Catalogues | February 10, 2021

Rare Books Catalogue, Love in Literature, Issued for Valentine’s Day

Courtesy of Peter Harrington

London — Rare and special editions of works by Sappho, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde are among the highlights of Peter Harrington’s new catalogue Love in Literature, a selection of 181 items celebrating expressions of romance, friendship and desire through the ages. From passionate and unrequited love to religious devotion, early erotica, prose pornography and descriptions of LGBT+ relationships, the catalogue curates the universal themes of love as captured in novels, artworks, lyrics, poetry and prose.

As well as inscribed and first editions of classic romance novels by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and Thomas Hardy, the catalogue contains monuments to universal love that stretch throughout generations and would make beautiful gifts. One such item is a rare presentation copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, a 1923 collection of inspirational essays which remains eternally popular as a source for wedding readings.

The selection is proudly pansexual, containing landmark items such as the very scarce first translation of Sappho’s verses by the lesbian poet Renée Vivien. Another milestone is an early anthology of gay poetry from the library of bisexual war poet Rupert Brooke, with his inscription and added annotations from Greek poetry.

Expressions of erotic love come to the fore in the 20th century, with highlights such as Rodin’s sensual illustrations for the controversial Gothic novel Le jardin des supplices, and Aubrey Beardsley’s risqué artistic interpretations of the Morte D’Arthur and Lysistrata, the illustrations for which were so explicit that they even required their own curtained-off room at the recent landmark Tate Britain exhibition, complete with parental advisory sign. A particularly rare counter-culture magazine cover from 1965 depicts a still from Warhol’s banned art-porno Couch, depicting an orgy on the artist’s iconic couch at The Factory.
Collectors will find plenty of dedications and love letters, charting the role of literature in courtship, with inscribed copies from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jorge Luis Borges honouring their respective lovers and muses. In good time for Valentine’s Day, there are also several items related to the history of the day of love: a unique ‘True Love Knot’ manuscript from the 19th century, a guide to kissing and a colourful collection of early poetic Valentine’s cards.

Commenting on the catalogue, Sammy Jay, the literature specialist at Peter Harrington responsible for curating the selection, said: “After a difficult year, with people kept apart for too long, I hope that our Literature catalogue for 2021 will stand as a celebration of that force that has always connected us, and will one day bring us back together again. Literature in Love seeks to present the universal experience of romantic love, in its ecstasy and anguish, as expressed in great stories and poetry throughout the ages. This catalogue comes out in good time for Valentine’s Day, and features a trove of delights that make perfect gifts for loved ones.”