Through the end of December, the Burns Library will display an exhibit showcasing a small sampling of classical books published in the Everyman’s Library (EML) series, a project that aimed to create a collection of 1,000 volumes of classical literature that would appeal to every type of reader.
The EML was first conceived in 1905 by the British publisher Joseph Malaby Dent and editor Ernest Rhys, according to the Burns exhibit’s website.
The project’s goal was to create an affordable collection of some of the world’s greatest texts that appealed to students, professionals, and everyday workers. J.M. Dent started publishing the collection in early 1906, but the World Wars and the Great Depression slowed down the process so much so that it took until 1956 for all 1,000 volumes to be published. The series was re-launched in the 1990s after J.M. Dent was sold in 1988. The collection can still be purchased today.
The Burns exhibit, which started this month and is curated by Andrew Isidoro, an assistant at Burns Library, displays a handful of EML volumes that the library houses in its permanent collection.
“One of the distinct features of the exhibit is that it draws on the personal collections of many of the prominent 20th-century authors whose personal papers, and in some cases personal libraries, we hold in Burns Library,” said Christian Dupont, Burns librarian and associate University librarian for Special Collections, in an email.
Burns Library primarily houses the University’s special collections, rare books, and University archives, but it also holds the personal libraries of authors Rex Stout and Flann O’Brien, both of whom owned copies of the EML collection.
In addition to showing the various Burns collections that contain EML volumes, the exhibit also aims to show how the EML changed over time. When the idea was first conceived, J.M. Dent wanted each of the 13 categories to have a different design and was intent on keeping the price low at one shilling a volume, so as to appeal to every reader.
To mark the 100-year anniversary of the original project in 2006, Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House publishing, released a collectable set of 100 of the best-selling titles from the EML. The full set now includes authors from Plato to Rousseau to Roald Dahl.
According to Dupont, the Burns exhibit attempts to demonstrate the important role that publishers have played in shaping reading habits. “[It] show[s] how many of the prominent individuals for whom we have substantial manuscript collections owned copies of books published in the EML series,” he said.
After publishing all 1,000 volumes in 1956, publisher J.M. Dent sold over 50 million copies of the series. The exhibit at BC is just a small sampling of the series, but showcases some works owned by renowned authors. British novelist Graham Greene’s personal copy of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann, for instance, is displayed in the exhibit. Rex Stout’s personal copy of great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s The Pretenders and Two Other Plays, is also displayed.
Following the exhibit’s closure at the end of December, the book will be returned to the shelves of Burns Library, where students and faculty can consult it in the library’s reading room.
Featured Image by Emily Sadeghian / Heights Editor