Tauchnitz Editions

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The ones that got away

Posted by Baronbern on May 1, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Here’s a challenge. Can you find any significant work of English literature for the period from 1840 to 1940 that was not published as a Tauchnitz Edition, or for the later period, as an Albatross Edition? I can offer two as a starter. Although the Tauchnitz series includes most of George Eliot’s work, the firm did not publish ‘Middlemarch’, which appeared instead in the rival ‘Asher’s’ series. It similarly missed out on R. D. Blackmore’s ‘Lorna Doone’. Beyond those two, it’s difficult to think of many significant novels that are not included.

 

It’s worth remembering in this respect that Tauchnitz was not a series of classic editions, chosen several years after first publication, with the benefit of hindsight. It published contemporary literature, usually more or less simultaneously with the first UK or American edition. That of course included many novels that are little remembered now, but its track record of spotting emerging, as well as established, talent over many years was impressive, particularly given that it had to do so from a distance.

 

  An example of Asher's collection, 1872

 

Its success was not for lack of competitors. By one count, recorded in the 1937 Tauchnitz centenary publication, Albatross was the forty-third known rival for Tauchnitz. Many of these competitors were designed to look very similar to Tauchnitz, and offered generous royalties to tempt authors away from the firm. For the most part though, their lists contain few novels of enduring literary merit. The ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’, launched in the early 1870s, was one of the more successful, briefly tempting away many of Tauchnitz’s established authors. The enforced absence of Tauchnitz from the market during World War I then offered a chance to two other publishers - Nelson’s Continental Library and the ‘Standard Collection of British and American Authors’. Neither made much of a mark on literary history, although Tauchnitz would certainly have been disappointed to miss out on ‘The thirty-nine steps’, amongst other titles published by Nelson.

 

    Two competitors from the First World War

 

By the late 1920s though, Tauchnitz was trading on its reputation and its list of established authors, and was not showing the same ability to identify and sign up new authors. With the launch of Albatross in 1932, the handful of major works that Tauchnitz had missed out on in earlier years suddenly threatened to become a flood. In 1932 and 1933 alone, the Albatross list included ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Dubliners’, ‘The waves’ and ‘To the lighthouse’, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, ‘The garden party’, ‘Brave New World’, ‘The Wind in the Willows’, ‘The Maltese falcon’ and a host of other works that have become part of the culture. As well as the works of these authors, they also published in the same two years, work by Sinclair Lewis, A.A. Milne, Edgar Wallace, Rosamond Lehmann, Hilaire Belloc, Ellery Queen, Evelyn Waugh, Eugene O’Neill, Edith Wharton and Agatha Christie. In earlier days, Tauchnitz would have been disappointed to miss out on any one of those novels, or of those authors.

 

  One that almost got away

 

By 1934, the contest was over and the effective takeover of Tauchnitz by Albatross was completed. The two series ran side by side for the few years remaining before the Second World War, and as a result, we can now look at the Tauchnitz and Albatross series together, and the challenge remains. Are there any other significant works of English literature from 1840 to 1940 that are not included in one or other series?

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