Monday, 1 July 2013

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition (Second Issue)


Title page of the First Edition of Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset MaughamCover of Of Human Bondage, novel by W. Somerset Maugham, first edition 1915
Of Human Bondage - First Edition

Of Human Bondage. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1915[1919]


This post is about the first edition of Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, probably (as they say in the commercials) his most famous novel, and some things one should be aware of when purchasing a copy. Some time later I will talk more about the content in another post.

Of Human Bondage - First Edition


The first edition of this semi-autobiographical novel was published by George Doran in 1915. It was the first book that Maugham published with Doran and the latter had very fond memory of this business venture (Chronicles of Barabbas, 126 ff.).

For some time now I had been coveting a copy of the first edition of this book, which in many ways is without doubt one of the canons in English literature, written with sweat and blood, in a sense. One cannot help but feel that the author is opening his heart unashamedly to the reader. The courage is staggering, without the vulgarity of self-revelation in some more contemporary works.

I was making up my mind how much I would be willing to spend when I checked it out in the catalogues, and was taken completely aback when I saw copies from US$3.00 onwards. I went dutifully to Stott. He describes two issues,the first one with a misprint and more rare, and thus much more expensive, the true first edition, first issue, which is not so bad either, selling from US$400 and up. However, what is all that about the US$3.00?

One should not pay US$400 if one can get the same thing for US$3.00. So I ploughed through all these cheap copies in the catalogues. Some were easy to discard, since they were from Modern Library or some other publishers that simply could not be, although the copy was listed as 1915. I double checked to make sure of that.

Then there are some listed as Doubleday, Doran & Company, some as Garden City. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Doran merged with Doubleday in 1927 and became the Doubleday, Doran & Company. So when going book hunting, it is important to keep this in mind, especially when the latter reprinted some of the Doran books; it could present some confusions. The reprint of Of Human Bondage is one of such cases.


Introduction of Of Human Bondage 1933 Doubleday, Doran & Company edition
Of Human Bondage - 1933
I learnt after this experience to keep this in mind. I examined the 1915 editions (the cheaper ones) in the catalogues, but at first it was quite unsatisfactory, because they were listed as 1915 and when I asked the sellers they could not give me more information except that it was registered as published in that year. Finally, a very kind one sent me some photos of the book and it turned out to be a later copy, as I suspected, but Doubleday only listed the copyright year; however, there is a short introduction which mentions that Of Human Bondage was published eighteen years ago, so it makes this a 1933 edition.

Copyright page of Of Human Bondage, first editionI continued my patient search and in a way I was rewarded. I studied carefully the catalogues and came up with one that caught my eye, because of the description and the weight of the book. I asked further questions about the book and it turned out that the publisher was George H. Doran and not Doubleday, Doran & Company as listed in the catalogue. The catch was that it costed US$3.98. It is the second issue, not the first one that had thicker paper and the misprint, but for that price I bought it. It is a respectable first edition. The first edition of Of Human Bondage is an exception that it does not carry the usual G.H.D. monogram marking that it is a first. As of today, my copy costs US$150 upwards.

There is of course the English edition by Heinemann, but it was published one day after the US edition and it was printed from the stereotype places from the American type. It is US$500 upwards.

Update: Information has been updated about this edition, please read More On the First Edition of Of Human Bondage

4 comments :

  1. Thank you for posting this article.I have one copy of this title just like yours.It took me some time to figure out what edition it is and got no answer in the end.But thanks to you now I know that it is the 1st edition second issue!Great collection,carry on !

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    1. Thanks, Cheng, for leaving the comment. You may like to weigh your copy and see whether it's 2lbs. 1 2/2 ozs. or 1 lb. 14 ozs. The former one is the first issue and the latter mine. The first issue also has a misprint on p. 257, line 4, instead of "helped," it's "help."

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  2. Thank you for the info.:)I have been following your blog for several months just after I started to have the idea to collect Maugham's first editions.Your detailed marvelous blog has helped me a lot. Being honest I have absolutely pleasure to read them. As a newly starter,I can't conceal my jealousy to your collections(especially to The Land of the blessed virgin and The Merry-go-round). And I really admire the efforts and the pleasure you took from the book hunting process. It is so nice to find someone as a Maugham lover too.

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    1. Thanks a lot for your comment! I am glad that I am able to transmit the pleasure of building my collection. Very happy to meet a fellow collector too.

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