Rare Books, Rare People

It is easy to think that a classic springs fully formed from the mind of its creator, but even the most distinguished literary lion needs the service of a range of people before a masterpiece can be published. Rick Gekoski, antiquarian bookseller and literary academic, with a series telling how great novels came to be published. The giants of modern literature were once struggling writers trying to make ends meet, as well as getting the new book into print. Now the first editions of those works are greatly valued objects, sometimes worth a fortune. In these programmes he looks for the unsung heroes behind the great books of the 20th century.

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Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
0101Poems, 1919 By T S Eliot1999120720000228

Hand-set, hand-printed, hand-sewn and hand-bound by Virginia Woolf

0102 LASTLord Of The Flies By William Golding1999121420000229

In the second of two programmes, Rick Gekoski looks for the unsung heroes behind the great books of the 20th century. `Lord of the Flies'. Legend has it that William Golding submitted his first novel to nearly two dozen publishers before a far-sighted editor at Faber and Faber recognised the merit of the future Nobel laureate.

0201Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, By T E Lawrence2001071720021230

There is a story that Lawrence lost the very first copy of his monumental `Seven Pillars of Wisdom' on Reading railway station.

0202Lolita By vladimir Nabokov2001072420030103

The last thing the aristocratic and scholarly Vladimir Nabokov wanted when `Lolita' was published was a scandal. But when an American publisher said it should be buried under a stone for a thousand years, the book's notoriety had begun.

0203Peter Rabbit By Beatrix Potter2001073120030110

When Beatrix Potter wrote an illustrated letter to the five-year-old son of her former teacher, she had no idea this would be the beginning of a literary career.

0204The Hobbit By J R R Tolkien2001080720021003

While marking an exam script in the 1930s, the Oxford scholar J R R Tolkien filled an embarrassingly-blank page with the comment that in a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit - and the rest is history.

0205 LASTBrideshead Revisited By Evelyn Waugh2001081420021010
0301The Picture Of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde.2003072420040112

When an American magazine publisher took Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle out for dinner in London, the resulting deal for Conan Doyle was his second Sherlock Holmes novel and for Wilde his controversial novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray. A brilliantly decadent Faustian fable, it was to capture the mind of the young Lord Alfred Douglas and eventually led to Wilde's destruction.

0302D.h. Lawrence: Sons And Lovers2003073120040113

The classic (and first) insider story of English working class life was written partly when Lawrence was with his first love Jessie Chambers and partly when he was in Italy with the woman with whom he eloped. Frieda Lawrence helped with the final draft and then the editor Edward Garnett cut about ten percent of the final manuscript version, much to its benefit. When it was published,reviewers knew this was something different. No novelist hitherto, they recognised, had Lawrence's power of expressing the rise and fall of the human passions.

0303James Joyce: Ulysses2003080720040114

The greatest, most controversial, and most complex book of the twentieth century, published first in magazine instalments, and brought to final form through the offices of three remarkable women. Published in 1922, it was a long time coming. Joyce's first idea for it had come in 1906, when he said he was contemplating a short story about a Jewish Dubliner with an unfaithful wife. The character would eventually emerge in Ulysses as Leopold Bloom, a commercial traveller, with his moment-by-moment apprehensions recorded in detail, and who Joyce parallels with the Greek heroic exile, Odysseus. Joyce's work was, however, so painstaking and slowly produced, had it not been for the drive and encouragement of the poet Ezra Pound, and the commitment of three women publishers, it might never have seen the light of day.

0304Three Stories And Ten Poems: Ernest Hemingway2003081420040115

When, in the early twenties, Ernest Hemingway's wife lost his unpublished entire literary output on a Paris railway station platform, he was on the point of giving up all ambitions of being a writer. But spurred on by Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, and salvaging all he had - just three stories and a handful of poems - he persuaded a believing publisher, an American expatriate, to publish in Paris three hundred copies of the slimmest of volumes. It was to lay the foundation for a brilliant literary career.

0305 LASTCatcher In The Rye By J D Salinger2003082120040116

Rick Gekoski, antiquarian book-seller and academic, tells the story of how another great novel came to be published.

Salinger's literary reputation continues to grow helped by the speculation that there exists a pile of unpublished gems written by this most fiercely private and secretive of living writers.

His portrayal, published more than half a century ago, of new breed of American - the Fifties' teenager, complete with self doubt, depression, and erratic impulsiveness brought controversy on publication and has done ever since.

It remains the quintessential novel of modern American youth.