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George Eliot in Tauchnitz Editions – Part 1

I should be clear up front.  ‘Middlemarch’ does not appear in the Tauchnitz series.  It’s probably the single most famous novel from the whole of 19th century or early 20th century English literature that never appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition.  The story of how and why it went missing can be found here.  George Eliot without Middlemarch may seem a bit like Hamlet without the Prince, but the author of ‘Silas Marner’ and ‘The mill on the Floss’ amongst others, would deserve her place in history even without Middlemarch.

Tauchnitz 462 and 463 Scenes of Clerical life

The first of Eliot’s works to be published in book form was ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’, reprinting a series of articles from Blackwood’s Magazine.  It first appeared in the UK in 1858 and the two-volume continental edition followed in February 1859 as volumes 462 and 463 of the Tauchnitz series.  Tauchnitz had offered £30 in November 1858 for the continental rights, as recorded in Eliot’s letters, later also published in a Tauchnitz Edition.

As always the Tauchnitz volumes were issued as paperbacks, although no copy of the 1st printing is known to have survived in its original wrappers.  I believe the copy pictured above is the earliest known paperback copy.  The back wrappers advertise the 15th edition of the Tauchnitz English-German dictionary, which date them to 1864 – 1865 and other titles advertised in the series confirm a date of 1864.  Most other surviving copies have been privately bound, and the original wrappers discarded.  They then can’t be dated as precisely, but examples of the first printing should list no other titles by Eliot on the half-title verso.

In July of 1859 Tauchnitz paid Eliot a further £87 10s, made up of £50 for ‘Adam Bede’ and £37 10s for her novella, ‘The lifted veil’.  ‘Adam Bede’ was published immediately as volumes 482 and 483, and reprinted many times by Tauchnitz over the next 80 years, but ‘The lifted veil’ was held back and did not appear in the series until almost 20 years later.   It seems very untypical of Tauchnitz to pay for a work and not publish it, but ‘The lifted veil’ is untypical of George Eliot, so perhaps it was appropriate.  It was also too short to fill a volume of the Tauchnitz Edition on it own, so perhaps had to wait for a suitable accompaniment.

Tauchnitz 482 and 483 Adam Bede

As always, copies of ‘Adam Bede’ in the original wrappers are scarce.  The less-than-perfect copy pictured above is certainly very close to a first printing, with the list of other titles on the wrappers going up to ‘Barchester Towers’ by Trollope (volumes 491 and 492), published in October 1859.  It may be that again this is the earliest known surviving copy, although the Tauchnitz bibliography lists two other early copies (in Budapest and in Western Ontario) advertising the 11th edition of the Tauchnitz English-German dictionary, which puts them no later than the end of 1860.

It’s interesting to look at Eliot’s choice of a male pseudonym in the Tauchnitz context.  In 1859, when her first works appeared, around 40% of all novels published by Tauchnitz were by female authors and by 1865 the women were at parity, if not in a small majority – a position that they maintained for most of the next 20 years.  So it was clearly not that she would have had any difficulty in getting published under her own name.

But there was undoubtedly a difference in the type of novel published by female authors, which tended to be light romances, or more often, sensation novels – the style popularised by Mary Braddon and Mrs. Henry Wood, as well as Wilkie Collins.   Eliot had published an anonymous essay in 1856 attacking ‘Silly novels by Lady novelists’ and clearly did not want her own work to be categorised in this way.

Despite sitting on ‘The lifted veil’, Tauchnitz was keen to publish all of the novels of George Eliot as soon as they were available.  ‘The mill on the Floss’ appeared in April 1860, only a matter of weeks after the first UK publication, as volumes 509 and 510.  The price paid increased again to £100, presumably on the basis of the successful sales of ‘Adam Bede’.   ‘Silas Marner’ followed in May 1861 as volume 550 and then ‘Romola’ in December 1863 as volumes 682 and 683.

Tauchnitz 550 Silas Marner
First printing of Silas Marner, with a quotation on half-title verso, but no other titles listed.

For all of these volumes, the first printings according to the bibliography should not list any other titles by Eliot on the half-title verso, as well as conforming on other points too detailed to mention here.  However it’s worth noting that for other Tauchnitz volumes issued around the same time, versions with no other titles listed, and versions with all previous titles listed, seem to have been issued more or less simultaneously.  A version of ‘Silas Marner’ exists listing only the three Eliot works published ahead of it, and a version of ‘Romola’ listing only the four previously published titles.

Tauchnitz 682 and 683 Romola

It’s possible, particularly in the case of ‘Romola’, that both versions were published simultaneously.   However my paperback copy (again I think the earliest known copy) shows no later published titles in the advertising on the wrappers, so is almost certainly a first printing, and it has no other titles listed.

‘Romola’ was not as commercially successful in the UK as Eliot’s earlier novels, and the same may have been true on the continent in the first few years.   Early copies are relatively scarce.  In the long run though, it was almost certainly the most successful in sales terms of all the Eliot novels published by Tauchnitz, because it was taken up for sale as a travel souvenir by the Italian book trade.   A series of Tauchnitz Editions, all with Italian settings, were sold in large numbers in Italy, in custom made vellum bindings, often richly decorated, and extra-illustrated with albumen tourist postcards bound in.   They seem to date mostly from around the 1880s, so are almost always reprints, although as the half-titles are rarely bound in, they are impossible to date accurately.  ‘Romola’, with its Florentine setting, seems to exist mostly in bindings by G. Giannini in Florence, with postcards of Florence bound in.

Tauchnitz 683 extra-illustrated front board
Front cover of an extra-illustrated edition of ‘Romola’ bound in Italy
Italian Tourist edition - sample photo bound in
and an example of one of the bound-in postcards

By the end of 1863 (and the end of this first part), the Tauchnitz series contained a total of 9 volumes by George Eliot, and covered all four of her novels up to that date.   There is some evidence of early reprints, but from what evidence there is, I suspect that sales were respectable, but not outstanding in the early years.  Tauchnitz probably sold enough to make them profitable, which may have been as few as 2,000 copies or so, but the real value came from the fact that they continued to sell, year after year.  There were certainly plenty of reprints later on, and Tauchnitz bought the copyright of almost all the books he published with a single advance payment rather than ongoing royalties.  So it was books that generated continuing sales that became the most profitable over the long term, and Eliot’s novels were certainly in this category.

I’ll come back to the story of George Eliot’s later works in a second post.