Monthly Archives: August 2015
Charlotte Brontë can’t claim the distinction of being the first female novelist to be published by Tauchnitz – that went to Lady Blessington in 1843. By 1848 when ‘Jane Eyre’ appeared as volume 145 and 146 of the Tauchnitz Edition, two other women had joined her, but the series was still dominated by male authors. Within 20 years women writers would be in the majority, but in the 1840s they still had to fight against prejudice, not just in terms of getting published at all, but in terms of how novels by female authors were viewed.
So the novel appeared under the pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’, a writer of indeterminate gender, with the Brontë sisters unwilling to use obviously male names, but wanting to avoid being categorised as women writers. Ironically, modern categorisation might say that the gender of the author is indeed important, that ‘Jane Eyre’ is evidently by a woman writer, and that it’s hard to believe many people were fooled. In a sense though the novel hid under two pseudonyms, with its sub-title being ‘An autobiography’, so that the implied author was Jane Eyre herself and the book was only edited by Currer Bell.
Half-title and title pages of volume 1 of Jane Eyre – first printing in Tauchnitz
It had been published in Britain in October 1847 to some critical acclaim but also controversy. It was quickly reprinted, with the second edition carrying a preface from the author, dated December 21st 1847, defending it against charges of immorality and dedicating it to William Thackeray, author of ‘Vanity Fair’. The Tauchnitz Edition was not far behind, announced at press on 4 February 1848, and including the preface to the second London edition.
Again sales must have been good, because by 1850 a Second Tauchnitz Edition appeared, completely reset and now also including a note to the third London Edition. Very unusually for Tauchnitz, the Second Edition, and all later editions over the next 90 years or so, are dated 1850, rather than retaining the original 1848 date. That does at least make it easy to recognise the first edition, which is dated 1848 and has 342 pages.
The success of ‘Jane Eyre’ is also reflected in the fact that the other novels by Charlotte Brontë were all published by Tauchnitz as soon as they could get their hands on them. They appeared more or less simultaneously with the London editions – ‘Shirley’ in 1849 as volumes 180 and 181, ‘Villette’ in 1853 as volumes 256 and 257, and ‘The professor’ posthumously in 1857 as volume 404. They were all published under the name of Currer Bell, despite the author’s identity having become widely known.
As usual with Tauchnitz Editions, it’s not always easy to recognise first printings. The first printing of ‘Shirley’ is distinguished by the publisher’s name on the title page being ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’, where later printings show it as ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’. For ‘Villette’ and ‘The Professor’, all printings use ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’, but the first printings are distinguished by listing no other titles by Brontë on the back of the half-title.
As well as Charlotte Brontë’s own books, Tauchnitz was eager to publish Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of her, which again appeared in 1857 in the same month as the London Edition and possibly even in advance of it (volumes 384 and 385). A Second Edition appeared in 1859 and for some odd reason this shares with ‘Jane Eyre’ the distinction of being clearly identified as a Second Edition and given a new date on the title page. So again the first printing is much easier to identify than is usual for Tauchnitz Editions – it is dated 1857 and the two volumes have 314 and 298 pages.
Penguin were really the first company to recognise the opportunity for Services Editions, when they launched their Forces Book Club in 1942. But first to recognise an opportunity is not necessarily first to find the right way to exploit it and for once, Penguin got it badly wrong. The Forces Book Club was a miserable failure, ending in September 1943 and leaving Penguin with significant quantities of unsold stock.
By that time other companies had stepped into the gap with much better designed schemes. Both Collins and Guild Books launched long-running series of Services Editions in mid-1943 while Penguin retired to lick its wounds. But by 1945 the Forces were starting to diversify their suppliers of Services Editions and there was another opportunity for Penguin to come in.
In comparison to Collins and Guild, the series of Penguin Services Editions was short – just 16 books, all issued in 1945 – and it was also quite diverse, in terms of both the format and the range of titles. Most of the books were in the standard Penguin three-stripe covers, colours depending on genre, but with ‘Services Edition’ added under a line in the middle section, and they were numbered from SE1 upwards.
There are however a lot of exceptions to the general rule. There are books numbered from SE2 to SE9, but there is no SE1 (the book assumed to be SE1 is actually numbered 502) and there are two SE10s but no SE11. There is no SE14 either, or SE16 or SE17, although SE15 and SE18 exist. SE3 does not say ‘Services Edition’ on the front, while SE9 does, but without the line above it. SE18 is in its standard Penguin Classics cover, with no middle stripe, so has ‘Services Edition’ in a different place, and SE10 ‘Within the Tides’, exists in two different covers. Perhaps most oddly of all, Bernard Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara’ exists in a version shown as a Services Edition in its printing history, but otherwise identical to the normal Penguin edition and with a price of 1 shilling marked on the cover. Services Editions never carried a price as they were not for sale.
Some of the variation in formats
For a series of just 16 books, this is a lot of errors or a lot of confusion, from a company that normally paid a lot of attention to the consistency of its branding and its numbering. It almost suggests that Penguin were not taking this venture very seriously.
If one of the key errors Penguin made in the Forces Book Club series was that the choice of books was too serious and too highbrow, they seemed to have learned little in the intervening years. In fact there seems to have been little thought given to what to publish – they just took whatever was on hand at the time, and it was a thin time. By Penguin’s standards, they published relatively few books in 1945. So into the Services Editions went a new translation of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, a Virginia Woolf, three Pelicans, and a biography of Lady Hester Stanhope. Surely no other publisher would have made a selection like that for a mass-market forces readership.
Copies are still relatively easy to find, much easier than most other Services Editions, and it seems likely that a high proportion of the books were released onto the general market rather than going to service use. Penguin brought an early end to their series in 1945, while other publishers continued into 1946, so there may have been mutual agreement that it wasn’t really working. My best guess is that the edition of ‘Major Barbara’ was intended as a Services Edition, but never actually used as one – perhaps withdrawn at the last minute when a decision was taken to end the series, then bound into new covers and issued instead as a normal Penguin.
It seems odd to suggest, but did Penguin produce Services Editions just because it was their patriotic duty? It certainly seems that their heart wasn’t in it.
Plenty of interest and some very good performances in this production of Othello at Stratford. Some of the effects and the choices by the Director, Iqbal Khan, worked really well, others I was less sure about. The stand out performance was from Lucian Msamati as an unrepentant Iago, whose laugh as the lights went down at the end of the play was spinechilling. That he’s a black actor needn’t have been important – he wasn’t playing a role in which skin colour is really significant – but Khan chooses to make it important, using it almost to set the tone for the production, emphasising racist elements and changing the dynamic with Othello, and particularly with Cassio.
In the scene where Iago conspires to get Cassio drunk and violent, the production seemed to move a long way away from Shakespeare, with Iago singing (beautifully) an African folk song and Cassio taking part in a rap contest, that reveals him as a closet racist. That Iago should resent his black commander promoting a less experienced and racist white man above him made some sense, but it made less sense of the position of Othello, who in a multi-racial army was no longer the outsider, himself the obvious victim of racism. It was also hard to see Othello as ‘the noble Moor’ when he’s portrayed as both complicit in torture and not above using it himself on Iago – so hardly noble, even without considering whether he’s a Moor or not.
Hugh Quarshie as Othello turns suddenly to jealousy and to violence in a powerful scene that makes some sense of what is to come, but is less obviously connected to what went before. This is a sudden eruption of the green-eyed monster, not a slow-burning build up. Was violence just under the surface, coming from his background as a military commander, more than as an outsider?
Iago on the other hand, is allowed to build some sympathy with the audience that makes it difficult for much of the play to see him as the personification of evil. He’s more of a good-natured rogue, closer to Sid James than the Borgias until his scheming reaches its tragic climax and that chilling laugh breaks out. Throughout though there’s little sympathy with his wife in a relationship that is put into stark contrast with the relationship between Othello and Desdemona.
As usual, the RSC made good use of its versatile stage, here filling a central section with water, used in the first scene as a Venetian canal, and later as a bathing pool for Desdemona. A grille rose and fell to expose the water, cover it over with a platform or even double as a table. We’re used to spectacular effects in modern theatre, but I know nowhere else that’s as innovative and adaptable in its use of space as the RSC on its Stratford stage.
The setting and costumes were quite difficult to pin down . Much of it appeared to be present day, with echoes of Iraq in the images of torture, faffing around with aerials to improve laptop connections, and one speech delivered as if through video-conferencing. Some of the costumes though, particularly for the women, and some of the other design elements, seemed much more traditional. But despite any small quibbles, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and another success for the RSC.
This post, like all my posts about Tauchnitz books, is tagged ‘Vintage paperbacks’. Yet if you check out the thousands of Tauchnitz volumes for sale on the internet, you’ll find far more copies in hardback than in paperback. My own collection too probably contains more hardback than paperback books in the main series, although other things being equal, I always give preference to a paperback copy. I’m not just being perverse. Tauchnitz editions at heart are paperbacks. Although the company did sell hardback copies almost from day one, the vast majority were sold in paperback, including most of those now advertised for sale in hardback. Somewhere along the line, there’s been a visit to the bookbinder.
This was not unusual for Continental Europe at the time. There’s a typically insular British view that Penguin invented the paperback in 1935 (some Americans even give the credit to Pocket Books in 1939), but paperbacks had been sold in continental Europe for centuries before that, and even in Britain were widespread before 1935. They had several advantages, including of course price, but for many European purchasers that was not the main consideration. They were quite willing to pay the cost of binding, but they wanted it done in their own style, not that of the publisher.
So in 19th century Europe, books were often sold in paperback, then taken to a bookbinder. In some cases whole shelves full of books from a range of different publishers would be bound in a uniform binding. It must at times have looked stunning. But the result now is that Tauchnitz editions are found in a huge variety of bindings and a shelf full of them often looks anything but uniform. And of course it’s the books that were bound, particularly those in expensive bindings, that have survived best. In contrast, the paperbacks that may once have been far more numerous, have mostly disintegrated and are now difficult to find. The older the books, the more that’s the case, so the earliest volumes from the 1840s and 1850s are now rarely found in paperback.
Or at least they’re rarely found in first printing paperbacks. Later printings abound for some of the earliest volumes and one of the major advantages for a collector is that paperback copies are usually relatively easy to date, whereas hardback copies can be almost impossible. Tauchnitz had the unusual habit of leaving the first printing date on the title page even on reprints many years later, and not showing the printing history. The true printing date is usually on the paperback covers or can be worked out from the information about other publications on the covers or on the half-title verso. But often bookbinders would discard not only the covers, but the half-title as well, leaving almost no way to establish the date of the book.
In fact often the best clue to the date of a hardback may come from the style of the binding. There’s a whole art to dating bindings, although complicated by the variation between countries and individual binders, as well as over time. It’s not unusual though to see a Tauchnitz Edition offered for sale and claiming to be from the mid-19th century, when the most cursory glance at the binding shows it can’t possibly date from then.
The heading for this post is the sub-title of ‘Do no Harm’ by Henry Marsh, which I chose as the first of my holiday books this year. It’s a fair description for the book – a memoir from a senior neurosurgeon, now close to retirement, but coincidentally it just about sums up all my summer reading. I hadn’t appreciated when I was packing, that one of my other choices – ‘Saturday’ by Ian McEwan, was also about a brain surgeon, although this time of course a fictional one. And the other books certainly covered plenty of life and death, if no more brain surgery.
I’d heard Henry Marsh talking on the radio before reading his book, and heard the book described more than once as remarkably honest. It is, in the sense that he talks openly about his failures as well as his successes. That means not only the occasional death on the operating table, but coming across others, years later, who had been left in a permanent vegetative state as a result of his failures. And he’s open, although perhaps not to his patients, that mistakes, even with terrible consequences, are almost a necessary part of the learning process, if we’re to end up with experienced consultants.
He’s also candid about the arrogance and feelings of being a Master of the Universe, that the job can tend to cultivate. That may apply, with less cause, even beyond brain surgery, to other surgeons who can hold our lives in their hands. At least in his case though, the arrogance doesn’t entirely prevent the feelings of self-doubt or the necessary humanity and understanding of what patients must be feeling. He recognises that he’d much prefer to be carrying out a difficult operation than having a difficult conversation with patients – a failing he suggests is common amongst surgeons, to the extent that many unnecessary or even damaging operations are performed. Consultants prefer to offer patients the hope that an operation may succeed, rather than be honest with them that at best the result is likely to be a painfully extended death rather than a swifter less painful one.
The book’s a great read, although quite an emotional one and a fascinating insight into a little known world, at least to me, as someone who’s spent little time in hospital and even less watching medical dramas. I always imagined that brain surgeons were cutting into the brain and attempting to influence in some way the way it worked. It seems instead that their bread and butter is the more humdrum business of cutting out tumours, while trying to avoid as much as possible of the brain itself.
Fortunately there are few glaring inconsistencies between the fictional neurosurgeon in ‘Saturday’ and the real one in ‘Do no harm’. Ian McEwan has done his background research well (I went straight to the acknowledgements to check whether Henry Marsh had been consulted, but it’s another of his colleagues who provided the advice). The arrogance and self-satisfaction is still there, and although it starts to unravel in a ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ style moment, McEwan spares us the full descent into Hell and is satisfied with a brief look over the edge into the abyss. It builds up to an action-packed and gripping finale, but the real strength of the book is in its slower, more descriptive sections, with extended riffs on a game of squash or the preparation of a fish stew. I’ve enjoyed all of the McEwan books I’ve read and will be searching out more.
I also enjoyed ‘Elizabeth is missing’, a first novel by Emma Healey, an unusual combination of murder mystery and literary exploration of dementia, another theme that I’ve seen tackled elsewhere recently. The action shifts constantly between past and present, as our heroine Maud, who can hardly remember what happened a minute ago, solves a 70 year-old mystery. It’s in some ways a similar structure to the one that A.S. Byatt used so well in ‘Possession’ and then Tom Stoppard in ‘Arcadia’, and it’s well suited to the subject of dementia. On the whole, the episodes of flashback to her youth work better than the passages in the present, which are a bit predictable and repetitive, but it’s a great read.
As of course is Agatha Christie. I’ve worked my way through quite a few of her classic mysteries in recent years, several of them from the Albatross Crime Club editions. ‘The ABC mysteries’ definitely feels rather dated now, but so carefully plotted that it still keeps you on the edge of your seat, pitting your wits against the great Hercule Poirot.