English and American Literature
Rare Books and Special Collections holds a wide range of English-language materials from the British Isles and North America. Collections extend to the beginning of the print era, with major holdings from every period. Early-modern works include fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printings of Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Holcot, John Gower, and William Lambarde, as well as seventeenth-century treasures such as the 1616 first edition of Ben Jonson's Workes (sic) and pages from the second and third folios of Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeareana blooms in the Enlightenment period, when the bard became anthologized. Department holdings track the rise of Shakespeare as scholarly project, with major Shakespeare editions including Alexander Pope's (1723-25), Edmond Malone's (1790), and Thomas Bowdler's censored Family Shakspeare (sic, 1818). In addition to collected works and selections, the Department holds several large volumes of Shakespeare visual prints published by John and Josiah Boydell.
The English collection, together with the Irish collection, boasts strengths in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century publications, encompassing broad holdings from many major and minor authors on both sides of the Atlantic. Unique items, such as a first edition Tristram Shandy with the famous marbled page and the 1831 revised and illustrated edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, join multiple miscellanies, "garlands," and other kinds of anthologies, which attest to popular reading practices of the period.
Strengths continue into the twentieth century. The Department holds a substantial collection of fine-print publications from William Morris's Kelmscott Press (including the lavish Works of Geoffrey Chaucer) and from the bookbinders Sangorski and Sutcliffe. A large collection of the Catholic writer, sculptor, and typographer Eric Gill expands beyond books to include broadsides, greeting cards, pamphlets, photocopies, prints, woodblocks, and other ephemeral materials. The Department has major holdings of other Catholic authors, such as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Evelyn Waugh. American collections also pick up at the turn of the twentieth century with sizable holdings of many authors, including the cosmopolitan Lafcadio Hearn and the Gothic illustrator Edward Gorey (supplemented by the Suzy Conway Collection of Articles and Ephemera Pertaining to Edward Gorey).
Post-war poetry is especially strong. In recent years, Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired the library of Robert Creeley, the papers of Ed Dorn, and a collection of books and ephemera from Dick Higgins's avante-garde Something Else Press. These holdings accompany other print and printed ephemera collections including the John Matthias collection, the John Bennett Shaw modern authors collection, and the Modern poetry collection, among others (see "related resources" below).
Pop-culture publications make a strong showing as well. All but 41 of the paperbacks published by Penguin books between 1935 to 1965 are on our shelves (along with additional volumes through the 1980s and related miscellanea), as are over 200 volumes from Gilbert Patten's dime-store novel series, the Merriwell Library. Thanks to many generous benefactors, the English collection at the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is vibrant, varied, and extensive.
Related Special Collections:
- Printed Ephemera Collections
- Irish Studies Collections
- Modern European Cultures
- G. K. Chesterton Collection
- Edward Gorey Collection
- John Bennett Shaw Collection of Printed Ephemera for Modern Authors
- Louisa May Alcott Collection
- Willa Cather Letters
- Robert Creeley Ephemera
- Robert Creeley Letters to Sarah Creeley
- Ed Dorn Papers
- Eric Gill Collection
- Louise Imogen Guiney papers
- Raymond E. F. Larsson Papers
- John Matthias Collection
- John Thelwall Letters
- Little Leather Library Books
- Little Blue Books
- Louise Chandler Moulton Letters
- Cuala Press Ephemera Collection