The Mayor of Casterbridge.
The Life and Death of a Man of Character.London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1886 Stock Code: 119901
Rare presentation copyFirst edition in book form, presentation copy of volume I, inscribed by the author on the front free endpaper, "To the Hon. Mrs Jeune, from Thomas Hardy". Presentation copies are highly uncommon, with just two copies traced at auction. The recipient, Mary Jeune, later Baroness St Helier (1848-1931), was a prolific essayist (publishing around 50 periodical essays), vigorous philanthropist on behalf of women and poor children, and a notable London hostess, renowned for her sparkling intellect and with "an insatiable appetite for society". Hardy called her "Mrs Jeune the irrepressible", and, when visiting London, stayed at her and her husband's house so frequently that he became known as their "dosser" (Ferguson, p. 7). St Helier wrote a spirited defence of Hardy in a letter to the Daily Chronicle in May 1894, responding to a suggestion that his recently published collection, Life's Little Ironies, ought to be suppressed on the ground of sexual frankness.
As well as Hardy, her guests included luminaries such as Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Somerset Maugham and Oscar Wilde; she also formed a somewhat unlikely friendship with the reserved and society-averse Edith Wharton. In A Backward Glance, Wharton described meeting Thomas Hardy several times over luncheon at St Helier's: "I found it comparatively easy to carry on a mild chat on literary matters... I felt he was completely closed in his own creative dream"), and wrote affectionately of St Helier herself: "Others have done justice to her tireless and intelligent activities on the London County Council... I wish to record that this woman, who figured to hundreds merely as the most indefatigable and imperturbable of hostesses, a sort of automatic entertaining machine, had a vigorous personality of her own, and the most generous and independent character". Rideing recalled, "Fortunate were those who, visiting London, took with them a letter of introduction to Lady Jeune She more than anybody else fused and liberalized London society, leading it out of the ruts of rank and class into a fellowship with art and letters, and surprising both elements by the results of her tact and magnetism. An introduction to her became a passport to many social privileges Her intellectual and political influence was as great as the charm which made her salon so brilliant" (Rideing, p. 280).
This is an assembled set, with St Helier's cupid bookplate (as Mary Jeune) to the front pastedown of the first volume; the second volume is from the library of the bibliographer of Victorian novelists, Walter E. Smith, with his lightly pencilled ownership inscription to the front free endpaper.
2 volumes, octavo. Original blue cloth, decorative bands and floral decorations on front covers and spines in black, titles to spines gilt, grey floral endpapers. Housed in a dark blue flat-back cloth box by the Chelsea Bindery.
Early ownership inscriptions of J. D. Hunter to head of half-title of vol. II. Vol I. in bright cloth, vol. II darkened, extremities worn in places, a few areas of surface wear or pale blemishes to sides, hinges of vol. II skilfully repaired. A good set.
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