For those nineteenth-century readers living abroad, keen to keep pace with the latest works in English by emerging and leading authors of the day, the publishing house of Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig, was at hand. The ‘Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors’, published in English, covered 5,370 volumes over a century from 1840, and here I was in the British Library handling two of their editions of Jane Eyre.
Both show signs of age, and with their broken spines have been much handled and read. Each book has been personalized, according to the tastes of their original readers. The basic editions came in paperback, but most buyers, including Aggie Chichkine in Moscow with her third edition, and Helen Rainforth Tozer in Cologne with her second edition, decided to ask their bookbinders to create their own unique copies. However, this can be fraught with potential errors. The Moscow bookbinder’s spelling of Jane Eyre as Jare Eyre has created a unique, alternative title to his client’s book.
Nevertheless, Aggie’s copy does look sumptuous in its red leather cover, with an embossed spine and gold tooling. Her initials ‘A.C.’ make this incontrovertibly her copy for all time. She confirms this with an extravagant flourish to her signature on the first leaf of the front matter. While she proudly displays her name, I wonder if she knew that the author’s name, ‘Currer Bell’ which she also has tooled on the spine, is the pseudonym of an author less anxious to have her real name revealed? Aggie’s family name, Chichkine, is stamped at the bottom of the title page. If this was a copy she lent to friends, she could be sure of its return.
Helen has chosen leather, marbled covers with a smooth chocolate-brown spine and corners. Like Aggie’s copy, Jane Eyre is embossed in gold on the spine, this time for extra clarity on a black background.
She opts not to claim ownership on the cover, but in a beautifully neat, sloping hand signs her name at the top of the first page, and confirms she bought her copy in Cöln, in August 1850. Her misspelling of Köln perhaps indicates that she was new to life in Germany.
A quick internet search shows a Helen Rainforth Tozer to have been buried at East Clevedon, on the Bristol Channel, in 1887, aged sixty-five years. If this is our Helen, she read Jane Eyre in her late twenties, and did return to England, and hopefully, like Jane, found a peaceful and fulfilling life.
There is only one marking of either text, and this is a pencil underlining on page 321 in the penultimate chapter of Aggie’s copy. Here Jane Eyre’s hopes and desires are finally realized in the prospect of a life with Mr Rochester, and she exclaims: “Delightful consciousness!” I would like to think that it might have been Aggie who felt the emotion of Jane’s heartfelt words and emphasized them with her pencil.
Both women’s copies came to be part of the extensive collection of Tauchnitz editions of American bibliographers William Todd and Ann Bowden, which they donated to the British Library. They also left their mark on the their copies, as you can see from Todd’s library label on Aggie’s copy, alongside that of the Moscow bookseller’s.
Was it Todd, or yet another reader, who left an amended translation of the bookseller’s address on a slip of paper below the title to the Preface, or the librarian, who penciled the date 30.10.92 at the bottom of the facing page?
These copies may have travelled thousands of miles, but throughout their journeys they have evidently been cared for and rightly treasured.