Favourite finds: First Mills & Boon

millsandboonfirstbookcoversmallAlthough Mills & Boon didn’t start life as a romance publisher, the company’s first publication in 1908 was in fact a romance – Arrows from the Dark, by Sophie Cole.

While working through our own collection of Mills & Boon books, we stumbled across this gem: the very first copy sold of this very first Mills & Boon book, signed by managing directors Gerald Mills and Charles Boon on 25 March 1909 to mark the occasion.  

Sophie Cole, who was the sister of Professor Cole, Professor of Zoology in the University of Reading and collector of our Cole Collection, went on to write dozens more books for the publishing house.

Mills and Boon first book inscription

In the spotlight: The Overstone Library

Overstone bindings

The Overstone Library was what we like to call the ‘foundation collection’ of the University Library. With nearly 8,000 printed volumes, mostly in the humanities and social sciences, it provides excellent research opportunities in economics, early pamphlets, travel, history, literature and classics, and political and religious philosophy. The emphasis is predominantly English and Scottish, and 18th century, with French works coming a strong second. .

The core of the Overstone Library was collected by John Ramsay McCulloch (1789-1864), the political economist. McCulloch began his collection at least as early as 1821, when he purchased pamphlets from the library of Rogers Ruding. On McCulloch’s death his library was bought by his friend and collaborator Samuel Jones Loyd, Baron Overstone (1796-1883), the banker. Baron Overstone added to it, and it remained at his seat Overstone Park in Northamptonshire until his daughter, Lady Wantage, bequeathed it to the University College Reading in 1920.

WM Childs wrote of the gift in his book Making a University (1933):

Childs wrote to Lady Wantage, who donated the collection, that it would strengthen us ‘just where every youthful institution is weak. A university must not be utilitarian and unromantic. Every visible record of notable events in the history of a place, every portrait, every inscription, every fine personal association, every beautiful garden, has a value far greater than most people imagine. I have always hoped that the library would be the crown of these things; the place where young students would feel, probably for the first time in their lives, the spell and dignity of learning. But that spell and dignity cannot be given by any number of merely useful books in buckram covers. The sober splendour of many cases of tall and finely bound and rare volumes is needful if a university library is to stir imagination and reverence as it ought to do.’

The collection is indeed full of finely bound and rare volumes, and should stir many imaginations. It is a fine example of a 19th-century private library, displaying a concern for good copies and the best editions, well printed and well bound. It contains good specimens of the Elzevirs, Barbou, Baskerville, Foulis, and Strawberry Hill presses, and 18th- and early 19th-century English and French bindings. Illustrated books include several Rudolph Ackermann publications and David Roberts’ The Holy Land (1842-1849) and Egypt and Nubia (1846-1849).

For more information or to find items, please visit the Overstone Library page on our website.

New Reading staff publication

Nicola Wilson, Patrick Parrinder and Andrew Nash write:

New Directions in the History of the Novel (Palgrave Macmillan, published March 2014)
edited by Patrick Parrinder, Andrew Nash and Nicola Wilson

We were excited to see our edited book, New Directions in the History of the Novel, appear in print this month. This is a collection of 15 essays that examine various aspects of the history of the novel and includes methodological reflections on the writing of literary history. It is grouped into four sections – ‘The Material Text’, ‘Literary Histories: Questions of Realism and Form’, ‘The Novel in National and Transnational Cultures’ and ‘The Novel Now’. The book comes out of a conference we co-organised at the Institute for English Studies in London in 2009 and includes chapters from Thomas Keymer, Nancy Armstrong, Max Saunders and Simon Gikandi.

New Directions

We also have chapters in it – Andrew Nash writes on ‘Textuality Instablity and the Contemporary Novel: Reading Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing On and Off the Page’ which draws on his teaching of Galloway in Modern Scottish Fiction and students’ increasing use of e-readers in class; Nicola Wilson’s chapter ‘Archive Fever: The Publishers’ Archive and the History of the Novel’ draws on her research here in Special Collections to question what ‘business’ archives can bring to literary history and our understanding of the novel form; and Patrick Parrinder’s chapter ‘Memory, Interiority and Historicity: Some Factors in the Early Novel’ considers the early development of the novel and the genre’s dependence on the idea of a silent reader.

The book is described by Professor Carolyn Steedman (Warwick) as ‘an important, accessible, and highly intelligent contribution to the history of the novel in a global perspective’.

We hope people enjoy reading it!