Bright Young Collectors: Marielle Stockton

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Marielle Stockton of Bellingham, Washington. Marielle was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for women 30 and under.

Where are you from / where do you live?

I'm from Everett, Washington, but am currently living in Bellingham while attending Western Washington University.

What do you study at University? What do you do for an occupation?

I am an English Literature major, minoring in Sociology and Classical Studies. I work at the university library as an Information Desk attendant, as well as the Washington State Archives Northwest Regional Branch in Bellingham as a student organizational assistant. I am also a research assistant to Dr. Laura Laffrado, director of the Ella Higginson Recovery Project.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in?

I collect books by and about once-forgotten first Poet Laureate of Washington State Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940). Higginson was a poet, novelist, and essayist who lived in Bellingham and gained international fame at the turn into the twentieth century. Unfortunately, by the time she died she was almost completely forgotten for several reasons, the most prominent being WWI, when the majority of books went out of print. When the war was over, Higginson's books didn't come back into print save for her one nonfiction guidebook to Alaska and her only novel Mariella of Out West.

There were very few writers in the Pacific Northwest to begin with, even fewer women writers, and none with her level of success. Due to Higginson's unusual position as a prolific female author in a sparsely-populated corner of the country, there was no one who could compare and therefore no way to find her through the recovery of other female turn-of the-century writers.

My collection has expanded over time from purely books by Higginson, to books about Higginson, to books about Bellingham when Higginson was alive, to postcards and sheet music featuring her work, and now to books by her contemporaries or texts in connection with her. The collection currently paints a picture of the Pacific Northwest that Higginson lived in and wrote about, as well as the literary culture she was writing to and within. My ultimate goal is to collect a copy of each book Ella Higginson wrote, as well as each edition, and moreover collect as many inscribed books as are surviving.

How many books are in your collection?

I have eight books written by Higginson (three are signed by Higginson); two books about Higginson; thirteen books that Higginson drew inspiration from or were published during her own career; one magazine featuring Higginson's work; two sets of sheet music where Higginson's poems were used as lyrics; and eight postcards featuring Higginson's poems. In all, the collection currently consists of thirty-four pieces.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought was Mariella of Out-West, Higginson's only completed novel published in 1902 by Macmillan. The novel is largely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, in which Higginson takes the narrative of the adulterous woman out of the Northeast and informs the reader of the consequences of an adulterous woman in the Pacific Northwest. It is a riveting social commentary about women's agency, regionalism, and industrialization on the West coast. When first published, critics compared it to the work of Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, and Zola.

How about the most recent book?

The most recent book added to the collection was a biography of Higginson written in 1985 titled The Lyric Singer: A Biography of Ella Higginson. Dr. Laffrado's research has revealed numerous inaccuracies in this biography, however. Since it was published extremely locally, there are few copies to be found. While incorrect in many ways, it is still a piece of Higginson history. This copy came to me by way of a friend who was at a used bookstore in Oregon. They knew of my current research on Higginson and kindly picked it up for me.

And your favorite book in your collection?

If I had to choose, it would be a signed copy of Higginson's The Vanishing Race that was posted to eBay this past January. Originally, the seller did not include a picture of the signature but did so upon my inquiry. The picture revealed the following inscription on the first page of the book: "For dear Zoe, With love and best of wishes . . . Ella Higginson." I knew immediately that this was an authentic inscription (I know her handwriting better than I know my own) and I knew who it was meant for. Mabel Zoe Wilson came to Washington State from Ohio in 1902, hired by the president of the Washington State Normal School at Bellingham to be the school's first librarian. Higginson lived right across the street from the normal campus. Mabel Zoe Wilson gave her entire career to the normal, a tremendous forty-three years of service. During this time, she and Ella Higginson became very sweet friends. In 1953, over a decade after Higginson's death, Mabel Zoe Wilson donated a collection of letters to the University of Washington that Ella Higginson had written to her over three decades. These letters reveal a friendship based on similar literary interests, a fascination with Mabel Zoe Wilson's extensive travels on Higginson's part, and a mutual investment in the wellbeing of the normal school and the wider Bellingham community. We have record of Ella Higginson inscribing books to Mabel Zoe Wilson and sending them to her with some of these surviving letters, but until this copy of The Vanishing Race, we had found none. This copy, a very slim and plain volume, gives me hope that the remainder of the books Higginson gave to Mabel Zoe Wilson still survive. They are a testament to a beautiful bond between two intelligent and hardworking women.

Best bargain you've found?

A postcard featuring Higginson's most famous poem "Four-Leaf Clover" once turned up on eBay shipping from Romania. That currently stands as the furthest away a Higginson-related piece has ever traveled and then returned to Bellingham (there being 5,613 miles between the two places). However, there are a few copies of Mariella of Out-West floating around Australia that have not been retrieved, and a couple of her volumes in Germany are still there. For the postcard from Romania, an invaluable piece that has survived by miracles only, the seller asked five dollars.

How about The One that Got Away?

There was once on eBay a copy of Higginson's A Forest Orchid for sale at a price much too high. This was due to the fact that it was signed, but at first glance it was obvious that the signature was fake (and clumsily done with a modern blue ball-point gel-ink pen). I was able to talk the seller down, but not low enough. There was other writing in the book, though, which I and Dr. Laffrado positively identified as Higginson's. However, the content of the writing was of no significance. I would have liked to have the book anyways, for preservation's sake, but not at the price the seller was set on. A few days later, the listing was removed and the book was, presumably, not sold online. I wondered for a long time after if I had done the right thing, but you can't have them all.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The crown jewel of any Ella Higginson collection would not be a book by her, but her copy of The Scarlet Letter. As previously noted, Mariella of Out West is largely based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic. To own Higginson's inspiration for what she considered to be the best piece of fiction she ever wrote would be like owning Herman Melville's copy of Paradise Lost.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

Powells Books in Portland is wonderful, but locally I enjoy Village Books in Fairhaven, Washington.

What would you collect if you didn't collect books?

Antique, carved, mother of pearl nib pens. I once had five or so in my possession, but I have limited myself to only one and gifted the rest to my closest friends. I keep pen-pals and when occasion calls, I will use my emerald-green ink and my gold-nibbed mother of pearl pen, the shaft of which is carved in a delicate spiral, like that of an elongated turret shell.