Literature and Books of Merit from Whitmore Rare Books
Literary firsts and more.
Whitmore Rare Books has issued their Catalogue 6, “offering literary first editions and other books of merit.” Literary works dominate the selection, but everything presented is meritorious, so what is not literature still fits the description. As “books of merit,” you will recognize most of these books or their authors. Their merit has been recognized. And, we will now recognize a few of the specific titles offered.
Item 28 is one of those iconic books of 20th century American literature, The Great Gatsby. There is not much to be said about it that is not already well known. It is a work of the “Jazz Age,” the “Roaring Twenties,” whatever one wants to call the era. F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his wife Zelda, lived the lifestyle to the fullest, supported by this and some earlier successes of Scott's writing. Offered is a first edition of Gatsby, published in 1925. The book was not a major success at the time, doing little to stop what was now a rapid downward spiral in the lives of the Fitzgeralds. Priced at $2,650.
By 1932, the Fitzgeralds' situation had deteriorated into complete chaos. Scott was drinking heavily, and Zelda's mind no longer functioned correctly. She had already spent a considerable time institutionalized in Europe when she entered psychiatric facilities at Johns Hopkins Hospital that year. However, it was at this time that Zelda grabbed her pen and wrote her only published novel (she was a published writer of magazine articles and shorter pieces). The result of her brief outburst of writing is Save Me The Waltz. While a work of “fiction,” the story largely parallels the lives of the Fitzgeralds. Scott was not pleased. He had been working for ages on a novel based on the same story (Tender is the Night), and demeaned Zelda's writing skills. Between that and disappointing sales, it must have only added to the burdens upon her troubled mind. Item 29 is a copy of Zelda's novel that belonged to Elizabeth Boyd, childhood friend of “Scottie” Fitzgerald, Scott and Zelda's daughter and only child. $5,000.
Speaking of 20th century American literary icons, if there is a book more iconic than Gatsby, it is this one: Gone With The Wind. This book is set in the South, from whence the Fitzgeralds came, but in the days after the Civil War, when antebellum splendor turned into the defeated's reality. Item 48 is a May 1936 first edition in a first issue dust jacket of Margaret Mitchell's classic. The copy has been signed by Miss Mitchell. $16,500.
Here is another important book, but for very different reasons. Sadly, it was not fiction. Jacob Riis came to America as a young man, lived in the slums of New York at first, got a job as a police reporter, and became both a photographer and reporter. He is particularly noted as a pioneer in flash photography, which allowed him to display images of some of the darker, seamier sides of New York City. Item 55 is a copy of his “muckraking” book from 1890, How The Other Half Lives. Riis focused particularly on Manhattan's tenements, places where immigrants lived in terrible squalor. People would be jammed into small tenement apartments, often large, extended families. They were frequently dark, dirty, and unsanitary. The terrible poverty would lead to other problems, heavy drinking in particular. Children would often spend their days working in the nearby sweatshops. Riis believed middle and upper class people did not realize how bad the conditions were in the slums, and with this book, which features both textual descriptions and Riis' photographs, he set out to make them understand. One of the people whose eye Riis caught, and became a follower of his mission, was a young Theodore Roosevelt, just working his way up in New York politics at the time. Riis' influence was obviously significant, as Roosevelt would go on to be a dedicated reformer. Item 55. $1,850.
Literature and Books of Merit from Whitmore Rare Books
The rare suppressed chapter from Life on the Mississippi.
Item 70 is a first American edition of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, published in 1883. In it, Twain looks back on his youth when he was involved in navigating a steamboat, and then retraces his trip down the Mississippi in the post-Civil War era. Whitmore notes that Twain wrote this book at the same time he was working on Huckleberry Finn, with themes overlapping. Laid in is one of only 250 copies of the Suppressed Chapter of Life on the Mississippi, printed in 1913. Originally Chapter 48, the publisher removed this section, which began with, “I missed one thing in the South – African slavery.” It is written in Twain's typical tongue-in-cheek style, but his views on Southern attitudes are inescapable. He humorously notes that Emancipation made half of the South free. “But the white half,” he adds, “is apparently as far from emancipation as ever.” He points to the political conformity of voting in the South. He later digs even deeper, talking about southern reluctance to convict murderers, but southerners still having a sense of justice, so dealing with murderers with lynchings, conducted by parties reluctant to show their faces. While pretending to be describing a concern for justice, the allusion to the masked Klansmen and their lynching of blacks is obvious, so much so that the publisher feared the chapter would hurt sales in the South. He excised it from the book. This missing chapter was discovered after Twain's death, and published separately in this four page extra. $2,950.
Item 38 is Franz Kafka's “lasting celebration of bureaucratic absurdities.” It is a first American edition of The Trial, published in 1937 (originally published in German in 1925). It is a story of a man who is arrested for unstated charges, hauled before an obscure court, with no real hope of defending himself. It is one of those surreal stories that led to such situations being known as “Kafkaesque.” Kafka was himself an obscure person when he died in 1924, not a celebrated writer. He ordered his friend and literary executor, Max Brod, to burn all of his letters and unfinished work when he died. Fortunately, Brod ignored the order and published his unpublished works, including this story a year after Kafka died. $2,950.
Whitmore Rare Books may be reached at 626-297-7700 or email@example.com. Their website is www.WhitmoreRareBooks.com.