09 December, 2017

American Pastoral - The Real True First Edition?

BY Philip Roth
Book Information1/1/2/US/FL/1997/1,350  •  244x172x40  •  1,008  •  Pulitzer'98  •  NBCCA'98(F)

It is generally accepted that there are two first editions for Roth's "American Pastoral" - the first trade edition by Houghton Mifflin, and the signed first limited edition by the Franklin Library. And it is generally accepted, too, that the Franklin Library edition is the true first. I've recently discovered that there are actually two variants of this Franklin edition, the normal version and the error version. The collector market is very familiar with the normal version, which is what you would find on eBay or Abebooks if you search for a copy of this modern American classic. On the other hand, I haven't seen any online documentation of the error version, or a copy offered anywhere.

Presented here is this error version, basically with page 218 erroneously omitted and replaced by a repeated page 222. Along with this book is a letter from Franklin Library, signed off by Elizabeth Jennings from Customer Services, acknowledging and apologizing for the error. The letter also provided details for clients to return the book with erroneous printing for a corrected one.

Now, could this error version be the true first edition? This is very plausible as the error was likely committed at the beginning of the printing run, subsequently detected and rectified. The Jennings letter was then sent out to affected early recipients of the erroneously printed books, who would then returned them for the corrected print. If this were indeed the case, then the error version would be the true first edition, or at least a distinct category amongst the Franklin first editions that takes precedence and is much rarer than the normal version. The rarity is based on the assumption that the error was likely detected early in the 1,350-copy printing run, so these error copies would already be low in initial quantity. The ultimately surviving copies would be even lower if we adjust for the returned copies in exchange for the corrected version. It is likely that even fewer recipients of the signed Jennings letter retained it. The rarity of this letter probably explains why this error version was not previously noted by the collector market. Also, collectors generally don't check through the pages, so some of these error version could well be in some collectors' possessions but had gone undetected.

There are other possible permutations of how and when this error could have occurred. Either way, the discovery of the signed Jennings letter and the confirmation that page 218 is indeed erroneously replaced by the repeated page 222 is an interesting development in the  bibliographical provenance of this important book. The error version, minimally, represents a distinct, and likely earliest and rarer, variant of the true first edition, and could well be the real true first edition, not unlike Jonathan Franzen's "The Correction".


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