Marie Corelli’s The Soul of Lilith (1892, 1897)

Today, as promised, we’ll be taking at look at “dueling” editions of Marie Corelli’s The Soul of Lilith, originally published in 1892 by Bentley of London and Lovell of New York (cue Lester Flatt’s “Duelling Banjos”).

If you’re not familiar with Corelli’s work, you should take a look. I recommend starting with The Sorrows of Satan, which people normally say is a bit Faustian but which I think plays rather distinctly with themes from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Mary Godwin Shelley’s Frankenstein. According to Victorian Web, Corelli was sometimes known as “the female Haggard,” and her work often exists in the realm of the WEIRD, especially in its constructions of occult Christianity (fitting for a Halloween weekend post, no?). Pair this with moments of only partially and unsuccessfully repressed homoeroticism (Corelli herself was as “out” as one could be without a label or a prison sentence in the 1890s) and often breathtaking encapsulation of the spirit of the age: of the fast-paced fin-de-siecle world, its technologies, and its ennui, and you get a sense of the categorical and stylistic complexity of her work.

She’s also one of the first bestsellers by a modern standard; The Sorrows of Satan (1895) was published after the demise of circulating libraries as the dominant power in publishing, and even though her work was often roundly despised by critics, she had a popular following which meant that The Sorrows of Satan had an ensured audience. It sold over 50,000 copies in its first seven weeks in print (see the introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the novel for more information).

I have not yet read The Soul of Lilith, but it’s on my TBR shelf. Twice over. (This is what happens when I blog before I’ve consumed the requisite amount of coffee. Strangely literal attempts at humor.)

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Reads “Copyright, 1892 by United States Book Company”

The two editions I have before me here date from 1892 and 1897, respectively. The first, published by Wessels Co. of New York, bears a copyright statement: “by United States Book Company.” It’s hard to know whether this came out before, after, or concurrently with the Lovell New York edition, but it is likely a pirated copy. The U.S. didn’t really recognize or work to protect international copyright until after 1900. In fact, we were one of the only if not the only major nation that didn’t sign the Berne Convention agreement about international copyright in 1886 (we became signees in 1988, apparently. Which, wow. Late to the game much?)

This may also mean that someone got hold of the text before it officially came out in London, and was able to copyright it in the U.S. Maybe.

Anyway, the Wessels edition is cased in blue cloth, with a black stamped border on the front which encloses the title (white stamped) and Corelli’s name (also white stamped). The spine is just white stamped text: the title, Corelli’s name, and publisher’s name. The back cover has been left plain.

The paper is wove. The endpapers are very slightly glossy.

There are no illustrations,  other than a small woodcut on the title page. The type face is an older style Roman.

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Based on a few small clues, I think this text was produced via Linotype and then stereotyped. The stereotype is the easiest part of this claim to substantiate: there is a notable pattern of wear in the last line of text on many of the pages. I think that it’s Linotype for two reasons: the line spacing is a bit stingy, despite fairly decent margins. There are also little rivers of white space in the text which would’ve been less likely to happen in the process of hand composition. See the photos below for examples.

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The second edition I have here today is an 1897 edition published by Methuen & Co of London (a major publisher, though not, according to my sources, the original London publisher.)

As with many of Corelli’s England-published works, the cover is a red cloth casing. The front cover bears simply her initials, surrounded by a floral pattern, in gilt-stamp. The spine includes her full name, the title, and the publisher in gilt stamp. The back has been left undecorated.

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The paper is laid, and I think it has a high(er) linen content. It doesn’t feel as coarse or brittle as a woodpulp paper.

This would make sense given the fact that, as we are told on the title-page spread, this is an “Author’s Library” edition, in which, presumably, her whole oeuvre was printed uniformly.

The text block edges appear to have been varnished.

After the title page, and introductory note by the author has been left uncut.

There are no illustrations. The type face throughout appears to be an older style Roman. The line spacing in the edition is lovely, as is the color and consistency of the print impression. It is much darker than the earlier Wessels edition (another indication that that edition may have been Linotyped).

These editions were clearly printed and bound with very different audiences in mind. Interestingly, neither cover really gives any indication of the author’s reputation for “weird,” “occult,” “sensational” stories. The type face on the Wessels edition is a bit exciting, but that’s it. These are a far cry from the truth-in-marketing of the yellow back in this same period, for example.

In fact, the Methuen edition is particularly surprising given Corelli’s early reputation as a hack who writes for the vulgar or common reader, the public, the masses. If the circulating libraries balked at purchasing her early books, she’s now successful enough for publishers to release her work as an “author’s library.” For a woman who wished so hard to be the modern Shakespeare that her ambition to become so was noted and derided, this is a significant manifestation of success.

See you next week with an illustrated children’s book!

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