Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Old Books & Forgotten Authors

We went to stay with my wife's parents over the weekend, and while we were there we got given a pile of old books by their elderly neighbour next door. They'd belonged to his wife who died last year. He was clearing out, but didn't want them just going to the charity shop as they'd only end up in a landfill site when nobody bought them.

They were a mix of modern Folio edition copies of classics like Thomas Hardy, and old pocket sized hardback novels which date back to the 1920s.

Thomas Hardy Folio Edition Set

All of them are very nice looking and have a lovely feel to them, much nicer than modern/commercial hardback books. They just make you want to pick them up and read them.

Much more interesting than the modern Folio editions though were the old 1920s hardbacks. These were mostly 'Grove editions' from Grove publishing, and it looks like they were the first time that the books had been published in a pocket edition, making them cheaper and more accessible to the ordinary person (books used to cost up to a month's wages). There were a number of authors represented in the books I was given, but most of them were by two authors: John Galsworthy and Hugh Walpole. I recognised the name John Galsworthy but not Hugh Walpole (actually I thought I did, but I was getting him confused with Robert Walpole who was an 18th century British Prime Minister).

John Galsworthy was a prolific writer who wrote many novels, short stories and plays, but is most well known today for his 'Forsyte Saga' series of books. Galsworthy was popular during his lifetime, but his popularity waned soon after. He was fading into relative obscurity until the BBC made an adaptation of the Forsyte Saga (the first of many) in the 1960s, which revived his popularity.

Hugh Walpole was not so lucky after his death (if anyone can be said to be lucky or unlucky after their death that is). He was a bestselling author in the 1920s and 1930s, but today is all but forgotten - perhaps because he didn't have his books adapted into popular television series like his contemporary, Galsworthy. During his writing career he averaged at least a book a year, and ultimately wrote 36 novels, 5 volumes of short stories and 3 volumes of memoirs. His stories covered a vast range of subjects, his most popular was his "Herries Chronicles", a historical fiction series set in the Lake District. The first book in the Herries Chronicle is "Rogue Herries".

The fate of bestselling author Hugh Walpole is the same as many long forgotten authors from yesteryear. Did they deserve to be forgotten, perhaps because they were books 'of their time', or is there more to them than that? What makes one book become a classic and stand the test of time, while others fade into obscurity?

I'm now going to add some of these books to my To Be Read list, both The Forsyte Saga which I've never read, and perhaps some of the long forgotten books which I can, in some small way, bring back into the light of day.