In keeping with the general manic panic prevalent amongst bookdealers who aren’t Simon Beattie at this time of year, I’ve been screeching my way through whatever stock I have available in an effort to put on a good show at this year’s Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s never simple or straightforward, and the process is usually accompanied by the highs of thinking “This is a great thing! People will love this thing!” and the lows of “I am a terrible bookseller, these are terrible books, why am I doing this to myself? I should stop this and go live in the woods.” So with that in mind here’s a list of some nice things I am probably showing, in no particular order, please feel free to peruse:
And here, Ladies and Gentleman, is my favourite thing, and certainly my book of the week:
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1901. Second Edition. 12mo. 55pp. Publisher’s yellow decorated glazed paper covered boards titled in a rather bilious orangey red. Rubbing to extremities, moderate wear, a very good copy indeed. Internally clean and fresh. Inscribed to front flyleaf by the great lady herself:
“To Mrs. Beatrice Forbes Robertson Swinburne Hale! With Love of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 1910”
Copies of this book are rare, nice copies of the first edition that preceded it by just over a year are even rarer, and copies signed or inscribed enter a whole new realm of rare which verges on purely theoretical; three inscribed copies of the first two editions, including this one, show up in over 30 years. For a story so polarising and influential, it’s pretty thin on the ground in signed or inscribed form. The story, a keystone piece of early American feminism displayed through the prism of deftly executed and unsettlingly poetic supernatural fiction, is quite simply one of the best cases for ostensibly sensationalist literature changing the world. Part eulogy for female mental health, part captivity narrative and part autobiographical depression journal. One of its many themes (it’s basically all underlying theme, it’s the feminist iceberg of fin de siecle writing) is the androcentric socio-medical belief that women need rest when they should be active, enclosure when they desire freedom and lack of stimulation when they quite definitely desire more. Ms. Gilman was, to put it mildly, rather of the belief that these theories of “care” were wrong and more directed at keeping unruly women (whether for medical or other reasons) out of sight and out of mind…trapped as it were, behind everything else. Critically the story is noted for having provided an in text guide to feminist interpretation, as her protagonist struggles to arrange the “galloping pattern” of the wallpaper into something comprehensible, Gilman is suggesting that this is what women have to do on a daily basis to try and navigate a world that actively denies them the means to do so…that it ends in a descent into madness is neither surprising nor a fault in the interpreter. So, the good news is you have an early copy of the perfect storm of feminist weird tale inscribed by the late 19th century’s High Priestess of Feminism.
The really good news is that it’s inscribed with love to Beatrice Forbes-Robertson on what I believe to be the occasion of her New York marriage to Swinburne Hale, society lawyer.
Beatrice was the transatlantic issue of the mighty London house of Forbes-Robertson, theatrical super family, friends of Oscar Wilde in all possible ways, revolutionisers of the stage, she was mates with royalty, blood brethren of the rich and famous from Bernhardt, to Irving, Ellen Terry, Bram Stoker, Gilbert and Sullivan and the great and powerful on both sides of the pond. Actress, activist, public speaker on Women’s Suffrage, Vice President of The Actress’s Franchise League (yup, a women’s trade union in pre First World War America), President of The British War Relief Organisation, author of “What Women Want” and, along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself, a prominent member of Heterodoxy (which is an incredible name on so many delicious levels); the prominent and occasionally notorious and radical feminist debating group based in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century. A hotbed of unorthodox feminist opinion and a haven for New York’s lesbian and bisexual women, other members apart from Gilman and Forbes Robertson included Inez Haynes Irwin, Ida Rauh (another actress and female trade unionist, running mate of Eugene O’Neill), Susan Glaspell (the greatest woman playwright no-one has heard of), Fola La Follete (Quote of the week: “A good husband is not an adequate substitute for the ballot.”) and Zona Gale, first female Pulitzer winner. I can only imagine that their meeting rooms didn’t need gas or electricity, it probably just glowed out of sheer rage and intelligence, they referred to their struggle for recognition as “breaking into the human race.”
One of the greatest and most significant weird tales of the late 19th century, (a story “not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy…”) inscribed by its ground-breaking feminist author to a friend and fellow fighter for women’s suffrage on the occasion of her marriage. Beat that.