Bonjour! Guten Tag! Peter Harrington Rare Books in Mayfair has another catalogue and a related exhibition, and this one is for anyone who likes their literature from far-flung corners of the world, or in languages other than English.
It has frequently been the case that censors have banned books form being published, and it has also been the case that authors and publishers have sought ways around those bans, and printing ‘banned’ books in other countries who aren’t so censorious has been a frequent route to a readership. Some of the books on display here then are those which were published elsewhere, and some are very old translations of works being printed in continental Europe for the first time.
In this latter regard, fans of genre may appreciate the three volume, first printing in French of Frankenstein from 1821. This is the first printing anywhere which credits Mary Shelley as the author – albeit the author has spelt her name incorrectly, and she’s stated to be the niece of William Godwin (she was actually his daughter). It’s these quirks however which add to the edition’s value. The three volumes are in the exhibition as well as the catalogue, and available to the discerning investor for £45,000. Also in the catalogue is a first edition of The Liberal by both Shelleys (Percy Bysshe and Mary), a collection of writings and essays on many themes, including a translation of a scene from Faust (£750).
Also in the exhibition is a rare first illustrated edition in English of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, which has some fascinating quirks of publication detailing as part of its history (£7,500). Readers who have the capability to understand German may appreciate the first printing of the first edition of Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis), being the first printing to be released without the German censor’s stamp having been applied (£4,750). There’s also the first printing in any modern language, in this case, Danish, of that supposed quintessentially English tale, Beowulf (£4,750). This is a translation of an earlier Latin printing, but with annotations and corrections making this version more accurate than the earlier edition (although we suspect that this is probably something of a Pandora’s Box for scholars globally). There’s also the first printing in English of Czech author Karel Capek’s War with the Newts, the satire of the Nazi government which was considered too directly offensive to be awarded the Nobel prize (£2,000).
As ever the purpose of the catalogue, and the exhibition, are to whet your appetite and loosen the hold of your wallet on your credit card. This catalogue and exhibition have been well curated by Sammy Jay at Harrington’s, although we’d have perhaps liked to have seen more content from Africa and the Far East. A translation into Japanese of James Joyce’s Ulysses is represented here, but there’s little by non-European authors. By dint of the general impact of colonialism and the tendency of printers in the western world to favour western authors writing in English, the fact remains however that overwhelmingly the works represented here are by authors from the west and Britain’s former settler colonies. This is however a bold attempt to introduce the discerning connoisseur to a wider range of books than they might otherwise consider, and to introduce collectors who are either completists, or who are literate in a selection of foreign languages, to acquire copies of beloved classics of world literature.
The World Literature Exhibition remains in situ at Peter Harrington’s Dover Street in Mayfair, London location until Thursday 6th June. The exhibition is open from 10am to 7-m on Mondays to Fridays, and 10am to 6pm on Saturdays. The catalogue can be viewed online at: https://www.peterharrington.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/153-low-res-final.pdf