August 8, 2014

CCLaP Rare: "Where Angels Fear to Tread" by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition [1920] First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), First American Edition (1920), First Printing

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Where Angels Fear to Tread

By E.M. Forster (1905)
First American Edition [1920], First Printing

DESCRIPTION: The early 20th century was a sneakily fascinating time in British literary history, mostly because of the British public really starting to wrestle for the first time with its role in colonialism, class and Empire, as seen in a series of authors at the time who tiptoed and danced around the subject without ever quite stating their opinions in a plain way. Take E.M. Forster for an excellent example, a closeted gay man who was hugely critical of class and race issues in his private life (and who turned down an honorary knighthood once he was old and famous), but who was forced to only subliminally talk about all these subjects through a series of novels that at first glance seem simply like frilly romance stories. This is most clearly seen in such late-period masterpieces as Howards End and A Passage to India, but all the elements are there even in his very first book, 1905's Where Angels Fear to Tread (not published in America until 1920, with a first print run of of only 2,630 copies), written when he was just 26 years old. Ostensibly one of those "European Grand Tour" novels so popular at the time (see for example Forster's American peer Henry James, who literally made an entire career out of such stories), at first glance it seems to be the simple tale of a young middle-class British widow who falls in love with a penniless Italian while on vacation one summer, with her shocked family attempting to take control of the couple's eventual child once the woman dies at an early age herself; but a more careful reading reveals just how much contempt Forster has for the prim, sheltered Herriton family at the center of the story, and by extension his disgust for any person who puts "proper appearances" at a higher priority than personal happiness, a running theme of his entire career that he would express in much more subtle and powerful ways in later books. An extra-valuable book merely from the fact that it was Forster's first, even at its premium price today one is getting a steal (copies in better condition and with the dust jacket intact go for ten times as much), a perfect acquisition for Forster fans and those who professionally collect historically important pieces of Edwardian literature.

CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). Although still in solid shape, this particular copy features scratch marks on the back cover, signs of fabric wear on all corners, a spine that has been bleached by the sun, and just the barest beginnings of structural weakness in the binding. Dust jacket: Missing. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a matching date on the title page and copyright page, and lack of additional printing notices, makes this a true first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Newberry Library Book Fair, July 2014.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, August 8, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |