01 November 2007

Emma. Jane Austen. 1816.

Jane Austen is to me the greatest wonder among novel writers. I do not mean that she is the greatest novel writer, but she seems to me the greatest wonder. Imagine, if you were to instruct an author or an authoress to write a novel under the limitations within which Jane Austen writes!

Suppose you were to say, "Now you must write a novel, but you must have no heroes or heroines in the accepted sense of the word. You may have naval officers, but they must always be on leave or on land, never on active service. You must have no striking villains; you may have a mild rake, but keep him well in the background, and if you are really going to produce something detestable, it must be so because of its small meannesses, as, for instance, the detestable Aunt Norris in 'Mansfield Park'; you must have no very exciting plots; you must have no thrilling adventures; a sprained ankle on a country walk is allowable, but you must no go much beyond this. You must have no moving descriptions of scenery; you must work without the help of all these; and as to passion, there must be none of it. You may, of course, have love, but it must be so carefully handled that it very often seems to get little above the temperature of liking. With all these limitations you are to write, not only one novel, but several, which, not merely by popular appreciation, but by the common consent of the greatest critics shall be classed amongst the first rank of the novels written in your language in your country."

Lord Grey of Falloden - The Falloden Papers

[ Jane Austen.] EMMA. A novel. In Three Volumes. By the author of "Pride and Prejudice" &c. &c. John Murray, London 1816.

Current Selling Prices
$15000-$40000 /£7000-£20000

The lightest of her works and often cited as her most accomplished, fulfilling, as it does, her own formula for a successful novel - '3 or 4 families in a country village..the very thing to work on.' Many editions are wanted apart from the expensive 3 decker first, including the still valuable one volume Bentley (1833) fancy illustrated editions (Hugh Thomsom, Chris Hammond) Avalon Society, Limited Editions Club, Folio, Easton etc., Possibly the most wanted and easiest assimilated book of the divine Jane. A bibliographic warning note comes from Geoffrey Keynes:
'...The collation of the first volume of Emma is peculiar in that the first sheet consisted only of the title-page and the dedication to the Prince Regent, while the half-title was printed on the last leaf, which would otherwise have been blank. If the binder has omitted to transfer the half-title to the beginning of the volume, it will appear, at first sight, to be imperfect.'
Strictly speaking the half-title should be at the back of the book to be in its correct position.

The novel has such a strong and true storyline that it easily transposed into an acclaimed movie set in a modern US high school in Beverly Hills ('Clueless.' ) Also filmed 3 other times and done on TV about once a decade. 2000 copies of the 1816 first were printed -- it is uncommon to find the half titles and final blanks still present as it is more often rebound in leather lacking these.

VALUE? Has twice made £25,000 at auction this century, both times in original boards (usually slightly repaired/ restored.) A 'very fine' copy bound in 'half , calf gilt, extremities worn' made $24000 in 2002. Recently it has made as little as £5000 several times with a few disappointing 'buy-ins' at carriage trade auctions--usually for less than limpid examples. It can be found in handsomely bound state at most high end book fairs and is not scarce. The Bentley one volume 1833 edition can make well over £500; people try to make sets of the Bentley editions which complete can go for several thousand pounds. Jane Austen books in reprint often attract buffoon like over pricing. One chancer in Atlantic City has a whole series of basically old and used turn of the century pocket editions, none worth more than $20, at $200 to $400. They don't appear to ever sell so there are pages of them on the net -once again belying Blake's maxim that a fool will persist in his folly until he becomes wise. William Blake could never have foreseen the imbecility of the internet bookseller. What possibly happens, and this is true of many manic over pricers, is that just very occasionally some poor bastard buys one of their books thus justifying the whole enterprise. If a bookseller had a shop on the street with these prices fights would break out. One Mid West bookseller anticipating such problems has a shop with a sign saying 'No Visitors' and any customer venturing into the shop is immediately wrestled to the floor and then forcibly ejected.

Sets of Austen are the most rebound of all sets in history. The reason is that unless you put an absolute 'mind at the end of its tether' price on them, they will always sell. They make the perfect gift, prize, reward or inducement. Hard to find a decent set of 19th century (albeit late) leather bindings for less than $1000. Modern 6 volume sets from Easton in a sort of spam leather can be had on ebay at between $300 and $500. Below is Gwynneth Paltrow as Emma - 'clever, pretty and self-satisfied...'


Anonymous said...

'Spam leather' - good one. Hideous imo.

Anonymous said...

but very tasty, no?

Bookride said...

I second that emotion...!