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.
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.
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’.
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).