February 06, 2017

Think product placement is relatively new? In one of the 1838-39 monthly installments of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens, who was born 205 years ago on Feb. 7, 1812, mentions a woman “… who every morning bathes in Kalydor …” That same moisturizer is touted in advertisements accompanying the serialized version of what became Dickens’ third novel.

As part of a new donation, an extremely rare 20-volume version of Nicholas Nickleby is now on view through May 2017 for students and visitors to Susquehanna University’s Jane Conrad Apple Rare Books Room Collection in the Blough-Weis Library.

The donation also includes an 1855 first edition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. It is accompanied by a letter of introduction the poet wrote five years earlier on behalf of his friend, Ojibway Chief Kah-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh, to another friend in Germany. The legends that the chief recounted to Longfellow were among his sources for the poem.

The Dickens and Longfellow titles were recently donated to Susquehanna by Danny Madden and his wife, Winifred “Winnie” Keller Madden, a 1984 Susquehanna graduate. The couple, both accountants from New Rochelle, New York, were moved to contribute the volumes after dropping off their youngest child Owen, a freshman on the men’s swimming team, at Susquehanna last August.

Danny Madden had been the custodian of the books after receiving them from the late Marion Hutner. Along with her husband, apparel businessman and book collector Bernie Hutner, the former Ziegfeld Follies girl had befriended Madden in New York City in the 1980s while he was a Fordham University student. He ultimately became the co-executor of Mrs. Hutner’s $20 million trust and estate, which under his supervision was disbursed to charities.

“We didn’t dare share the books while they were shelved in our suburban household, so we felt they were wasting assets and lost opportunities,” says Madden, who also donated a first edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to his alma mater. “Isn’t it great that the books are going to be dusted off and students are going to be putting on white gloves to experience these first editions?

“It’s exciting and animating for us to think that they are going to be put to good use.”

Exhibition Also Includes Additional Dickens, Irving Titles

The exhibition also includes several other volumes lent by the Maddens. These are first editions of Sketches of Young Gentlemen (1838) and Sketches of Young Couples (1840) written anonymously by Dickens, along with that series’ first volume, Sketches of Young Ladies (1837), which was written by Edward Caswall.

In addition, the Maddens have lent the library three first editions of Washington Irving’s stories, which will be exhibited later this spring. These include Bracebridge Hal (1822), the sequel to his 1819-20 collection that included “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

The donations have bolstered the library’s 19th-century holdings, including a privately circulated Dickens Rare Print Collection (1900) and several other Longfellow titles, including a signed first edition of Hyperion: A Romance (1839).

“Beyond the texts themselves, such volumes can tell students a lot about history and sociology,” says Katherine Furlong, director of the Blough-Weis Library. “Dickens’ serialized installments are a marvelous illustration of how popular fiction was being published. It was really a win-win for Dickens, his publishers and the public, since the installments were more affordable and accessible to the public. Also, the illustrations are beautiful and the ads are quite interesting.”

Professor Laurence D. Roth, co-chair of the Department of English and creative writing and director of the growing publishing and editing program, agrees: “Nicholas Nickleby represents a great opportunity to show how books were created, marketed and printed. It’s an opportunity to have our students compare that serialized novel with digital serialized publications that, on a web page, are also surrounded by ads.

“Even though it’s moved to a different platform for distributing the literature, the page itself, weirdly, looks familiar.”