Odd Volumes: Bibliophilia at the Fin de Siècle
Fall 2013 Clark Library Exhibit
Ellen Crowell, Guest Curator and Lecturer
A curious bookcase at the back of the Clark Library Reading Room—virtually unopened for over fifty years—contains an almost untouched archive of the publications and proceedings of a private London bibliophilic dining club, The Sette of Odd Volumes. Formed in London in 1878 by prominent bookseller and collector Bernard Quaritch, and in continuous operation from 1878 through the 1940s, the group's name derives from bibliophilic parlance: bound volumes not paired with others in their "set" were "odd," and thus less valuable than when united. This exhibit will open up the Odd Volumes bookcase to the public, showcasing the Clark’s collection of over 1000 rare books, typed and handwritten letters, original artwork, photographs, and other ephemera chronicling the history of this literary and artistic society, founded on a love of book collecting, whose heyday was between 1885 and 1895. By the mid 1880s, the Odd Volumes boasted a distinguished membership of prominent booksellers, bookbinders, illustrators, poets, novelists, artists, entrepreneurs, and publishers—a diverse and at times discordant network of aesthetically-minded gentlemen whose overarching connection to each other was a passion for books. This exhibit offers a fascinating glimpse into intellectual, aesthetic and social interactions of an network comprised of key figures in the cultures of aestheticism, decadence, and early modernism.
In an accompanying lecture, Dr. Ellen Crowell will illuminate how this late-Victorian network and its collective preoccupations dovetail with those of key artists of the long fin-de-siècle. By enlisting Oscar Wilde, a figure key to Clark Library collections, as a guide through the Odd Volumes bookcase, this lecture will trace intersections between the proceedings of this bibliophile club and Wilde’s aesthetic development from 1885 to 1892 and demonstrate how this stand-alone archive offers scholars new entrance points into the history of fin-de-siècle literary, visual, commercial and sexual subcultures.
Ellen Crowell is Associate Professor of English at Saint Louis University. She is the author of Aristocratic Drag: The Dandy in Irish and American Southern Fiction (Edinburgh, 2007). Other work has appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, Eire-Ireland, and BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Her current book project, Oscar Wilde’s Body, reconstructs forgotten subcultures of mourning, fandom, and queer self-fashioning to reimagine Wilde’s presence in the literary and cultural landscapes of early modernism.