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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Lane

Rare Books During the Regency

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

cover for historical romance novel by Charlie lane half hidden by ripped brown paper. Pre-Order now written at the top and the Charlie Lane logo placed at the bottom.

Sometimes the smallest, most seemingly inconsequential detail in a novel can lead to hours of fascinating research.

So is the case with Gulliver's Travels today. A classic of literature, Johnathan Swift's satirical travel narrative is a particular favorite for my hero. He's an adventurer and scholar, and so appreciates the format of the narrative as well as its intellectual ideas.

But I also want it to be a device that moves my novella's plot along. So, I thought it wise to dig in and see what I could find out about rare editions of Gulliver's Travels.

First Editions Still Exist today

It's true! First editions exist in English and other languages, and if you have the $$$, you can buy them today!

According to the Nineteenth Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop website, "Motte [the man helping Swift print the book, presumably... his agent? More research may be required] hurried the book into print, using five printers who took different sections of the text. The initial printing (Teerink A) sold out within one week, and two additional editions (AA and B) soon followed."

I'm super impressed that the 500 A prints sold out in a week. Way to go, Swift!

This is cool, but... ?

I wanted something interesting to incorporate into my story, into the actual text, a particularly special edition of the book that would appeal to my hero for very specific reasons. I wanted it to be an object worth going into battle over! I began to think that maybe I'd have to change the book. Would Robinson Crusoe work? It was a possibility, but I like Gulliver better than Crusoe, so I kept searching.

A Robbery, A Rare Book, and Margin Notes

When I stumbled upon (but not by using "StumbleUpon") an article in The Guardian about a robbery of a rare Swift book, I had to know more. It paid off BIG TIME. You can read the article in the link above, but here's the long and short of it. A really old library was robbed. What were the thieves after? A 273 year old edition of Gulliver's Travels. It's apparently worth 35,000 pounds (sorry, I'm from the US and don't know how to find the pound symbol on my keyboard... I need to do better...).

Why is this the one that snagged my attention? It wasn't just the robbery surrounding it, it was what made the book so valuable: hand-written margin notes by the man himself--Johnathan Swift! Apparently, again according to the Guardian article, they are self-effacing margin notes. He DID NOT like his first manuscript. So, this appealed to me because I too never like my first manuscripts, and I feel that my scholar/explorer hero wouldn't either. He'd GET Swift's ire, and he'd WANT that book, no matter the cost.

If you want to see if my hero gets his hands on that book (and, of course, the heroine), check out Leave a Widow Wanting More. Click here to read an excerpt!

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