I bet it’s not as much fun as it sounds…

 

Ahem.

Evidently Benjamin Disraeli’s third novel, The Young Duke, fits the general parameters of the silver-fork novel; it has accordingly been added to my provisional reading-list for the genre. However, The Young Duke was published in 1831, four years after Vivian Grey—and therefore after the silver-fork novel had become “a thing”. It will be interesting to compare the approaches of these two novels to their subject matter…

…or perhaps I should say, if and when I can compare them.

Having wrapped up Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, I rewarded myself by starting my hunt for a copy of Benjamin Disraeli’s Vivian Grey, considered the first English response to Goethe’s Bildungsroman and a silver-fork progenitor work.

This proved unexpectedly difficult, due (in the first instance) to a combination of the novel’s publishing history and the idiosyncrasies of the cataloguing system recently adopted by our major libraries: because the book was initially published anonymously and then later reissued as by “the Earl of Beaconsfield”, it doesn’t always come up if you search for it as by Benjamin Disraeli.

But that was, or soon became, a relatively minor speed-bump. A more immediate obstacle was the surprising discovery that neither of the usual suspects (i.e. Penguin and the Oxford University Press) had ever issued an edition of Vivian Grey; that except for an expensive, limited-edition reissue by Pickering & Chatto of “The Early Novels Of Benjamin Disraeli” in 2004, there has not been a hard-copy, English-language edition of the book since 1968; and that the edition before that was from 1934 (in the US) and 1927 (in the UK). There are, of course, ebook and print-on-demand editions around, but I prefer to avoid those if I can.

Well. Okay. It turned out there was a copy of 1968 edition available for interlibrary loan, and inexpensive ones of the 1927 edition online. But while I was pondering that, a far more insidious issue raised its head: the incompatibility of these single-volume releases with the fact that Vivian Grey was originally published in five volumes, two of them in 1826 and the other three in 1827.

And my ugly suspicions were correct: when Vivian Grey stopped being by “Anonymous” and was reissued as by “the Earl of Beaconsfield”, it was also cut to pieces – “severely expurgated”, to use one academic’s description – and (I gather) lost a lot of its fun in the process. The much-shortened 1853 edition is now considered the standard text.

This, of course, shall not stand…

It seems that my academic library holds the five-volume version in its Rare Books section; and while this is theoretically tempting, trying to get it not only read, but written up, in-library is too impracticable even for me.

Fortunately some online library collections do hold scans of the original edition; and while reading a five-volume novel online isn’t exactly appealing, this finally seems like the most sensible way of tackling Vivian Grey.

Meanwhile—a separate issue altogether is the simultaneous discovery that while Vivian Grey and Bulwer-Lytton’s Pelham represent the English reaction to Wilhelm Meister, and certainly did significantly inspire the development of the silver-fork novel proper, there are a couple of other works that also played an important part in the latter, and which pre-date both of these better-known books.

One of them, indeed, may also have been an influence upon these two—as we may judge from its title alone: Robert Plumer Ward’s Tremaine; or, The Man Of Refinement, published in 1825.

And before that we find something that is not strictly a novel at all, but nevertheless appears to warrant a place in this timeline: Theodore Hook’s Sayings And Doings; or, Sketches From Life, from 1824. Published in three volumes, these were a collection of short stories – “tales” – intended to illustrate particular maxims…and, it seems, offer not-infrequently malicious portraits of public figures, including most of Hook’s acquaintances. These proved so popular that the perpetually debt-ridden Hook continued to write them, eventually producing two more “series” of tales that eventually filled nine volumes.

I haven’t looked into the availability of these yet. I’ve been too busy slamming my forehead against my keyboard…

 

7 Comments to “I bet it’s not as much fun as it sounds…”

  1. I admire your dedication.

  2. Gosh you are very determined to get this book. Hope the reading experience proves worth the effort! I’ve never heard of the silver fork novels, must go and check that term out.

    • Not so much dedication and/or determination as my OCD. 😀

      They were long ignored but there have been several books published recently on the silver-fork novels. I have read Alison Adburgham’s Silver Fork Society: Fashionable Life And Literature From 1814-1840, and I have several others on The List.

  3. I’m afraid I would have given up reading altogether a long time ago if I had as much trouble acquiring my preferred reading materials as you do! It makes me feel a little guilty when I can just walk into a store or library and … pick up a book. 🙂

    • Not to make myself look like *too* much of a martyr, that’s also the case with about 99% of what I read too…just not for what I blog… 🙂

  4. Hello! It’s a long time I do not ear from you and now…on my favorite subject: silver-fork novels. I’m trying to collect and reading them all. They’re a good trait d’union between Jane Austen and both the society and the sensation novel in the second half of the Century.

    • Hi, Luca! – great to hear from you again. 🙂

      I agree, I think they’re a fabulous source of information even apart from their entertainment value.

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