Bleak House. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1853
8vo (215 x 135mm.), FIRST EDITION IN BOOK FORM, A DEDICATION COPY INSCRIBED TO HIS FRIEND CHARLES KNIGHT ("Charles Knight | From | Charles Dickens | Third October 1853") on printed dedication page, frontispiece, illustrated title-page and 38 plates by or after Phiz ('Hablot K. Browne'), half-title, contemporary half red morocco, spine gilt in compartments, gilt edges, collector's chemise and green morocco-backed slipcase, plates occasionally offset and browned in margins, binding worn at extremities, hinges split
DEDICATION COPY OF THE FIRST (AND ARGUABLY THE FINEST) OF DICKENS' GREAT TRIUMVIRATE OF 'CONDITION-OF-ENGLAND NOVELS' WRITTEN IN THE 1850s. All three novels -- the others being Little Dorrit and Hard Times -- have long endured as extraordinary works of art and highly innovative and poetic accounts of mid-nineteenth-century life, suffused with anger and dark humour, and peopled with a great cast of lawyers, financiers, aristocrats, bricklayers, circus performers, soldiers, factory-owners, imprisoned debtors, child-labourers, dancers, aesthetes, thieves, detectives and "wives jealous, fierce, tenders and battered" (Tomalin). Bleak House, with its opening depiction of fog both actual and metaphorical spreading over the whole of the city (the most magnificent opening to all the author's novels), "rolls out the dark, dirty English earth and sky to set the theme of the book", taking on "the worst aspects of the legal system -- its inhumanity, sloth, corruption and obstruction -- as a basis for a larger matter, the bad governance of society as a whole; and it will show the physical sickness of London -- its toxic water, rotten housing, bursting graveyards and festering sewage -- as part of the effects of that bad governance" (op.cit., p.240)
Dickens dedicated Bleak House "as a remembrance of our friendly union, to my companions in the Guild of REFERENCE and Art". Described by Ackroyd as "an ambitious project designed to help writers 'in difficulties' with a system of annuities and pensions as well as the provision of a number of special houses…", founding members included Bulwer Lytton, Wilkie Collins, John Forster, Mark Lemon, John Tenniel and Charles Knight. This present copy is, therefore, one of a handful of dedication copies.
Other dedication copies of Bleak House (inscribed by Dickens on the same date) include John Tenniel's copy (Sotheby's New York, 21 July 1992, lot 49) and Mark Lemon's copy (Christie's New York, The William E. Self Family Collection Part I, 2 April 2008, lot 146).
Charles Knight (1791-1873), the publisher, editor, journalist and author was a contributor to Household Words. In her study, Charles Knight: Educator, Publisher, Writer (Aldershot, 2006), Valerie Gray describes her subject as "a prime force in a great movement. He was in the forefront of the movement to provide cheap, quality REFERENCE for all readers, but particularly for the newly literate working classes… Knight was instrumental in the creation of a mass market in REFERENCE designed to satisfy the needs of the steadily rising literate population". Dickens seems to have first met Charles Knight in the 1830s when introduced by Macready and Forster to the Shakespeare Club, which met on Saturday evenings at the Piazza Coffee House in Covent Garden for readings and discussions on cultural subjects. Most of the friends Dickens made there -- others including the lawyer and MP Thomas Talfourd (see lot 74) and the artist Daniel Maclise (see lot 116) remained his friends for life.
Smith I:10; Sadleir 682
Charles Knight, presentation inscription; Comte Alain de Suzannet, bookplate, his sale, Sotheby's, 22 November 1971, lot 108; William E. Self, booklabel, his sale, Christie’s New York, 4 December 2009, lot 83
Condition is described in the main body of the cataloguing, where appropriate.
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