How fashions in literature have changed in 90 years. Look at this list compiled by ‘FMG’ for the Autumn 1924 issue of The First Edition and Book Collector. Of the top 20 authors whose first editions were asked for by collectors in July and August 1924 only Lewis Carroll, Arthur Machen, Conan Doyle and perhaps Trollope could be said to be collected avidly today. Moreover, look at the specific popularity of each author signified by the number of requests made by collectors. Rudyard Kipling had 181, Michael Arlen, an amazing 98, Norman Douglas 68 and John Masefield 50.
Then inspect the lower half of the draw. Both Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy come in at a paltry 38, only just ahead of Stanley Weyman, Rafael Sabatini and the now neglected Edgar Saltus! Poor Henry James, who has been fashionable in academic circles for many decades, was far less highly regarded in the era of the flapper. Only 36 collectors asked for him, as opposed to the 52 who fancied the work of George Moore.
Then there are the missing names. Unless you count Conrad as one, there is not a single modernist in the list, despite the fact that many had been selling books for 14 years. Look in vain for D. H. Lawrence (debut 1911), T. S. Eliot (debut 1917), Ezra Pound ( debut 1908), Wyndham Lewis (debut 1918), Joyce ( debut 1904) and most astonishing of all, Virginia Woolf ( debut 1915). The absence of the latter is particularly hard to explain when we consider the role in art and literature of the Bloomsbury Set in this period, and the fact that Hogarth Press titles were hand-printed. It was to take thirty or more years before such modern masters were collected—by which time it was certainly the end of the road for the likes of Belloc, Moore, Masefield, Weyman et al.
Incidentally, FMG makes one perverse judgement and one sound one. The novels of Trollope are dismissed as having doubtful literary value, whereas ‘modern psychology is indebted to Henry James ‘, a verdict most critics have confirmed. As for Michael Arlen, a novelist whose romances were spiced with thrills and horror, he seems to have been the J. K. Rowling of the twenties. Even though his first book had only appeared in 1921, such was his immediate impact on the literary scene that three years later 98 requests were made for his first editions—most, I would suspect, for his scandalous The Green Hat (1924).Today, Arlen is almost totally forgotten and firsts of his most sought after books can all be had for under £20. [R.H.]