TS Eliot poem Hand Set by Virginia Woolf Fetches £4,500 at Auction
First edition of The Waste Land published by Woolf’s Hogarth Press is sold to St Andrew’s University
A rare UK first edition of TS Eliot's poem The Waste Land, hand-set byVirginia Woolf – who “had difficulty with the typography” – has been bought at auction by the University of St Andrews for £4,500 after being donated to Oxfam.
Woolf put out 460 copies of the poem in 1923 through Hogarth Press, the publisher that she and her husband Leonard had created to publish her writing.
"There was a lack of censorship to Hogarth Press, a feeling that they had the freedom to print what they wanted," said Lydia Wilkinson, books specialist at auction house Bonhams, which handled the sale on behalf of Oxfam.
"Eliot was part of the Bloomsbury circle – he and Woolf were friends and contemporaries. Woolf had difficulty with the typography because of the way Eliot would write, the rhythm and space used in his poems, and she had a bit of trouble getting the typeface right. In the end, Eliot was quoted as saying he was very happy with it. It’s generally considered a success by Hogarth."
She added that the “tactile nature” of the book and Woolf’s close association added to the “uniqueness” of the publication. The price fetched at auction was above the £2,000 to £3,000 expected.
The rare first edition was donated to the Oxford branch of Oxfam by Colin Cohen, whose great aunt Dorothy gave it to him as a teenager, “as I was interested in printing and of course this was printed by Virginia and Leonard Woolf”, he said. “It was bought by my great aunt Dorothy Samuel née Salaman. She was from a most remarkable family and was close friends with artists Augustus and Gwen John.”
Oxfam holds an annual sale of rare books; this year’s lot included first editions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, an edition of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a 20-volume set of the works of Joseph Conrad, one of 780 signed by the author, which “did not get as much as expected”, according to Jackie Whitaker, from Oxfam Valued, which manages valuable donations made to its charity shops. Last year’s auction included a first edition of Samuel Beckett’s debut novel Murphy that went for £12,000.
John MacColl, University of St Andrews director of library services, said “handling a rare first edition with such strong literary associations takes the reader back into the world in which the poem was written. The Waste Land represented a new moment in English poetry, which this wonderful purchase helps to recreate for the reader.”
Eliot, whose work includes Four Quartets, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, received an honorary degree from St Andrews in 1953.
The TS Eliot estate described the auction of The Waste Land as “an almost perfect story”, one “whereby everybody wins”.
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