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Before next weekend’s Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, why not head to Massachusetts a few days early to attend a lecture on the tools the Brontë sisters used to compose their novels. Associate Director and Curator of Collections at Rare Book School Barbara Heritage will discuss her findings from “reading” the writing desks of Emily and Charlotte Brontë in a lecture dubbed “Reading the Writing Desk: The Instruments the Brontës Used to Craft Their Novels.” The talk will be held on November 13 at 7pm at the Katherine Small Gallery (108 Beacon Street, Somerville, MA) and is co-sponsored by Triolet Rare Books.

Prior to working at Rare Book School, Heritage was a doctoral candidate at UVA’s English Department where she focused on 19th-century literature and book history. She said her forthcoming lecture aims to dispel the notion that the Brontës--and Charlotte in particular--were merely guided by the fruits of their imaginations. Rather, they were writers who actively planned their novels. Heritage’s talk is based on her decade-long research for a forthcoming book on the topic entitled Charlotte Brontë and the Labor of Writing.

“Some influential scholars and critics have referred to Charlotte as being essentially a ‘trance writer’ who did not spend time crafting her novels,” Heritage said. “I was interested in finding out more about Charlotte’s writing process and, more generally, in learning about what the physical evidence in her extant manuscripts could tell us about how her novels came to be.” Studying Charlotte’s manuscripts in-person, Heritage explored the intricate features of the physical objects so often taken for granted--the marks of excisions and revisions with pen and ink; residue from copying and pasting material with paper and glue--and determined that the sisters’ editing processes were precise.

“In Charlotte's case, these manuscripts were meticulously prepared and conscientiously edited as part of an ongoing dialogue with her publishers. My research suggests that she revised even more of her second novel, Shirley, than previously thought.” Heritage also unearthed ruling devices in their desks that allowed Charlotte and Emily to regulate the word count in their documents, which was essential to help the sisters meet their publishers' strict requirements. "By examining the writing desks, I also learned more about the pens, pencils, and blades she [Charlotte] would have used to create and edit her manuscripts, and about the kinds of evidence those instruments would have left in the manuscripts."

Does this fresh evidence change the way readers will approach the novels? In a word, yes, and Heritage hopes that her research will encourage contemporary readers and scholars to reexamine their notions of the sisters and how they worked. “It's misleading to characterize Charlotte as a trance writer, or to think of her, as some have, as a writer who wrote out her great novels with few corrections or changes. The mechanical craft of writing--including the physical materials and instruments that made that possible--inflected the very shape of her novels and their stories.”

Tickets for Reading the Writing Desk: The Instruments the Brontës Used to Craft Their Novels are $10. Registration is here.

An exhibition highlighting the early childhood art of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) and comparing it to her prolific adult oeuvre enters its final furlong at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this month.

Potter’s parents encouraged her art and arranged formal drawing lessons for her from the age of twelve, although she was sketching regularly from the age of eight. Already at this age, she was particularly inspired by the plants and animals around her and became a keen visitor to art galleries during her teenage years, particularly admiring works which she said were “drawn with design.”

Beatrix Potter’s Art: ‘drawn with design’ features the artist and writer’s early representations of mice (here wrapped around letters of the alphabet), a variety of insects, and her sketchbook from 1876 featuring a leaping gray squirrel and various rabbits on sleds. Rabbits are, unsurprisingly, to the fore including the The Rabbit Christmas Party: The Arrival (c. 1892, pictured above) in watercolor, pen and ink, which she gave as a present to her Aunt Lucy, Lady Roscoe. This is part of the museum’s Leslie Linder bequest of Potter’s art, letters, photographs, manuscripts, and other memorabilia, the world’s largest collection of such.

In addition to illustrated letters to friends in the 1890s, the exhibition also features an example of the tiny post box and letters, including imitations Penny Red stamps, which she produced and sent to friends during her childhood.

The exhibition remains on view through November 17.

Sara Gran's latest mystery novel, The Infinite Blacktop, was released last year. It's the third book in the excellent Claire DeWitt series, which began with Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway, and Claire deWitt and the City of Dead. (We interviewed Gran on this blog in 2013 after the publication of Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway). Gran formerly worked in used and rare books, for places like The Strand and Shakespeare and Co, as well and on her own as an independent bookseller. Books - real and imaginary - play significant roles in her novels.  Her private eye, Claire deWitt, is profoundly influenced by an elusive French book of detection from 1959, entitled Détection, which guides - and haunts - her actions throughout the novels.  In one of the three major storylines in The Infinite Blacktop, Claire is trying to track down an elusive Cynthia Silverton comic. As a result, comic book print culture of the 1970s ends up playing a critical role in the mystery. I recently interviewed Gran over e-mail:

One of my favorite things about the Claire DeWitt novels is the deep influence of books unique to Claire's world that make such an impact on her, such as Silette's Detection and the Cynthia Silverton comic books. In The Infinite Blacktop, the final issue of the Cynthia Silverton comics becomes a major plot point. Could you tell us a bit about why that is / making that decision as a novelist?

I think the books we read as children take on such a huge, outsized significance to us, whether we recognize it or not, that it makes a kind of poetic sense for our favorite childhood books to hold the solutions to some of life's mysteries. I've found it deeply fruitful psychologically and creatively to re-read my favorite books from childhood. Childhood is a land that everyone passes through and almost no one remembers; by re-rereading, you will open some strange, long-closed doors.

Are the Cynthia Silverton comics inspired by anything in particular from your own reading / our world?

Yes, lots of things: Nancy Drew (obviously!); Archie Comics; Choose Your Own Adventure books; procedural TV shows like Murder, She Wrote; Dell Mapbacks and other pulp fiction of the nineteen-thirties through the nineteen-eighties; esoteric texts.

Tracking down that comic involves Claire visiting a variety of low-end printers around Las Vegas in an attempt to find the printer of the comic books. Did you become something of an expert on comic book print culture of the 1970s?  What was the research process like for that?

Well, the comic was a short-run so I wasn't exactly looking into comic book culture so much as workaday short-run printing. It was a fun world to dive into and one I've always been interested in. Here's another little print story related to the book and a little mystery: a big clue in the book revolves around the dating of a specific envelope a note was jotted down on. I did some research online about envelopes, particularly security envelopes, and didn't find too much, but enough to make the story work. When on tour for the hardcover, I stopped in a little bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, that I always visit when I'm town (Alcuin Books). For an unrelated project, I was looking for books on postal and stamp history. I was talking to someone in the bookstore, and she said they had a book on the history of envelopes, but couldn't find it at the moment. Has anyone ever seen this book? Does it exist? Readers, I'm counting on you!

Are you a comic book collector yourself?

I am not, and what collections I do have, I am trying to shave down. Real estate is too expensive. 

I personally would love to see a publisher actually produce the Cynthia Silverton comics... is that a possibility?

I would absolutely love that and if any publisher reads this and wants to do me, drop me a note!

This is the first novel in the series to not using the naming convention of "Claire DeWitt and the..." What was the origin of that decision?

My publisher made that decision, for better or worse.

What's next for you? For Claire?

What's next for me is two or three non-Claire-DeWitt books, then hopefully Claire DeWitt book 4, plus the usual assortment of film and TV nonsense. I'm lucky to be busy and love my work.

Rolling off the same printing press as Johannes Gutenberg’s celebrated production of 1455, this 1462 two-volume Biblia latina, published in Mainz by Gutenberg’s direct successors (and former associates), Johannes Fust and Peter Schöffer, is headed to auction in Hamburg later this month, where it is expected to reach €1 million—or about 1.1 million American dollars.

The Fust-Schöffer Bible shares a kinship with Gutenberg’s Bible, aptly described by the British Library as “the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using movable type,” that collectors of incunabula and early printed books would find impossible to snub. Gutenberg Bibles—or even chunks thereof—hardly ever surface at auction, which means that this later item offers the opportunity to get just about as close to the beginning of the print revolution as possible.

Even apart from the Gutenberg connection, this rare, complete bible, printed on parchment and beautiful illuminated, holds a special place in printing history. According to the auctioneer, “Not only is this the finest work from the first decades of book printing, it is a very special gem, as it is the first book ever to contain a printing device: The alliance signet of Fust & Schöffer is the archetype of the publisher signet. On top of that, the well-legible Gotica-Antiqua type was used in the Fust-Schöffer Bible for the first time ever.”

The auction, which celebrates the 65th company anniversary of Germany-based auctioneer, Ketterer Kunst, is scheduled for November 25.

Another busy week coming up:

On Tuesday, University Archives holds an auction of Manuscripts, Rare Books & Apollo Related Items, in 264 lots. A typically eclectic selection of material in this sale: among the top-estimated lots are a Stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence printed on wove paper for Peter Force's American Archives ($15,000–17,000); a Paul Gauguin letter from late April 1895 ($15,000–17,000); a rare first pressing of the 1963 Beatles album cover for "With the Beatles," signed by all four members of the band ($10,000–12,000); a 1951 Einstein letter ($10,000–12,000); and an Abraham Lincoln note written while he was president-elect ($10,000–12,000).

At Hindman Auctions on Tuesday, the Library of a Midwestern Collector, in 87 lots. A first edition of Newton's Principia (1687), with the three-line imprint and in a contemporary vellum binding, is estimated at $150,000–250,000. Copy no. 74 of the first edition of Ulysses (1922) and the Mellon-Garden copy of Darwin's Origin are both estimated at $120,000–180,000. A first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in the first-state binding, signed and dated by Rowling, and not an ex-library copy, could sell for $80,000–120,000.

On Wednesday, November 6, Dominic Winter Auctioneers sells Printed Books, Maps & Prints. This sale includes the second part of the sale of books from the Ladwell Collection of Fine Bird Books, and the top lot is expected to be a complete set of the twenty-five original parts of John Gould's Monograph of the Trochilidae (1849–1861), estimated at £40,000–60,000.

Also on Wednesday, Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana at Hindman Auctions, in 480 lots. A copy of the second issue of Bernard Ratzer's four-sheet map of New York City (1776) rates the top estimate, at $80,000–120,000. There is a lovely copy of the Kelmscott Press publication Some German Woodcuts of the Fifteenth Century, one of eight copies printed on vellum and in a variant binding of dark green limp vellum. Once owned by William Morris' secretary Sydney Cockerall, this copy is estimated at $20,000–30,000.

The Christie's online sale On the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of Big Ideas ends on Thursday, November 7. The 58 lots include a 1928 Einstein letter to the Polish-German mathematician Hermann Müntz (£25,000–35,000) and a 1968 Stephen Hawking letter to childhood friend Bill Cleghorn (£15,000–25,000). Many more items for the Einstein collector, too.

PBA Galleries sells Art & Illustration – Fine Books on Thursday, in 426 lots. A mixed set of eight volumes from Justin Friedrich Bertuch's Bilderbuchs is estimated at $7,000–10,000. A rebacked first edition of Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz could sell for $4,000–6,000; the same estimate has been given to signed editions of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. Lots 350–426 are being sold without reserve.

Last but not least on Thursday, Collection Geneviève & Jean-Paul Kahn at Pierre Bergé & Associés. 

Last month, the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) issued a statement declaring that off road vehicles would not be banned from the park, a move that has upset some locals who say dirtbikes and cars are ruining the countryside. 

In 1898, Isabella Stewart Gardner brought the first Raphael to America, a portrait of Pope Julius II’s librarian, Tommaso Inghirami. Today it goes on exhibit at her namesake museum in Boston in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death.

So who is this man in the red cap, gazing heavenward? A friend of the painter’s, to start, and a lover of literature and theater—the “Cicero of our era,” according to Erasmus, also a friend. More to the point of the portrait, however, is the fact that he was the head of the Palatine Library (now known as the Vatican Library) from 1510 until his death in 1516.  

Raphael’s c. 1510 depiction shows Inghirami with pen in hand, copying text from a red leather-bound book into a quire. “Even after the advent of the printing press, scholars continued to create lavish, hand-copied editions of rare texts for rich patrons,” notes the Gardner Museum. Henry James called the painting “semi-sacred.”

The exhibition, which features a selection of sculpture, drawings, and archival materials to give the painting context, is on view through January 26, 2020.

Every November, Indianapolis hosts VonnegutFest in honor of its native son, the brilliant author Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007). But this year’s event will be quite special, as it coincides with the grand opening of the new Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML). Called “a pilgrimage destination for thousands of fans from around the world,” the KVML, which has been in operation for eight years, will officially debut its new space with a ribbon cutting on November 9, attended by the author's daughter, Edith Vonnegut.

The KVML houses rare books and memorabilia, including first editions of every Vonnegut novel from the Kevin Scherr Collection, some of Vonnegut’s famous drawings and doodles, family photographs, his typewriter, and even his Purple Heart, earned in the U.S. Army during World War II. The museum also offers fans the opportunity to “sit hunched over the same model typewriter Kurt Vonnegut pecked away at,” and to “ponder rejection letters Vonnegut received from editors.”

And in this, the 50th-anniversary year of Vonnegut’s cult classic, Slaughterhouse-Five, the KVML is raising funds to open a permanent exhibition in its new home called Unstuck in Time: Slaughterhouse-Five Then and Now. According to the Kickstarter page, “The Unstuck in Time exhibition will include a walk-through tunnel of the firebombing of Dresden, art by Kurt Vonnegut and other veterans, and biographical information about Kurt Vonnegut’s experience as a Prisoner of War during WWII. Every part of Unstuck in Time: Slaughterhouse-Five Then and Now will emphasize that literature, including Slaughterhouse-Five, is an important societal tool for understanding complex human experiences … This project will also help KVML offer programming for veterans, students, and the general public about the power of the arts and humanities to help us heal as individuals and as a society.”

Before I preview what's coming up in the salerooms this week, just a few notable results from last week. At Bonhams, the Jesse James letter sold for $212,575, the Jane Austen letter set a new record for an Austen letter at $200,075, and the top lot proved to be that lovely unpublished manuscript maquette for Christopher Webb Smith's Indian Ornithology, which sold for $275,075 over estimates of $50,000–80,000. At Swann, the copy of Newton's Opticks reached $40,000. The Christie's sale realized a total of $3,367,250, with the surprise lots of the sale: a March 25, 1792 letter from Alexander Hamilton to the president of the Bank of New York made $162,500 over estimates of $8,000–12,000; a copy of John Forbes Nash's doctoral thesis, estimated at $3,000–5,000, fetched $137,500.

On Tuesday, October 29, Christie's London sells Topographical Pictures including Selections from the Kelton Collection, in 110 lots. Three oil paintings, field studies by artist William Hodges painted in Tahiti during Cook's second voyage, are expected to lead the sale, but there are some important books on offer, including a first issue of Alexander Shaw's Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth collected in the three voyages of Captain Cook (1787), estimated at £70,000–100,000.

Bonhams Edinburgh holds The Sporting Sale at on Thursday, October 31. Among the books and manuscripts included are Abel Chapman's manuscripts for his books Wild Norway and Spring-notes in Norway (£3,000–4,000) and a set of William Lewin's Birds of Great Britain with their Eggs (£1,500–2,000).

Also on Thursday Forum Auctions holds another of their online sales of Books and Works on Paper, in 200 lots. Top-estimated lots include Bligh's account of the Bounty mutiny (£750–1,000) and a 1579 London edition of Plutarch's Lives (£600–800).

On November 2, Heritage Auctions holds a Lincoln and His Times Americana & Political Signature Auction. The 521 lots include an 1858 Abraham Lincoln letter to Henry Asbury sent during the senatorial campaign of that year, previously in the collection of Malcolm Forbes, Jr. The letter has an opening bid of $100,000. A large 1864 Lincoln-Johnson campaign poster is bid up to $67,500 at time of writing.

Going rogue takes courage, and what better place to cultivate that feeling than between the hard covers of children's books, where rebellious protagonists like Pippi Longstocking and Oliver Twist have long captivated young readers with their verve and spunk. The British Library is celebrating these brave characters and others in a free exhibition running from November 8, 2019 through March 20, 2020.

Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature's Young Rebels revolves around forty books, manuscripts, and original artwork spanning over 300 years of children's literature. Highlights include the first UK edition of Anne of Green Gables, color illustrations for Oliver Twist by George Cruikshank, and work by contemporary illustrators like Alex Scheffler and Jessica Love. 

"Children's literature over the last 300 years has shown that rebels come in all shapes and sizes," said the show's head curator, Lucy Evans. "These resilient characters are very much part of our story."

The family-friendly show has a full slate of events planned as well as interactive elements designed with tiny rebels in mind.