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At the Morgan Library & Museum

By Glenn Loney



The Morgan Library & Museum
29 E. 36th St.

Closing May 6, 2007

Charles Dickens (1812-1870). The Posthumous papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrations by R. Seymour and Phiz

For both Book-lovers & Popular-Culture Mavens, this show will prove illuminating. What did our 19th century forebears rush out to neighborhood-bookstores to buy & devour?

With No Soaps--either on radio or TV--a new Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins novel, issued in weekly-installments, was often their equivalent! Oddly enough, a Lloyd Weber musical-version of Collins' hugely successful Woman in White was recently on Broadway!

All the historic-books, dusty-jackets, colorful-posters, & priceless-manuscripts in this show have been drawn from the Morgan's extensive collections. There is even an amusing caricature of Dickens on view.

One of the most successful of all Victorian novels was Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin--shown here in its First Edition. Printers couldn't roll it off the presses fast enough. In two weeks, no less than ten separate editions appeared. It was printed & reprinted endlessly in both America & England.

What's more, it was soon adapted for the stage, in not one, but three versions. None of which returned any royalties to Mrs. Stowe!

Such popularity was generated--not only because it was a compelling story--but also because it was a Major Manifesto against that “Peculiar Southern Institution” of Black Slavery!

When Mrs. Stowe was presented to President Abraham Lincoln at the White House, he said: “So this is the little woman who started this Big War!”

Also on view are Dickens' Pickwick Papers & Oliver Twist, Wm. Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Other Hot-Titles of the Victorian Era & Even Earlier: Sir George Du Maurier's Trilby--starring Svengali!, Mrs. Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, Matt Lewis' The Monk, Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe--with a Jewish Heroine, no less!

Not to neglect Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii, which continued popular into the 20th century…

There are also some impressive French Book-Posters. A colleague was surprised to discover that the phrase, The Wandering Jew, was actually a novel by Eugène Sue. As with Uncle Tom's Cabin, the stage-adaptation of this tale was also popular.

Gustave Doré's illustrations for Rabelais and his Oeuvres are especially interesting, now that Doré's work is also on view at the Dahesh Museum!

Oddly enough, looking through my First-Edition copy of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Elaine--with Doré's illustrations--for the commentary above on the Dahesh exhibition, I discovered that the very first and rather haunting plate is of some armored knights with lances on a moonlit night.

Two later versions of this image--Knights with Lances in Moonlight--are on view at the Morgan, but they were used in the Rabelais editions Doré illustrated! This image dates back at least to the Elaine of 1867, however…