Modern First Editions 1919-1929
Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life. by Sherwood Anderson
Our pick for 1919 is Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life. The collection of 22 short stories set in Winesburg, Ohio was Sherwood Anderson's third book, but it was the one that made his name known.
Winesburg, Ohio was published in New york in 1919 by B. W. Huebsch after the publisher for Anderson's first two novels declined to publish it, calling the novel "too gloomy." It is uncertain how many copies were printed in the initial run, but the book did well enough that it was reprinted several times.
The work was unconventional in structure and prose when compared to popular novels of the day, and is now considered an important part of American literature, and one of the earliest examples of Modernist literature.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Making history in 1920, Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Age of Innocence Considering that women were only granted the right to vote in the United States that same year, Wharton's novel came a time of great social upheaval for America. Set in New York in the 1870's, The Age of Innocence is a gentle commentary on the culture of the elite urban class, with particular focus on the often difficult transition from Victorian tradition to a more egalitarian modernism. The book was well received, making the best-seller list in 1921 while making Wharton a household name, a notable accomplishment for a female writer of that time. Author of numerous novels, short stories, non-fiction, and books of poetry, Edith Wharton will forever hold an important place in literary history for The Age of Innocence.
- First editions of The Age of Innocence
- Signed first editions of The Age of Innocence
- All editions of The Age of Innocence
Of Note for This Year:
Our tie for 1920 was Sinclair Lewis' Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. Lewis was awarded the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Literature for Main Street, but then rejected by the Board of Trustees. Portraying a realistic view of small Midwestern town life in the face of a progressive, feminist character was a bit much to ask of the general reading audience. The novel was quite popular, but there was a backlash in Midwestern small towns, and it was even banned in Alexandria, Minnesota.
To Let by John Galsworthy
John Galsworthy's To Let is of special note for some dubious reasons in the world of book collecting. To Let is the final installment in Galsworthy's Forsythe Saga, one of the most important and well regarded works of the time. In 1932 Galsworthy had won the Nobel Prize for literature, and signed, limited editions of many of his works were highly sought by book collectors. His first, pseudonymous work, From the Four Winds commonly commanded prices of more than $500 in the early 30's, a fair bit of money today, and a small fortune at the time.
While Galsworthy is still read and known, in part from the BBC television series based on the Forsythe Saga, his books are typically not worth a great deal of money to book collectors, and in fact, sell for less now than they did 80 years ago. John Galsworthy is possibly the first example of hypermodern book collecting, a phenomenon that now commonly sees brand newly released book selling for large sums of money in the antiquarian book market as dealers and collectors vie to speculate on future value, trying to buy in before prices go up. As we see in the example of poor Mr. Galsworthy, this speculation often is wrong in the longterm.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Widely regarded as one of the most significant works of the 20th century, it's hard to ignore James Joyce's Ulysses when talking about modern first editions. Reviled and banned in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries on charges of obscenity, Joyce was forced to turn to Paris for its first book appearance. Ulysses' own immodesty between the covers notwithstanding, it was printed in in 1922 by Shakespeare & Company in modest white and blue printed wrappers in an equally modest print run of 1,000 copies. Today this outcast is among the most desirable modern first editions and its humble covers are nearly universally recognized by all in the field of book collecting.
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
Enter Lord Peter Wimsey, a detective of discerning tastes and impeccable lineage. Whose Body introduced the world to Wimsey, whose name characterizes his approach the art of detection. Like Sherlock Holmes with whom he is often compared, Wimsey solves crimes as something of a gentlemanly diversion. Sayers quickly accumulated a devoted following for the adventures of this fictional detective, resulting in 11 completed full length novels and a number of short stories featuring Wimsey.
Like Doyle's creation Sherlock Homes, Lord Peter Wimsey outlived his creator with novelist Jill Paton Walsh completing Sayer's last unfinished installment, and continuing to write novels featuring Wimsey as recently as 2013.
Lord Peter Wimsey is a natural choice for book collectors, as the detective himself is an avid collector of incunabula, and an expert on typography. Wimsey's character is even the author of a fictional book on the subject of book collecting, Notes on the Collecting of Incunabula.
A Passage to India by E.M. Forester
The last novel published in E. M. Forster's lifetime, A Passage to India explores the complexity of human relationships as it reflects against the cultural fears and prejudices during the colonial occupation of India by the British during the height of the Indian independence movement. Deeply critical of his own countrymen in a time of sharply divided views, it has been praised as one of the greatest works of fiction of the 20th century by sources such as Modern Library and Time Magazine and is a highly sought after high point of modern first editions.
British author, E. M. Forster's A Passage to India tells the story of two British women who befriend a Muslim physician, Dr. Aziz, in India during the colonial occupation and independence movements. After an visit to a remote area of India, one of the women, Adela, believes to have been raped and the doctor is accused and later stands trial. At trial, Adele casts doubt on her recollection of events and Dr. Aziz is exonerated.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This, Fitzgerald's third novel, is an icon of both the culture of the Roaring 20's, the time in which it was written, and the timeless aspirations for greatness and the darker side of the American Dream. The Great Gatsby was one of the author's most labored and anticipated works, but the critical and popular reception failed to fulfill Fitzgerald's or the publisher's hopes.
The initial print run was scheduled for 75,000 copies, but ended at 20,000 copies. Although the book's original publisher, Scribner's, kept the book in print throughout the years, sales and popular opinion flagged for several decades. The end of the excesses of the 1920's resulted in literary critics of the 30's and 40's often dismissing the book as a dated period piece. By 1937, Fitzgerald wasn't able to find a bookstore that had a copy in stock for him to buy for a friend.
The perspective of time established the book's position in the literary canon. By the 1960's, annual sales averaged consistently around 50,000 copies a year. The characters and story are familiar to most people through high school reading assignments and the three movie adaptations beginning with a silent movie released in 1926, almost immediately after the book.
- First editions of The Great Gatsby
- Signed first editions of The Great Gatsby
- All editions of The Great Gatsby
Of Note for This Year:
Our very close second choice for 1925 was Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy
Based on a grisly murder trial that captured the nation's attention in 1906, Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy had a similar effect when it was published in 1925. Finishing at about 800 pages, it took Dreiser nearly five years to complete An American Tragedy, and it has continued to influence American culture to this day.
Seemingly ahead of its time, An American Tragedy paved the way for similar works of fictionalized real-life narratives such as the Truman Capote's famed In Cold Blood. Adapted into films, plays, radio shows, and even operas, the murderous love triangle featured in An American Tragedy continues to captivate audiences nearly 100 years after it was published.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway had already attracted attention for his spare prose style in his previous collection of short stories In Our Time. The Sun Also Rises can be considered his first real novel, since his previous full length work, The Torrents of Spring, was a parody of Sherwood Anderson that hardly reflected Hemingway's literary voice. Maxwell Perkins, the great editor for F Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, oversaw production of The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway's direct language bordered at times on the vulgar, especially to readers of the time. The author's unconventional prose style, combined with the gorgeous but highly suggestive Hellenistic woman portrayed on the cover of the book, helped fuel market demand. The first printing had sold out within 2 months of publication, and a larger second printing of 7,000 copies was released.
The epigraph of this novel popularized the phrase "Lost Generation" which described the generation of people following World War I. Hemingway credited that phrase to his friend Gertrude Stein, but it is this novel that embodies that concept by describing the lives of a group of American expatriates in Spain in the 1920's. Much the same as Kerouac would do for the Beat Generation a generation or two later, Hemingway glorified the daily lives of himself and the people he knew thorough fictionalized accounts based heavily on personal experience. The Sun Also Rises is a lasting love story, and also a vivid account of the people of that time and place.
Combining the classical culture of Hellenic Greece with a sexualized portrayal of a woman, the cover demonstrates the novel's balance between the sublime and the profane, introducing for the first time in a full length novel a new voice in the world of letters. A voice that has been echoed and copied countless times in the years since.
Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
Thornton Wilder's second novel was published in November 1927 to great popularity. The Bridge of San Luis Rey tells the stories of five unrelated people who die when a bridge collapses and deals with the philosophical questions of the problem of evil and nature of love. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928.
Published by Albert & Charles Boni, the UK edition preceded the US edition by a few days. The first issue dust jacket is rare, and has a review of Wilder's Cabala on the back.
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. LAWRENCE
Published in 1928, D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was almost immediately banned in Britain for its graphic language and explicit descriptions of sex, and after decades of abridged copies later, it was the subject of a groundbreaking British Obscenity Trial in 1960. The prosecution argued that the novel's depictions of sex, along with the frequent use of certain four-letter words, made the book unsuitable to be sold to the public. In a particularly memorable moment, the prosecutor asked the jury, "Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?" It is believed that at that moment, the prosecutor's case was lost, in large part because of the seeming disconnect between the values of the prosecution and the lives of everyday Britons. Bishops, academics, and various other "experts" were called as witnesses for the prosecution, but the verdict of "not guilty" was decided on 2 November 1960.
The case had a dramatic effect on the bookselling industry, as eight days later, bookshops all over the United Kingdom sold out of unabridged copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
A Room of One's Own by Virgnia Woolf
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf is not often included in the realm of Modern Firsts, as it is considered both fiction and non-fiction. The essay, while presented by fictional characters, was generally based on real lectures delivered by Woolf in 1928.
Virginia Woolf noted in her journal, "I shall be attacked for a feminist." The novel has continued to be an inspiration to women authors since its publication, and it remains an important book in literary studies.
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Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.