinguish which is the true first.

Tauchnitz 4578 rear covers June 1922 1st printing and reprint

‘Back to Methuselah’ by George Bernard Shaw (volume 4522).  1st printing and reprint both from June 1922

So far as I know, this rule for identifying first printings is almost always respected.  There is one known example on volume 4700 where the first printing in the correct format is dated September 1925, but copies also exist in reprint format dated August 1925.  Todd & Bowden still give first printing status to the copies dated September 1925, partly on the basis of the bound-in catalogues.  I’m inclined to agree and to think that one or other is mis-dated, but there must be some doubt about this.  Other than that, the rule seems to be a cast iron guide.

This second first printing format continued from about January 1904 (volume 3705) through to December 1934 (volume 5178).  By this point Albatross had taken over editorial control of the series and was starting to apply the more modern design principles of its own series.  Adverts on the back cover had no place in this, and after a brief period of totally plain back covers, Tauchnitz adopted a completely new cover design and the Albatross system of colour-coding by genre.  Dates as well as advertising for other titles moved to inside pages.  In many cases a printing date and sometimes even an indication that a book is a second printing can be found on the back of the title page.  It was only five years though before the Second World War effectively ended the series and so relatively few volumes from this period were reprinted anyway.

Helping refugees – 1940s style

From soon after the start of World War II in 1939, Britain became home to significant numbers of refugees from countries occupied by German forces – French, Dutch and Polish amongst others.  In response to their needs the British Council published a number of books describing different aspects of the British way of life.  A series on ‘British Life and Thought’ was published by Longman Green for the British Council, starting with ten books in 1940 and including titles such as ‘The British system of Government’, ‘British Justice’ and ‘British Education’.

Perhaps the most interesting title in this series was a volume on ‘The Englishman’, written by Earl Baldwin, who had been Prime Minister only three years previously.  But it may have been rivalled by a parallel volume on ‘The Englishwoman’ by Cicely Hamilton, who had been very active in the suffrage movement, writing and acting in plays on the subject as well as campaigning.  The series eventually ran to 25 or more titles, continuing even after the war.

 

But books in English were not enough.  The British Council wanted to publish books in the languages of the refugees as well, which led to a new series – the International Guild Books.   This series started in 1942 with six books, three of them taken from the Longman Green series, two other short books about the British Empire from the Oxford University Press and one new book specially written for the series – ‘Come and See Britain’ by Guy Ramsey.

International Guild Book F1

They were described as published for the British Council by Guild Books, an unusual organisation that wasn’t really a publisher at all,  just an imprint of the British Publishers Guild.  Its original role was as a sort of anti-Penguin front, a combined book industry response to the paperback revolution initiated by Penguin.  It had come too late to be an effective competitive response, and its publication of around 50 paperbacks in 1941 / 1942 made little impression on a market that was by then struggling to adapt to wartime conditions.  So by 1942 it was perhaps looking around for what to do next.  That eventually led to the long series of Services Editions, which was the highpoint of the Guild’s surprisingly long existence, but in the meantime it turned its hand to British Council work.

The books were translated into up to six languages – French, Dutch, Greek, Polish, Czech and Norwegian – all languages of countries invaded by the Nazis.  Guy Ramsey’s book was translated into all six languages, two others into five languages, and overall from this first group, 23 different language versions were produced.  Two further books followed in 1943 in 7 language versions, and when a Greek language version of one of the first books was added in 1944 that brought the total to 31 books – seven each in Polish and Czech, five each for Greek, Norwegian and Dutch, and two in French.   It’s possible that a sixth Dutch book was added later, bringing the overall total to 32, but I can’t get clear confirmation of that.

International Guild Book P1

As was typical for the time, the books had a standard designed wrapper, with different colours used to signify different languages – orange (of course) for Dutch, light blue for Greek and so on.   The design was based on the British Council’s flaming torch symbol, held over a globe surrounded by stars.   To modern eyes it looks almost Soviet in its iconography.  Dustwrappers had by this time been abandoned on paperbacks, but the covers still had the slightly odd turned-back flaps that were used around then.

They were all fairly short books – typically not much more than 80 pages or so – but on reasonable quality paper and not particularly cramped in their layout.  Some books had photographs and the Ramsey book even had two coloured pages of maps.  There’s no evidence of war economy standard production here.   The books sold for either 9d or 1s, with the higher price generally for those with photographs.   Production numbers were probably quite low, maybe only a thousand or so of each(?),  although it’s hard to tell now.  Certainly few have survived, but that’s generally the case for wartime paperbacks anyway, even when printed in much, much larger quantities.

International Guild Book C3

I don’t know of any significant collection of them, other than the ones I’ve put together.  There are very few copies shown on the library cataloguing system, Worldcat, and only a handful to be found on internet book sites.   Just another wartime paperback series on the point of falling out of recorded knowledge.

Victorian women novelists – racier than you might think

It’s a persuasive and persistent myth that in Victorian times it was difficult for women to get novels published.  It doesn’t help that some of the best known women novelists of the period, notably George Eliot and the Brontë sisters, used pseudonyms that were male, or at least in the case of the Brontës, gender neutral.  From there it’s a small jump to conclude that it was only by pretending to be male that they could get published.

NPG 1405; George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross (nÈe Evans)) replica by FranÁois D'Albert Durade

George Eliot from a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery

Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in the mid-Victorian period.   I use as evidence the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, which is as near as you can get to a representative coverage of English Literature at the time.   For the 25 year period from roughly 1864 to 1889 the collection included more volumes by female authors than male authors.   In the early Victorian period, it’s true that female authors were much less common (and undoubtedly subject to some prejudice as well), and after 1890 the balance also swung back some way towards the men.  But overall the evidence is clear – there were large numbers of Victorian women novelists – and they did get published.

But there’s another myth that needs puncturing – the myth of Victorian Values.  It’s easy to think that Victorian women novelists were a straight-laced bunch, upholding in their lives as well as their writing, a strict moral code, that certainly involved no sex outside marriage.   In practice many women writers were writing ‘sensation novels’, in which it seemed almost every character had a guilty secret.   The dramatic tension came from the contrast between the values that society seemed to expect and the rather messier lives led under the surface.

Maguerite,_Countess_of_Blessington

The Countess of Blessington, from a portrait by Thomas Lawrence

And the authors certainly had messy lives themselves. I’ve written before about the Countess of Blessington, the first female author to be published by Tauchnitz in 1843.  She was in an abusive marriage, then lived as the mistress of the Earl of Blessington, before eventually marrying him.   It was later strongly rumoured that she was in a relationship with the Count d’Orsay, who married her step-daughter.

Caroline_Norton_by_Frank_Stone

Caroline Norton from a portrait by Frank Stone in the National Portrait Gallery

Or take Caroline Norton, another of the early Tauchnitz authors (and the daughter of another women novelist).  She had left her husband in 1836 and was involved in a close friendship with the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.  After attempting unsuccessfully to blackmail Melbourne, Caroline’s husband sued the Prime Minister for ‘criminal conversation’ with his wife.  This was rejected by the court, but the scandal nearly brought down the Government.  Caroline is then said to have had a five year affair with a Conservative politician, Sidney Herbert.  She was, perhaps pointedly, referred to on the title pages of her Tauchnitz novels, as The Honourable Caroline Norton.

NPG x21214; Florence Marryat by Unknown photographer

From the National Portrait Gallery

Florence Marryat, one of the most prolific Victorian authors, also left her husband to live with another man.  Her husband eventually sued for divorce, citing his wife’s adultery, and Florence re-married.  Mary Elizabeth Braddon, even more prolific with over 100 volumes to her name in the Tauchnitz series, lived for many years with John Maxwell who was already married to someone else.  And of course George Eliot famously lived with another married man (and another Tauchnitz author), George Henry Lewes.

Elizabeth von Arnim

Elizabeth von Arnim

One of the more prominent women authors towards the end of the Victorian era, Elizabeth von Arnim, writing as Countess Russell, was for several years the mistress of H.G. Wells.  And it wasn’t just the British.  Léonie d’Aunet, possibly the only French woman author whose work appeared in the Tauchnitz series (her work ‘Un mariage en province’ was translated / adapted by Lady Georgiana Fullerton), had a seven year affair with Victor Hugo, for which she was arrested and spent time in prison and in a convent.

Tauchnitz 1769 Leonie D'Aunet

Portrait of Léonie d’Aunet by her husband François-Auguste Biard

There are no doubt many other examples.  I don’t of course want to imply that the men were any better.  Amongst others, Dickens left his wife for an 18 year old actress and the unmarried Wilkie Collins seems to have split his affections between two women simultaneously.   My point is just that Victorian women writers were not only numerous, but racier than you might think.  Victorian Values were just another myth.

Mystery stories in Collins White Circle

I wrote recently about the important distinction that Collins made between Crime stories and Mystery stories – important to them, that is.   It had its origins in the exclusivity of the Collins Crime Club series, so when Collins launched a new series of Crime Club paperbacks in March 1936 – the series that eventually became the White Circle paperbacks – it was natural that to start with, it excluded ‘mystery’ stories.

But once a parallel series of western paperbacks was added a few months later in a similar format and also with a large white circle as the title panel on the front cover, it was perhaps inevitable that mystery stories would follow.  The  westerns started in August 1936 with numbering from 101, leaving the first 100 numbers for crime titles, and mystery stories launched in January 1937, starting from number 201.

Where the Crime Club titles had featured two mysterious figures in green and black, and the westerns were in yellow with a cowboy on a rearing horse, the mystery titles used purple and a policeman blowing a whistle as their design motif.

The back cover of the first six titles explained what the mystery classification meant: ‘While the Crime Club issues books based on a definite detective process, Collins’ famous series of Mystery Novels sponsor equally exciting books of a different kind – mainly Secret Service stories and thrillers of the type for which Edgar Wallace was famous.  The Mystery Novels now published in this new pocket format have been selected from the most successful in this series.’

I still struggle to understand why, to take one example – ‘Unnatural death’ by Dorothy L. Sayers (published as one of those first six mystery titles), is not a Crime novel, or not considered as being ‘based on a definite detective process’, but it matters little.  By the time the next batch of 6 mystery novels, numbered 207 to 212, appeared in September / October 1937, the White Circle name had been adopted for the overall series, with crime stories, westerns, mysteries and romances identified as sub-series, each with their own identity, but clearly part of a larger whole.  The series continued with this structure for the next 20 years.

White Circle 202

White Circle number 202

The pattern of issuing books in batches of six at a time gradually broke down, but new books continued to be added at a steady rate throughout 1938 and 1939, so that over 40 mystery titles had been published by the time war broke out in September 1939.  That inevitably slowed things down a bit and by 1943, with the constraints of paper rationing, the overall series more or less ground to a halt.  It effectively continued in a different form through the Collins series of Services Editions, but that’s another story.

Wartime restrictions also killed off the dustwrappers that had been used on the early volumes up to the end of 1939 – the first 45 volumes in the mystery series.

The main authors in those early years included J.M. Walsh / Stephen Maddock, David Hume, Arthur Mills, Sydney Horler and Edgar Wallace.   Peter Cheyney, who came to dominate the list later on, made his first appearance in 1939 and gradually rose in prominence through the 1940s.  So far as I can tell, none of the authors other than Dorothy L. Sayers are much read or much collected today, and again with the exception of Sayers, none of the individual titles have become anything resembling classics of the genre.

White Circle 219

One that has become a classic.  White Circle number 219.

By 1943, just over 80 mystery titles had been published, numbered from 201 to 282, and a handful of further titles after the war took the numbering up to 300 by 1950.   Numbers from 301 onwards had earlier been allocated to an odd mix of Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga novels  and romantic fiction, but a precedent for dealing with this had already been set by the crime sub-series.   Numbers 98 and 99 had been followed by 100c, 101c etc,, so that 101c (crime) could be distinguished from 101 (western).  On this basis, the mystery titles should have gone from 299 or 300 on to 301m, 302m etc.  They did eventually adopt this format, but only from 308m, so that the numbers from 301 to 307 are used twice.   There’s a more detailed look at some of the numbering peculiarities of the White Circle series on this link.

The post-war revival of the series didn’t really get going again until about 1950, but from then on around 10 mystery titles were added each year, reaching number 350m by 1955 and continuing up to a final 397m in 1959.  However not all were entirely new, as several titles were re-issued under a new number.   Throughout the final decade of the series, the list was dominated by two authors – Peter Cheyney and Edwy Searles Brooks, who wrote under the pseudonyms of Berkeley Gray and Victor Gunn.   Cheyney was the undoubted star, and many of his books featured a special front cover with his image replacing the usual policeman.  But Brooks was prolific too and between them these two authors accounted for around 60 of the approximately 100 titles published between 1950 and 1959.

Cheyney front cover

White Circle number 354m

The final book in the Mystery sub-series was ‘The lady is poison’ by Berkeley Gray, number 397m, published in August 1959 shortly before the end of the overall White Circle series.   Over a period of almost 25 years it had included almost 200 ‘mystery’ books and certainly made its mark as a leader in this area.

 

 

Imperium and A Christmas Carol

The RSC are giving Shakespeare a rest this Christmas.   While the main theatre has its usual family-friendly show with David Edgar’s adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, the Swan Theatre hosts Imperium – Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Robert Harris’s Cicero novels.  At over 6 hours of theatre, spread over two shows, this one is perhaps a little less family-friendly.   But it has three long books to cover, not just a slim volume of Dickens.

‘A Christmas Carol’ is of course a treat, and particularly a visual treat, although not because of  lavish scenery.  At times it needs only a top hat and a dress coat here, a couple of doors there, to summon up Victorian London, or perhaps more specifically Dickensian London.  The scene with Mr. Fezziwig in Scrooge’s youth is probably not really Victorian, but captured so perfectly the Dickensian image of a slightly earlier period that it seemed to bring the original book illustration to life.

A Christmas Carol Mr and Mrs Fezziwig

Brigid Zengeni and John Hodgkinson as Mrs and Mr Fezziwig

A Christmas Carol Mr and Mrs Fezziwig 2

Original illustration by John Leech

Phil Davis is well cast as Scrooge, surely partly on the basis of his earlier role as Smallweed in the TV adaptation of Bleak House.  I didn’t find his personal journey to greater empathy and happiness entirely convincing though. There’s neither a gradual process of understanding, nor a sudden epiphany – more just a feeling of well yes, of course I see that, which is difficult to square with his earlier attitudes.

A Christmas Carol Scrooge and Bob Cratchit

Phil Davis as Scrooge with Gerard Carey as Bob Cratchit

But the bigger difficulty I have with this production is the role of Dickens, who wanders in and out of the action with his friend, and later biographer, John Forster.  David Edgar and the Director, Rachel Kavanaugh, seem to have decided that the story doesn’t stand well enough on its own.  It risks being seen as  – well, a feel-good family-friendly Christmas show.  So they rather ram down our throats the message that Dickens was not just writing a Christmas ghost story – he was a campaigner trying to draw attention to some of the social evils of the time.  Slightly bizarrely they show Forster having to convince Dickens, the great storyteller, that a story might be the best way to get his  political and social message across.

But in doing so they seem to be denying this very premise.  They don’t trust the storyteller to get his message across through the story – they have to give him a second chance to air his views by talking directly to the audience as well.  Dickens didn’t have to do that – he could just publish the story and let it stand on its own – and the RSC shouldn’t need to either.

‘Imperium’ too has a narrator, who both takes part in the action and stands back from it to pass comment on it, but at least here it’s a device that comes directly from the book.  Joseph Kloska plays Tiro, Cicero’s secretary and biographer.  He’s very likeable in the role, although it’s slightly odd that he seems not to age, while his master does.  The role works much better than with Dickens in a Christmas Carol, and partly because it’s treated a little less earnestly and more tongue in cheek.

Imperium Joseph Kloska as Tiro

Joseph Kloska as Tiro

There’s still a feeling though that the RSC isn’t quite prepared to trust its audience to draw their own conclusions.   As one example, at a key point in the first play they plant in the audience’s mind the idea that perhaps it was Cicero himself who wrote some forged letters.  They then reinforce the idea with muttering from one of his slaves about the role he had to play in the affair.   But that’s not enough – at the end of the play, as though delivering the final coup, they reveal that, surprise surprise, Cicero wrote the letters.

It felt similar in the second play when Mark Anthony’s continual drunken staggering seemed mainly designed to reinforce the point, repeated several times, that his wife was the real power behind the throne.  A few lines of carefully crafted dialogue, or perhaps even a single raised finger, could have made the point far more effectively.  Or given that the plays were very light on female roles, we could perhaps have heard more directly from Fulvia herself, with less focus on her alleged puppet (compare Shakespeare’s treatment of Lady Macbeth for example).  As it is, the women in the play are little more than caricatures, there for sentimentality or for cheap jokes about licentiousness or avarice.

And what on earth was going on with the apparent appearance of Julius Caesar’s ghost, screaming ‘Avenge me’, at his state funeral?  Were Mark Anthony’s words not enough indication that were those who would be seeking revenge?  I don’t recall Shakespeare having to make the point quite so unsubtly.  Subtlety was not really the strong point of this version, certainly not when it came to a perma-tanned, bouffant-haired Pompey declaring “I’m a Republican”.

Perhaps I protest too much.  No-one is claiming that this is Shakespeare.  For all the lack of subtlety, these were two wonderfully enjoyable evenings of theatre.  Richard McCabe held them together with a strong performance as Cicero and impressive stamina, channelling his inner Tony Hancock into moments of world-weary cynicism inbetween his oratorical triumphs and disasters.  I enjoyed too the performance of Peter de Jersey as Julius Caesar, convincing both as a military leader and as a smooth politician, where you could always sense the steel hand beneath his velvet glove.

Imperium Peter de Jersey as Julius Caesar

Peter de Jersey as Julius Caesar