Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - June - 2014 Issue

Modern Literature from Peter Harrington

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Modern Literature.

Peter Harrington has released a catalogue of Modern Literature. This is a collection of literary works from the 20th century, mostly mid to later in the century. For many readers, these will be the books you grew up with, the ones that were new when you were young(er). So, we will take a look back, but not too far, at a few of these modern classics.

 

We will start with the item depicted on the catalogue's cover. It is a play by Joseph Heller, the title being We Bombed in New Haven. Heller is best known as the author of the 1961 novel, and a decade later the film, Catch 22. Heller can't be accused of being a prolific writer, churning out material as fast as the presses can run. It took him a decade to write Catch 22, and this his second work didn't come until six years later, in 1967. It would be another seven years until he finally published his second novel. In this play, Heller revisits the subject of his first work, the absurdity of war and of the behavior of those who must carry it out. The title is a play on plays, bombing in New Haven, where many Broadway plays are first performed, being a synonym for a play that failed before an audience. However, in this case it refers to the bombing that takes place during a war. Its release at the time when public opinion was rapidly turning against the Vietnam War made its message particularly current for its day, though it could apply to any age. Naturally enough, the play opened in New Haven, put on by the Yale School of Drama, before making its way to Broadway, where it didn't “bomb,” but had only a modest run of 85 performances. This copy of the play has been inscribed by Heller “To Jane Biberman, who typed the first draft of this play for me – and did it incorrectly.” Ms. Biberman has gone on to have a career as a journalist and writer. We will assume the “incorrectly” part was a joke between the parties. Item 169. Priced at £450 (British pounds, or roughly $757 U.S. dollars).

 

This next title will make older readers think of Edward G. Robinson, younger readers think of pizza. Item 40 is a 1929 first edition of Little Caesar, by W. R. Burnett. Burnett had a chance to see the seedier side of life when he wrote his introductory novel. It is a tale of a small time hoodlum who makes his way up the ladder of organized crime, until its denouement with his inevitable downfall. It would be turned into a movie two years later, with the then unknown Edward G. Robinson in the title role. It was the grandaddy of the organized crime films that remain popular to this day. This copy has been signed by Burnett. £4,500 (US $7,578).

 

Item 343 is the book that launched a career that even as it burned brightly, was sinking below the waves. It is a first edition, first issue from 1934 of Dylan Thomas' 18 Poems. Thomas, who was all of 20 at the time, had had several poems published in various periodicals. His work caught the eye of T. S. Eliot and others who had his first collection of poetry printed. Unfortunately, Thomas was already embarking on a road to self-destruction. He would need financial assistance from friends for much of his too short life, as the brilliant writer sunk deeper and deeper into an alcoholic haze. He never made it to his 39th birthday. £2,500 (US $4,209).

 

Speaking of Mr. Eliot, he had his share of personal issues with an unhappy marriage in 1922 when he published his most notable poem, The Waste Land. Fortunately, he never succumbed to too much drink, thereby living a suitably long life. His somewhat obscure and despairing work was printed in 1,000 copies, this being #277 and a first issue of the first edition. Item 87. £22,500 (US $37,887).

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