Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Special Copies of Villette, Part 1 – Lewis Carroll’s

In libraries in the United States a few copies of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette can be found that once belonged to equally renowned authors. The Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia for instance has one that was part of the collection of books of Charles Dodgson (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. He must have loved Villette. He had two copies of the novel!

When Charles was eleven years old his family moved from Cheshire to Yorkshire, where his father, a vicar too, got a new and better position. They lived in Stock-on-Trees, near Darlington, but it also brought them sometimes to the Cathedral of Ripon, not that far from Haworth. At home he, like the Brontës, wrote domestic magazines. In 1846 he went to Rugby School, where he spent three unhappy years, and then he went to Oxford. For the rest of his life Dodgson would live there at Christ Church College.

One of Dodgson's rooms at Christ Church, Oxford

Dodgson’s collection of books is well known because of pretty detailed auction records, which were compiled after his death. It makes a compiled list of about 3000 books, with most of the Brontë works in it. Perhaps the most surprising book is an edition of the Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, with 1846 given as the year of publication. In September 1848 Smith, Elder & Co bought the stock of the 961 unsold copies of 1000 from the first publisher, and they published them as a sort of second edition, retaining 1846 on the title page. No more editions were published in the 19th century. It will soon have become a quite rare and valuable book to acquire, but it seems quite likely he bought it at the age of about 17.

The oldest Brontë book we know of in Dodgson’s collection is an 1848 third edition of Jane Eyre, followed by a Shirley from 1849, possibly a first edition. Then, in the auction records, we find a Villette of 1853 and a The Professor from 1857, both first editions.

The Rosenbach Dodgson Villette is an 1857 edition. His inscription shows that, almost 40 years later, he gave it to his cousin May Wilcox.

Pictures of the cover of the
 Rosenbach Dodgson Villette

Pictures of the inside cover of the
 Rosenbach Dodgson Villette

Pictures of the title page of the
 Rosenbach Dodgson Villette 

An early librarian description said the work contained another inscription, from 1858, but the Rosenbach Library made it clear it belonged to a Jane Eyre owned by Dodgson, also in their collection. It means that he had two copies of Jane Eyre too, as this copy was published in that year 1858.

Inside cover of the Rosenbach Didgson Jane Eyre

According to Elizabeth Fuller, librarian of the Rosenbach, “the two books appear to be early acquisitions by the Rosenbach Company, as they are listed on page 230 of the company ledger. Very few purchase dates are listed in that portion of the ledger, but those that do have a date in that portion of the ledger are from 1930. It is safe to say that the Company owned the books by 1930.”

Dodgson will also have had two copies of Wuthering Heights. He had an edition of 1860, which also had Agnes Grey (held in the Lindseth Collection, Cleveland, Ohio), but four years earlier at least he had already read it, and these auction records have an undated Wuthering Heights. On 21 May 1856 Dodgson wrote in his diary: “Finished that extraordinary book Wuthering Heights. It is of all the novels I ever read the one I should least like to be a character in myself.  All the ‘dramatis personae’ are so unusual and unpleasant.  The only failure in the book is the writing it in the person of a gentleman. Heathcliff and Catherine are original and most powerful drawn idealities; one cannot believe that such human beings ever existed: they have far more of the fiend in them. The vision at the beginning is I think the finest piece of writing in the book.”

The records also give a good many lots of usually four unnamed books. It is likely he had an earlier copy of Agnes Grey and a copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but they probably remain hidden in these lots.

Dodgson also had a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë. It is unclear when he acquired it. He read the book in August 1857, a copy borrowed from a Mrs. Longley. On 31 August he wrote in his diary: “Finished a few days ago Mrs. Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë. It seems to have been anything but a happy life. Her’s was that peculiar talent which thrives best in solitude and depression, the latter seems in her to have been almost morbid.”

Eric Ruijssenaars
(with thanks to Jobi Zink of the Rosenbach Library and Margaret Ryan)

Charlie Lovett-Lewis Carroll Among His Books. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Private Library of Charles L. Dodgson (McFarland & Co, 2005). A complete list, except for the Rosenbach Villette.
The compiled list of the auction records, with less detailed information about specific editions, can be found on the above link.

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