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2006-06, 350, Book Reviews, Colin Steele

Book Reviews- titles by the Grolier Club of New York

The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens.

Curated by R J Crawford & B J Crawford. New York. The Grolier Club 2006.ISBN 0-910672-62-8. 112pp. $25

“No Other Appetite”. Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and the Blood Jet of Poetry.

Stephen C Enniss and Karen V Kukil. New York.The Grolier Club. 2005. ISBN 0-910672-60-1. xi,68pp. $35

Books On Ice. British and American Literature of Polar Exploration.

Curated by David H. Stam & Deirdre C. Stam.New York. The Grolier Club 2005. ISBN 0-910672-63-6xxi,158pp. $30

The Western Pursuit of the American Dream.Selections from the Collection of Kenneth W Rendell.

Natick. Historical Publications (Distributed by the University of Oklahoma Press).2004. ISBN 0-8061-9954-7. x,358pp. $40

A Heavenly Craft. The Woodcut in Early Printed Books.

Edited by Daniel De Simone. New York. George Braziller in association with the Library of Congress. ISBN 0-8076-1536-6.xiii,222pp $50


The Grolier Club of New York is America’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society. The books listed above document exhibitions held at the Grolier from 2004-2006. Three of these exhibition catalogues are published by Grolier, while the two other travelling exhibitions, had separate publishers. The catalogues of the exhibitions enable a global readership to appreciate the bibliophilic treasures of each exhibition. The catalogues not only reflect high levels of scholarship but also extremely reasonable publication prices. Subjects range from twentieth century poetry to fifteenth century woodcuts.

The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens is a catalogue of a collection of autograph letters, manuscripts, portraits, illustrations and other material relating to the life and work of Charles Dickens, based on the the library of Grolier member Bruce J Crawford, and his father Ralph J Crawford, Jr. Another Grolier member and Philadelphian Judge, John M Patterson, had assembled in the early twentieth century an illustrated Dickens archive of more than 400 items, including 89 original letters, as well as portraits, illustrations and text. Patterson was intending to interleave these items into a copy of his friend John C Eckel’s Dickens bibliography but Patterson died in 1925 before this could occur. Patterson’s archive ultimately became part of Ralph Crawford’s library in 1963. Eighty years after Patterson’s death, the archive was able to be exhibited in 2005 by Grolier for the first time. An excellent Dickens exhibition website compliments the catalogue(www.charlesdickensonline.com ).

David and Deirdre Stam curated Books on Ice. British and American Literature of Polar Exploration. This exhibition assembed over one hundred books, letters and other  polar objects. The Stams, in their Foreword, indicate that the initial idea for the exhibition came from the Grolier Club director Eric Holzenberg. In selecting items for the exhibition, they have drawn on not only the expertise of Grolier Club members, but also on librarians within the Polar Libraries Colloquy. A number of items come from the personal collection of the Stams, with institutional libraries providing the majority of the catalogue items. The illustrated  catalogue entries include significant explorer/author annotations, bibliographical details and suggestions for further reading. The Stams focus on what they term “the age of the individual” from the late sixteenth century to 1945, particularly “the heroic age of polar explorations form 1900-1922”. As well as primary literature they include secondary documents, such as juvenilia, printed ephemera and physical artefacts such as Amundsen’s binoculars. The exhibition catalogue provides a fascinating overview of “the stories of explorers, the stories of books and the stories of people affected by the fascination of the polar regions.”

No Other Appetite: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry is largely drawn from the  superb collections of Sylvia Plath at Smith College (the archive spans 1940-1981) and Ted Hughes at Emory University (the archive spans 1940-1997). The exhibition documents the close creative relationship of these two poets during the years of their marriage and the impact of Plath’s tragic suicide on Hughes and the literary reputation of both poets. Particularly illuminating are letters and manuscripts in Hughes’ own hand highlighing the hurt and guilt he felt after Plath’s death. The exhibition, co-curated by Smith’s Karen Kukil and Emory’s Steve Enniss, includes material that has never before been publicly exhibited, such as family letters, photographs, manuscripts and annotated books from the two poets’ personal libraries. One of these annotated books is Plath’s copy of Fromm’s ’The Art of Loving’, which Plath read on the advice of her analyst in the final weeks of her life. This selection of documents from the Plath and Hughes archives provides fascinating insights into the productive but tragic lives of two of the twentieth century’s major poets.

The Western Pursuit of the American Dream, a richly illustrated book, is based on Kenneth Rendell’s own extensive collection. Rendell, a respected dealer in Americana, indicates that his initial ’romantic’ fascination with the West began in the 1940’s through watching western movies. Thus the book, which begins with early European narratives of New World explorations, ends appropriately with movie posters of ‘Stagecoach’ and ‘Santa Fe Trail’. Rendell writes that “the collection is about seeing the world of pioneers through their eyes; the books they read that influenced them to go west; the letters they wrote… and the artefacts that represented their everyday activities”. The book features an impressive array of Americana, documented through artwork, clothing, currency, furs, historical documents, jewelry, musical instruments, stagecoaches and weapons in five hundred colour illustrations. Rendell’s dream and obsession  has resulted in a fascinating melange of the records of  the American West.

A Heavenly Craft: The Woodcut in Early Printed Books indirectly commemorates several remarkable individuals. Lessing J Rosenwald, the noted American book collector, philanthropist and businessman, acquired the notable collection of fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcut books assembled by the English collector,  C W Dyson Perrins and sold at auction in 1946-7. These were purchased for Rosenwald  through the famous Philadelphia bookselling firm of AWS Rosenbach. The Rosenwald collection now resides in the Library of Congress and the travelling exhibition presented for the first time this Rosenwald collection. The sumptuous exhibition catalogue, edited by Daniel De Simone, the Curator of the Rosenwald Collection, is prefaced  by essays from Lilian Armstrong on the early Italian books and Daniela Laube on the North European items. Paul Needham, examining the background to the purchases and particularly the relationship between Rosenwald and Rosenbach, states “the Library of Congress has had no greater benefactor” than Rosenwald. The exhibition clearly highlights how Renaissance artistic influences transformed the woodcut into a medium of fine art, particularly in the religious context. The exhibition is also available on the web via  the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/heavenlycraft/

Colin Steele



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