17 May, 2015

Jude The Obscure

BY Thomas Hardy
Book Information1/1/0/UK/OM/1896/?  •  208x150x38  •  785

This is the first edition of Thomas Hardy's last completed novel, Jude the Obscure. The story was first serialized in Harper's New Monthly Magazine from Dec 1894 to Nov 1895, and was published by Osgood, McIlvaine & Company in its book form in 1895 (although the copyright page says 1896). This is one of few pre-1900s first editions in my collection, and one that was deliberately sought out due to sentimental reason. The latter puts this book in a still rarer category since I generally avoid pre-1900s first editions, of which most were impetuous or impulsive purchases.


Jude was my first Bildungsroman (that's the sentimental reason). It traces the life of a young orphaned peasant, Jude Fawley, and the trials and tribulations in the pursuit of his quixotic dreams. He had ambitions, and wanted to gain an education and then to become a schoolmaster, a man of letter. And he was hardworking, teaching himself Greek, Latin, which he could recite and understood better than the undergraduates at a pub, and Mathematics. For all his dreams and efforts,  he was ostracized in stratified society that thwarted class mobility. And then he met and was seduced into a short marriage by Arabella, a woman who didn't really love him nor had much respect for the sanctity of marriage.

He then met and fell in love with his cousin, Sue. As it turned out, Sue married Jude's ex-schoolmaster after Jude introduced them. But Sue regretted her decision, divorced the schoolmaster, and cohabitated with Jude. They had two children but remained unmarried and, for this sacrilegious act, they were persecuted and driven into a nomadic lifestyle. One of their children, in an act of self-delusional mercy, took out his half siblings before killing himself. Traumatized, Sue sought the solace of religion, and was convinced that the tragic deaths were divine retribution on her for leaving the first husband. She promptly left Jude and remarried the schoolmaster. Jude finally died of sickness contracted from exhaustion and cold when he tried to visit Sue in a bitterly cold winter, and never fulfilled his dream of attending university. Some scholars suggest that Jude is a quasi autobiography. Regardless, it must be a tragedy that epitomizes Fitzgerald's famous assertion that "life is essential a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat".

The condition of this 120 years old first edition is particularly fine, except for a bump on the front board's lower right corner, because of its well storage: the book is housed in a chemise (not the sexy lingerie; see the also sexy book chemise below) and then a slipcase, both customized, which is unusual. Here's another interesting fact: accordingly to famed rare bookseller, Peter Harrington, this book actually has a dust jacket, and Harrington has one for sale as of May 2015 at 15,000 pound sterling. Exorbitant?

Another interesting feature about the book is its collation. Old books are collated by signatures, or sections, for binding and sometimes signatures from first and later states are combined, producing mix-state first editions. For Jude, a first state signature is identified by numbered half-page (i.e., pages that are only partially filled with texts) that forms the final page of a chapter. In later-state signatures, these final half-pages are not numbered. For Jude, only the first eight signatures (labelled A to H) are affected by this mix-state issue as all subsequent signatures are consistently unnumbered. For my copy, signatures A to D are later states while signatures E to H are first state, making it, I venture, a finely balanced edition?

--- "And then he continued to dream, and thought he might become even a bishop by leading a pure, energetic, wise, Christian life. And what an example he would set! If his income were £5000 a year, he would give away £4500 in one form and another, and live sumptuously (for him) on the remainder."



The book laid in at the center of the customized chemise.

The book is then covered by the four flaps, thus providing protection from light, humidity, and general wear.

The book is now protected by the chemise.

The chemise is the inserted into the sturdy slipcase for further protection.

The well worn slipcase. Note that the wordings are written rather than printed. This makes the slipcase a curious history in its own right.

The beautiful gilt on the spine and the Thomas Hardy device, 120 years on. Quite amazing.

The fore and bottom edges are uncutted. Note the beautiful, grained board. The only flaw is the bumped corner.

The top edge, trimmed, is still gilt, and the top corners are still sharp.


Note how nice the bottom of the spine is, with no discernible chip or tear. And the gilt publisher name is a delight.

The top of the spine is equally fine with no chip or cut. And the gilt of the title is still bright and clear.

The etching on the verso and the etching title page on the recto are separated by a tissue that has a yellow spot.

This is the close-up of the etching depicting the fictitious Christminster in the story. Christminster is said to be based on Oxford. The etching is by British painter Henry Macbeth-Raeburn.

The etching title page. Note more clean the pages are, with  very little or no foxing at all, which is quite remarkable considering the book's age.

The full title page. Note the quite beautiful publisher device. Also, the epigraph "The letter killeth." is said to refer to (Jude's) marriages, but I don't have a good appreciation of it yet.

The copyright page on the verso and the preface on the recto. The first edition is identified by 1896 and no mention of further prints.

The preface and content pages.

The content and section title pages. You can see the letter "A" on the lower right hand corner. This indicates the start of signature A.

The epigraph page on the verso and the story starts on page 3.

This is a half-blank page that indicates the end of a chapter. Now that it is unnumbered (would have been page 25), indicating that signature A is a later state.

On the lower right corner is "E" indicating the start of signature E. Also, note that the half-blank page on the right is unnumbered, again indicating that signature D is later state. This book's signatures A to D are all later state.

Here is an example of a first state signature. The half-blank page on the left, a final page of a chapter, is numbered ("72"), indicating that the signature ("E") is a first state version. Signatures E to H are all first state in this book.

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