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By P.C. Wren (1924)
First American Edition (1925), First Printing
DESCRIPTION: There are many moments in life when a cultural cliche becomes so widespread, we forget where it originated from in the first place; but that's not the case with the public's appetite for daring adventure stories set within the French Foreign Legion, in that it was literally one book that kicked off the mania in the first place, P.C. Wren's still delightful 1924 Beau Geste. Born in the Victorian Age and a childhood fan of H. Rider Haggard, Wren always claimed that he had worked as a fairgrounds boxer and other salty jobs in the years between public school and attending Oxford; and after a stint in the Indian Army during World War One, when he first decided to devote his life to writing literature, it was to this combination of swashbuckling and refinement that he turned, along the way establishing most of the tropes about Foreign Legion stories that even exist (including the idea that it's where bad boys end up in an attempt to redeem themselves, and the public's marriage of the Legion specifically to the deserts of North Africa). Beau Geste wasn't the first story Wren had written on the subject, and by all accounts it didn't seem to do that well when first coming out (but see below for more on this); but it was an infamous 1926 movie version that really captured the public's imagination, an Oscar nominee that was one of the very first really huge Hollywood megahits, and one of the last silent films to be so.
That's when you suddenly saw an explosion of Foreign Legion stories in magazines, bookstores and movie theaters, including four official sequels by Wren himself over the next several years; and Wren's British and American publishers wanted a piece of this action too, releasing brand-new illustrated second editions in 1927 (signed and numbered in the case of the British version). It's mostly copies of that much more popular 1927 edition that you see for sale online; but this copy today is one of the ultra-rare 1925 true first American editions, from before the movie made it a runaway bestseller. As of the time this write-up was researched (August 2013), there wasn't a single other copy of this 1925 edition for sale at Amazon, ABEbooks or eBay, which makes this an especially rare treat for fans of Wren or collectors of Early Modernist adventure stories. A legitimate small piece of history, don't let this underpriced jewel get away.
CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). In general this is still in good shape and with a tight binding, but with a crack along the hinge of the inner back endpaper, slight fraying to its fabric edges, stains on both the front and back inside covers, and in general showing its 88-year age. Dust Jacket: Missing. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to Identifying First Editions, an agreement of date on its title page and copyright page, and lack of additional printing notices, makes this a first edition, first printing.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP on September 2, 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair.