Monday, January 16, 2012

James Joyce: Finnegans Wake first edition (uncut, slipcased, out of series)




While I was at home for the holiday, I tried to take some pictures of some my most treasured books so I could share them with you here. My apartment in Brooklyn has a small amount of "risk" to it (our upstairs neighbor is prone to causing leaks through our floor) and I've decided most of my really valuable books are safer up with my parents until I line up some renter's insurance.

This book, above all others, is without a doubt my most dear. It is a first edition of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which was originally published in 1939 in a signed, slipcased edition of only 425 copies. Most copies of this book were pulped due to obscenity charges, and a true first is unfathomably difficult to find. It was bequeathed to me by my grandfather, who was a Joyce scholar by hobby and who was instrumental to my full appreciation of Joyce's brilliance when I first encountered his books in my late teens.

(I'm currently amidst another run through Ulysses, this time guiding my fiancee through her first experience of the book. I've never had the opportunity to directly share Ulysses with anyone before and it's such a fun time.)

So, let's take a look at Finnegans. This book's pages are still uncut (which is always interesting to see), and is in very good condition considering its 75 years of existence.

(I see now my photos are a little limited in angles. Next time I'm in Massachusetts I'll see about getting some more pictures taken).


What's especially interesting is the numbering on this edition. This copy is actually unsigned, and marked "Out of Series". But, if you look closely, you can see it actually had a number (23?) and was erased. Considering copies of this book likely went to notable collectors and scholars at the time it was released, it's a mystery why one would want an unsigned copy and the numbering suppressed.

Perhaps the numbering is a way to link the original owner to the numbered edition (i.e., "copy 200 went to Jeff @ Oxen of the Sun blog"), and by keeping this book "out of series" the owner can no longer connected to such a scandalous book.

Fascinating. I dream of somebody digging through files to find out who the original owner was, but I imagine that would be years and years of research. If there are any Joyce scholars out there who might be able to pass on any clues, please send them my way.

Currently reading:
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Parallel Stories, by Peter Nadas
Men in Space, by Tom McCarthy

Currently listening to:
"Ravedeath 1972" by Tim Hecker


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