English Literature

The largest portion of the literary collections is English literature of the British Isles, including Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Among the most significant holdings are two 15th-century manuscripts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; an important group of 16th-and 17th-century poetical commonplace books; more than 450 books and pamphlets by Daniel Defoe, including the rare first edition of Robinson Crusoe; the largest extant collection of Robert Burns’s letters, manuscripts, and early editions; one of the world’s most important Lewis Carroll collections, including more than 600 of his letters, his early drawings, his own copy of the very rare first edition of Alice in Wonderland, and his rarest photographs; Bram Stoker’s autograph notes and outlines for Dracula; the manuscripts of two-thirds of Joseph Conrad’s literary works, including Lord Jim, and 60 letters in his hand; and the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Collection Highlights

Books by Mary Shelley

We're delighted to announce that the Rosenbach has acquired a rare first edition (1818) of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, as well as first editions of Shelley's novels Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), and Falkner (1837). These terrific additions to our…

O’thello: part of the Great Unpaid

The earliest surviving Dickens literary manuscript comes from a parody of Shakespeare’s Othello. Dickens wrote the adaptation in 1832 or 1833, around the time he first secured work as a journalist. The role of the Great Unpaid went to his father, John Dickens. The Dickens family apparently performed Charles’s parody…

The Vampyre

The Vampyre, written by Lord Byron's personal physician John Polidori, is the first English vampire story and established many conventions of vampire literature, including the linkage of sexuality and violence. The vampiric Lord Ruthven was modeled on Byron and the tale was often falsely attributed to Byron, as on this…

The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley

The works of Mr. Abraham Cowley: in two volumes: consisting of those which were formerly printed; and those which he design'd for the press, published out of the author's original copies. With the Cutter of Coleman-street. — The eleventh edition. — London: Printed for J. Tonson; sold by D. Browne.…

Ulysses: autograph manuscript, “Circe” episode

Joyce began work on "Circe" when he got to Paris in July of 1920. His work was slowed by a missing trunk of books and notes  that Stanislaus had sent from Trieste. By the time he finished this draft in December, he claimed to have written in out at least…

Related Posts

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 …

“A Certain Woman,” or A Renaissance Poetry Standoff

Your husband flees to another country after Mary Tudor becomes Queen of England. When he goes, he tells another man to “look after” you. Thirty years later, you have a Renaissance poetry stand-off with the man in Queen Elizabeth I’s court and you win. The nature of the 16th century court can get very confusing …

When Mary Met Percy: A Love Story

What’s a good love story without a little bit of drama? Sure, there’s something to be said of happy couples riding off into the sunset, hand in hand, but what people really want are stories full of pain, struggle, heartbreak, infidelity, poverty, loss, and just enough love left over to keep things interesting. While most …

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 …

“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 …

The Trials of William Blake in Three Books

Some good news for William Blake fans: the William Blake Archive is online, and our Recent Acquisitions from the Bequest of Maurice Sendak exhibition has been extended through May 28, so you have another month to feast your eyes on some of Blake’s most beautiful engravings. The three works by Blake on display in our …

We the Detectives: Exhibitions and Immersive Theater Exploring the History of the Mystery

Parkway Central Library Department of External Affairs 1901 Vine Street Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189 Phone: 215-567-7710 Contact: Alix Gerz Free Library to Present We the Detectives, Exhibitions and Immersive Theater Exploring the History of the Mystery Special exhibitions at the Rosenbach and the Free Library’s Rare Book Department merge with theatrical performances by New Paradise Laboratories …

Children’s Books by Authors You Weren’t Expecting

April 2 is International Children’s Book Day–a day you might well celebrate with a visit to our exhibition of books bequested to the Rosenbach by Maurice Sendak, which include some remarkable rare editions of books by Beatrix Potter, Margaret Wise Brown, and the brothers Grimm as well as the marvelous movable circus book by Lothar Meggendorfer. …

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Rosenbach

There may be snow on the ground on Delancey Place, but we are feeling pretty green here at the Rosenbach. We began our day with a meeting dedicated to developing our upcoming Bloomsday celebration; it’s too soon to share details, but we are so looking forward to this annual celebration. Later this afternoon, in honor of St. …