Beckett and Gorey at Gotham

All Strange Away by Samuel Beckett, Illustrated by Edward Gorey; Published by Gotham Book Mart, 1976
All Strange Away by Samuel Beckett, Illustrated by Edward Gorey;
published by Gotham Book Mart, 1976

A few days ago, for no apparent reason, except, perhaps all the rain we’ve been having, I thought of a quote from a book by Samuel Beckett. Even though it had been about forty years since I first read it, I remembered the quote quite well. The in-and-of-the-world lyrical beginning was especially unusual for Beckett, in my experience. Still, I could not remember which book it came from. Beckett was a favorite in those days, and I had read a lot of his work (maybe more than was good for me) in a pretty short period of time. I didn’t think it was a particularly famous quote. For example, it wasn’t the end of The Unnamable:

. . . you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

Nope, not that one. It wasn’t from the scene in Molloy that involves sixteen sucking stones, a number of pockets in a greatcoat (and trousers), and an attempt to place the stones in those pockets in such a way that Beckett’s character could most easily assure himself of sucking those stones in equal measure over time.

And it wasn’t the passage that begins with, “I can’t help it, gas escapes from my fundament on the least pretext” and ends with, “Extraordinary how mathematics help you to know yourself.” This is also from Molloy, and I’ll let you imagine what comes between those two fragments.

At about the same time I was trying to remember which book “my” quote came from, I realized that I’d never seen nor gone in search of a book by Beckett in Special Collections. This, of course sent me to the stacks (ok, to Addison, first) in search of Beckett. I know we have a large collection of modernist fiction, but over more than seven years . . . no call for Beckett. What I came up with surprised me. Not only was it a book I’d never seen before, it was one I’d never heard of. This required a bit of sleuthing.

The book, All Strange Away, was written in 1963–64, but not published until 1976 in the special edition we have in Special (naturally) Collections . . . an edition illustrated by Edward Gorey! (! The idea of a collaboration between Gorey and Beckett is amazing itself !) That’s a picture of Gorey at the top of this post, along with one of Beckett and the covers and spine from All Strange Away. Gorey wrote more than 100 books and illustrated many more. His dark sensibilities are often front-and-center in books like The Gashlycrumb Tinies in which twenty-six children whose names begin, in sequence, with each letter of the alphabet, have their deaths described (and illustrated) in one of twenty-six ways . . . all in rhyme, of course. (“M” is for Maud who was swept out to sea. “N” is for Neville who died of ennui.) Beckett’s text in All Strange Away begins:

Imagination dead imagine. A place, that again. Never another question. A place, then someone in it, that again. Crawl out of the frowsy deathbed and drag it to a place to die in. Out of the door and down the road in the old hat and coat like after the war, no, not that again. Five foot square, six high, no way in, none out, try for him there.

All Strange Away, title page
All Strange Away, title page

Like several of Beckett’s works from the mid-sixties, All Strange Away takes place in a bare space, or nearly bare. A stool is present, but the only dynamic seems to be imagination, that and the alternate presence and absence of light. Oh, and, maybe, the space changes size. In this text, the space is called the Rotunda and only one person inhabits it. In The Lost Ones, started by Beckett in 1966 and published in 1970, the space is a flattened cylinder 50 meters around with rubber walls 18 meters high. Two hundred people inhabit this space, which leaves about 1 square meter per person. Light and heat fluctuate, and there are ladders with which to climb the walls, and recessed spaces in the upper parts of the wall to occupy. I remember reading The Lost Ones, too.

Gorey’s illustrations, one or two per page, grace the margins of All Strange Away. Here are three of them:

But wait, there’s more. How did Beckett and Gorey, who could be seen as an ideal illustrator for Beckett, ever get together in the first place? The key lies in the publisher, the Gotham Book Mart of New York. First, if you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Gotham Book Mart, forget it. You missed your chance. This literary bookshop and meeting place—the kind of place that just doesn’t exist anymore—closed in 2007 after operating continuously somewhere in midtown Manhattan (it did move a few times) since 1920. It was still enjoying its long heyday when I used to visit in the 1970s and 80s. The James Joyce Society, for example, was founded there in 1947 with the founder and owner of the shop, Frances Steloff, serving as the society’s first treasurer.

If you lived in New York and were interested in things literary, it was a regular stop. If you were visiting town, you’d go to see books that you’d see nowhere else, along with dozens and dozens of photographs of writers, often in the shop, perhaps standing where you were standing.

Gotham Book Mart, 9 November 1948. Among the authors present: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Gore Vidal, Delmore Schwartz, Tennessee Williams, Randall Jarrell
Gotham Book Mart reception, 9 November 1948. Among the authors present: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Gore Vidal, Delmore Schwartz, Tennessee Williams, Randall Jarrell

Although Gorey’s first book, The Unstrung Harp was published in 1953 and The Doubtful Guest (1958), did much to establish his standing among a wider readership, it was his friendship with Andreas Brown, owner of the Gotham beginning in 1967, that really propelled his career. Actually, the Gotham Book Mart published more than a dozen of Gorey’s books, exhibited his illustrations, and, generally, brought him and his work to something like a mass audience. (Gorey’s annimation appears every time Mystery! is introduced on PBS.) One presumes that Brown may have brought the Beckett to Gorey, but I know of no details on the matter. I now know that Gotham Book Mart also published another collaboration between the two, Beginning to End, in 1989, just before Beckett died.

And . . . did I mention that the book is signed by both Beckett and Gorey . . . and numbered! Our copy is number 136 of 200.

signednumbered_withInset

All in all, this was quite the find. You never know what will show up in Special Collections until you have reason to look. (Today, I found out that we have a first [1854] edition of Thoreau’s Walden. But that’s a story for another day.)

So what was the quote that provided the germ for this post? It was from a work of Beckett’s called The End, written in 1946:

The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.

How do you top that on a rainy day?

Serialization of the 19th Century Novel

In the 1830s, a new trend began in publishing (a “novel” idea, if you will!): Novels started to appear in newsstands. But rather than publishing in a large, cumbersome form that one couldn’t carry easily, they were issued in small, portable, serialized segments. Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers was the first to appear this way in print, but he wouldn’t be the last author to try it (a bit more on that in a moment). For authors AND audiences, this format had a number of advantages. For authors, it meant they could begin to sell a story before it was completed, that they didn’t actually have to have everything plotted out, and they had a little more time to write. For audiences, it meant following a story as it unfolded (rather than waiting for a full novel), a more dramatic reading experience that was drawn out by having to wait, talk with people, and guess, and easier to access the literature of the era. Novels were expensive, but a single serial volume could be purchased for a shilling and passed from person to person. Of course, this does mean the volumes were ephemeral, on cheap paper, and not meant to last. Lucky for us, some of them survived. Special Collections is home to a number of serialized novels, either in complete or mostly complete form.

The first of two we’re sharing today is Charles Dicken’s Bleak House, originally published in 20 parts (though two are combined, so it’s only 19 volumes) between 1952-1953.  (Due to the fragile nature of the publications and the bulky nature of their housing, I had to photograph, rather than scan these items. Apologies for the occasionally blurry quality and/or fingertips!)

The second example is William Thackeray’s The Virginians, published in 24 parts between November 1857 to October 1859.

Other than the obvious fact that these are different authors and different novels, there’s something else unique about the serialized novel: when a novel was issued independent of another publication (the parts of many serialized novels appears within literary magazines of the time), authors had their own color for a cover. It made new parts stand out on shelves and caught potential readers’ eyes. Dickens’ covers were blue, Thackeray’s were yellow. George Eliot’s covers were green, and from what I’ve found so far, Anthony Trollope’s were brown (at least those from the same publisher). I think I recall another writer having purple covers, but I haven’t been able to come up with who that was. If you know, let me know in the comments!

A little later in the 19th century, another form of the serialized book emerged: the “three-volume” novel (aka the “three-decker” or  my favorite, the “triple-decker”). Longer novels like Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady or George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss both appeared in this format (we have a copy of the latter in our collection). The triple-decker afforded some of the convenience of the serial in a more condensed form and by the time it was popularized, book-making processes (and consequently book-buying) had become cheaper. On the other hand, both established and new authors of the age began to make their living this way, many of them through sensational, overly-dramatic tropes and as a result, in some literary circles, the triple-decker took a lot of criticism and mockery. As one of Oscar Wilde’s characters remarks in one of my favorite plays, The Importance of Being Ernest, “It [a baby carriage] contained the manuscript of a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.” (Wilde himself published some of his writings in serial format in literary journals of the time, though he didn’t produce any triple-deckers.)

Whether you’re an English major, a literature lover, or just curious about unique formats of books, you’re always welcome to pay us a visit to see our serial sets, three-deckers, and more!

The great big world of miniature books

When I arrived in fall of 2014 as a new employee, the department had an exhibit on display featuring miniature books from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a perfect introduction to the curious, strange, and unexpected variety of materials that I would come to find in Special Collections.

The Library of Congress defines miniature books as “works… 10 centimeters or less in both height and width”, which is a little under 4 inches.  The Miniature Book Society maintains a more circumscribed definition of “no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness.” Within these parameters, American collectors recognize several sub-categories, including macro-mini (3”-4”), miniature (2”-3”), micro-mini (1”-2”), and ultra-micro-mini (less than 1”). Often intricately bound and printed, miniature books are considered a testimony to the printer’s skill.

Dew Drops Devotional, cover and text
One of our miniature books, an early 19th century devotional entitled “Dew Drops”, is about the size of a house key.

According to the American Antiquarian Society, the oldest miniature “books” were produced on clay tablets in Mesopotamia; scholars and monks from ancient Egypt to medieval Europe produced miniature manuscripts by hand long before the invention of the printing press. The Diurnale Mogantinum, published in 1468 by Johann Guttenberg’s assistant Peter Schoffer, is the earliest example of a traditionally printed miniature book. The tiny texts became particularly fashionable in America during the 19th century as a portable and novel way to carry decorative and instructional texts. The most popular books in this time were religious tracts, advertisements, and children’s books.

ImitaciondeChristo
“Imitación De Cristo.” This 1964 text, which measures a little under 3.5” inches long, is ornately bound in gilded leather.

Miniature books experienced a new wave of popularity in the 1970s as artists and independent publishers explored new methods for binding, printing, and distributing. Like their full-sized counterparts, modern miniature books are incredibly diverse in construction and purpose, ranging from plain and conventionally bound to elaborately illustrated pop ups, scrolls, and accordions.

IMG_20150205_124532
Maurice Sendak’s “Nutshell Library”, a collection of children’s stories.

Although Special Collections does not collect tiny books on the scale of some passionate hobbyists, we have accumulated a limited but fascinating assortment of miniatures over the years. Highlights include an ornithology text published in 1810; several 19th and 20th century children’s books; a collection of Lincoln speeches reprinted in the mid 20th century; curios, art books, and poetry chapbooks by American micro-presses in the 1960s and 1970s; a handful of foreign language texts; and an edition of “Five Articles by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.”

A simply but beautifully bound chapbook by master printing James Weil
Five Articles by Chairman Mao
Published in 1972 by Peking Foreign Languages Press, this edition is bound in red plastic.

We also have several tiny books about food, which you can read more about on What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections,  the blog for our History of Food & Drink Collection. If you want to learn more about the history and making of miniature books, check out Louis Bondy’s “Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day” available in the Newman Library and Peter Thomas’ “More making books by hand: exploring miniature books, alternative structures, and found objects” available in the Art + Architecture Library.

Bill Berkson "Ants" inside cover
1974 chapbook by acclaimed poet Bill Berkson, with illustration by “Yellow Submarin” animator Greg Irons.

Legacy of Dayton Kohler

Bookplate found on the inside front cover of many books from Kohler's collection.
Bookplate found on the inside front cover of many books from Kohler’s collection.

Drawing of Dayton Kohler by Karl Jacob Belser, 1931.
Drawing of Dayton Kohler by Karl Jacob Belser, 1931.

 
 
If you have an interest in modernist literature and have, on occasion, requested Special Collections’ copies of such works—especially by American writers of fiction, though not exclusively—you may have discovered the bookplate shown above with a startling frequency. “From the Collection of Dayton Kohler . . . Virginia Polytechnic Institute . . . Carol M. Newman Library” appears time after time in books by many of the great writers of our time in the Rare Book collection. When I first started working here, just about five and a half years ago, as I came upon first editions of Faulkner, Hemingway, Cather, and Fitzgerald; then Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad; Saul Bellow, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, James Thurber, J.D. Salinger, Reynolds Price, William Styron, and more, I kept noticing the same bookplate. All first editions, several of them signed by the author. Who was Dayton Kohler?

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Select first editions from the collection of Dayton Kohler

Kohler was Professor of English at Virginia Tech. He retired in 1970 after arriving at this institution as an Instructor in 1929. Born in 1906 and a graduate of Gettysburg College, he received his master’s degree from the University of Virginia the same year he came to Blacksburg. In 1931, Karl Belser, a colleague in the Department of Architectural Engineering drew a sketch of Kohler (shown above) that is housed, along with several other prints and drawings, in the Karl Jacob Belser Illustrations, 1931-1932, 1938, n.d., also at Special Collections. Kohler’s own collection of papers is also on hand. It includes an extensive correspondence with authors and other critics of the time, much of which relates to various literary essays and reviews.

Dayton Kohler died in 1972, but not before arranging for a collection of his books—including many 20th-century first editions—to become part of Special Collections. In fact, former director of Special Collections Glenn McMullen said in a June 1990 Roanoke Times and World News article that acquisition of Kohler’s book collection was “the first major acquisition” for the new department that had only formed in 1970. A May 21, 1971 memo to then-library director Gerald Rudolph reports that 1095 books were received from Professor Kohler some ten days earlier. The list that accompanies the memo shows only authors and quantity, with no detail regarding title and/or edition. But, in addition to the names referenced above, the list includes William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, Truman Capote, Henry James, Ezra Pound, James Joyce (a trip to the shelves indicates the 1930 edition of Ulysses, not the 1922 first edition, was Kohler’s), and a total of 27 Hemingways and 38 Faulkners(!), plus much, much more. What a tremendous legacy for the Library and its patrons to use and enjoy. I’m sure there are still more terrific editions in the collection that I haven’t yet seen. To close (almost) this post, I’ll leave you with one more that I did find:

Jacket of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, 1925.
Jacket of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, 1925.

Inside front cover of The Great Gatsby (1925) with F. Scott Fitzgerald's inscription to Dayton Kohler, dated 1934.
Inside front cover of The Great Gatsby (1925) with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inscription to Dayton Kohler, dated 1934.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lastly, if any alumni who may remember Professor Kohler read this post and wish to tell us more about him, please consider leaving a comment below. We’d be pleased to add them to this post. Thanks!

A Rare Bit of Whitman: Leaves of Grass, 1882, The Author’s Edition

1855 engraving of Whitman from the Author's Edition, 1882
1855 engraving of Whitman from the Author’s Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882
Engraving of Whitman as an older man, from the Author's Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882
Engraving of Whitman as an older man, from the Author’s Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882

If you’ve never delved into the publishing history of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (I had not, until recently), it can be quite an interesting and involved pursuit. One small, but very fine part of the story is represented by one of the several editions of the book that may be found in Special Collections.
 
 
In 1881, some twenty-six years after the first edition of Leaves of Grass appeared, the prestigious Boston publisher James R. Osgood & Co. approached Whitman with an offer to publish a new sixth edition. Whitman accepted and, ever the printer and bookmaker, set out to oversee the production details of the new volume. He had reacquired the John C. McRae/Samuel Hollyer 1855 steel plate engraving of himself that had been used, first, in the original edition and, again, in the 1876 printing of the fifth edition. He would include it in the new edition, where it would be placed not as a frontispiece, as before, but within the text, opposite the opening of “Song of Myself.” Whitman also planned to have all of his finished poems—reordered, rearranged, and regrouped—included in the volume under the title, Leaves of Grass. All seemed to be going well, and in October 1881 the book was released. The first thousand copies sold and a second printing was ordered. Special Collections does not have a copy of the 1881 Osgood sixth edition . . . but the story only gets more interesting.

On 1 March 1882, in part at the urging of the The New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, Oliver Stevens, District Attorney for Boston, wrote to Osgood & Co. to advise them that Leaves of Grass was obscene literature and that they would do well to suspend publication and to withdraw and suppress the book. After an unsuccessful negotiation between Osgood, the authorities, and Whitman, Osgood, under threat of prosecution, wrote to Whitman on 10 April of their decision to cease circulation of the book. In May, Whitman received from Osgood all of the plates, unbound sheets, and dies of Leaves of Grass, along with a $100 payment.

Reports vary as to whether Whitman was left with 100 or about 225 complete sets of unbound sheets, but there is no doubt about his next move. While seeking a new publisher for his work, Whitman had a new title page printed and bound together with these sheets. The new title page identified the volume as “Author’s Edition” and added the notation, “Camden / New Jersey / 1882.” The book was bound in green cloth rather than the yellow of the Osgood edition. Several accounts of the editions of Leaves of Grass fail to mention this short run edition.

Before the end of June 1882, Whitman had reached an agreement with Rees Welsh, a Philadelphia company, to receive the plates and publish the book. The Rees Welsh edition of 1882 (a copy of which is also available in Special Collections) sold extremely well, perhaps due to the publicity generated by the unpleasantness of being “banned in Boston.” One source reports that it went through several printings and had sold almost 5,000 copies by December of that year. Another report says the first limited printing of a thousand copies sold in two days; another claims between two and three thousand sold on a single day!! The Osgood plates would pass quickly from Rees Welsh to publisher David McKay, and would provide the basis for all further editions of Leaves of Grass published in Whitman’s lifetime.

But the Author’s Edition of 1882 is the subject of this post. Again, it is one of many editions of Leaves of Grass in Special Collections. Our copy is signed by Whitman on the title page that was printed specifically for this edition. At between 100 and 225 copies produced, it is among the rarest of editions of Leaves of Grass. (Of the more significant 1855 first edition, 795 were printed and 158 copies are known to exist, according to a 2006 study by Ed Folsom. Others set the number at closer to 200.) The spine reads “Author’s / Edition / Leaves / of / Grass / complete / Autograph / & Portraits / 1882.” The endpapers, front and back, are a bright, glossy yellow. The title page presents the poem that begins, “Come, said my Soul, / Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)” printed just above Whitman’s signature. It carries the date, 1882, as that is the year it was printed, and the verso of the title page has an 1881 copyright notice. Two portraits of Whitman grace the book, the 1855 engraving of poet as a younger man (shown above) and, towards the back of the book, an image of an older Whitman (also shown above).

Our copy also is inscribed. On the front endpaper, in Whitman’s hand is written: John H. Johnston / from his friend / the author / Jan. 5 1885. Along with the donation of the book, we received a copy of the following obituary notice: “Johnston–On Monday, March 17, John Henry Johnston, in the 82nd year of his age. Funeral services at his late residence 389 Clinton St., Brooklyn. Wednesday March 19, at 2PM. Interment private.”

John Henry Johnston was born in 1837, died in 1919, and was Whitman’s friend and benefactor. Born in Sidney, NY, he came to New York in 1853, found employment in a Manhattan jewelry store and five years later became a partner and owner of the company. In 1873, Johnston purchased from his friend the 1860 portrait of Whitman painted by Charles Hine so that the poet would have enough money to move to Camden, NJ following the death of his mother. In following years, Whitman would often stay at the Johnston home on East Tenth Street when in New York. (The 1860 portrait, by the way, said to be Whitman’s favorite, was the source for the engraving of Whitman that is featured in the 1860 third edition of Leaves of Grass, also available in Special Collections.) In 1877, Johnston commissioned Elmira artist, George W. Waters to paint another portrait of Whitman.

Engraving of Whitman as frontispiece of the 1860 third edition of Leaves of Grass.
Engraving of Whitman as frontispiece of the 1860 third edition of Leaves of Grass.
Charles Hine's portrait of Walt Whitman, purchased by John H. Johnston from Whitman in 1873.
Charles Hine’s portrait of Walt Whitman, purchased by John H. Johnston from Whitman in 1873.

In this 1882 Author’s edition, we have a fine, signed, presentation copy of a rare edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Come see it along with several other nineteenth and twentieth century editions at Special Collections.

Not an “Optick-al” Illusion: Rare Isaac Newton Text at VT

In 2007, Special Collections at Virginia Tech was graciously gifted a copy of Isaac Newton’s Opticks or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.

Title Page
Title Page from Opticks, or, A treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colours of light by Sir Isaac Newton

 Opticks was Newton’s second major book on physical science and was first published in English in 1704, with a scholarly Latin translation following in 1706. The book analyzes the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behavior of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders.

 The publication of Opticks represented a major contribution to science, and was well received and hotly debated upon its release. Opticks is largely a record of experiments and the deductions made from them, covering a wide range of topics.  In the book Newton sets forth in full his experiments, first reported to the Royal Academy of London in 1672 on dispersion, or the separation of light into a spectrum of its component colors. He demonstrates how the appearance of color arises from selective absorption, reflection, or transmission of the various component parts of the incident light.

 The major significance of Newton’s work is that it overturned the dogma, attributed to Aristotle or Theophrastus and accepted by scholars in Newton’s time, that “pure” light (such as the light attributed to the Sun) is fundamentally white or colorless, and is altered into color by mixture with darkness caused by interactions with matter. Newton showed just the opposite was true: light is composed of different spectral hues, and all colors, including white, are formed by various mixtures of these hues.

 

 The copy belonging to Special Collections is a 3rd edition of the text, printed in 1721 in London for William and John Innys and was the last edition produced during Newton’s lifetime. This nearly 300 year old leather bound book is in excellent condition, even the fold-out pages containing diagrams of Newton’s experiments.

 The gift was designated by the donors in honor of Matthew Charles Ziegler, Class of 2003. Since it is not recommended that modern materials such as bookplates and their glue be attached to such extraordinary and rare books, this information is noted in the bibliographic record. What a great way to commemorate a Hokie!