The Mystery of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”

French literary critic Roland Barthes famously published an essay titled “The Death of the Author,” which argues against interpreting literature primarily in light of the author’s politics, religion, or historical context. For Barthes, to prioritize an author’s meaning is to impose a limited interpretation onto a work of literature, rather than considering the many meanings and interpretations …

Bibliomanes and Biblioklepts

“I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys halfway about the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.”–A.S.W. Rosenbach, Books and Bidders: The Adventures of a Bibliophile (1927) In January of this year, the book world was shocked by a daring theft from a rare …

The Mystery of “The Mystery of Marie Roget”

When we say that Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story, we may as well say that Poe invented the detective. In 1841, when “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first published in Graham Magazine, Boston was still five years away from founding the first professional police detective unit in the United States. Indeed, in creating …

How true do we want true crime to be?

I was in graduate school when Oprah Winfrey confronted author James Frey about fabricating portions of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Oprah, who had previously defended Frey’s memoir as a meaningful book with or without a strict adherence to the facts, apologized to her viewers: “I left the impression that the truth does not …

Everything you need to know about Bloomsday

What is Bloomsday? June 16 is the day the world celebrates James Joyce and his literary masterpiece, Ulysses. The celebration is called “Bloomsday” after one of the main characters, Leopold Bloom. As the residence of the complete manuscript of Ulysses, the Rosenbach has celebrated Bloomsday for more than 20 years. The main event features readings from Ulysses, …

James Joyce and his feline friends

With June 16 merely days away, we’re getting serious about Bloomsday here at the Rosenbach. Certainly more serious than Ulysses: this novel may contain passages of great beauty, but it also contains moments of great silliness. Consider “Calypso,” the fourth chapter and the reader’s first introduction to Leopold Bloom. “Calypso” features many of the themes and literary techniques that established …

To Catch a Thief in the Days before Detectives

In 1750, Philadelphia was plagued by a series of domestic robberies over several weeks. The items targeted were primarily the luxury goods that were becoming increasingly available to residents who had financial means: jewelry, fine cloth, good silver. Although the colony of Pennsylvania was still largely an agricultural economy, the City of Brotherly Love was …

The Many Bans of Ulysses

Joyceans and longtime Rosenbach friends are well-acquainted with the history of how James Joyce’s Ulysses ran afoul of the Comstock Law, which prohibited use of the postal service to mail “obscene” literature among other things. The magazine The Little Review, which published the first chapters of Ulysses serially up until the “Nausicaa” episode in 1921, was brought …

“Cant” Stop Wondering about Criminal Slang?

One of the first things you may see when you enter Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives is a wall of extremely odd words in bold typography: Peg tantrums. Tip the velvet. Potatoe trap. What could these strange expressions mean? These colorful idioms come from A Dictionary of the Slang and Cant Languages by George Andrews …