A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars, in Three Parts, Nineteen Acts, & One Hundred and Thirty Scenes. [In Three Volumes.] London: Macmillan and Co., 1903/1906/1908. Original green cloth with monogram device in gilt.
First Editions. During the 1890s Hardy had turned away from fiction, never to return (reeling from the negative reaction to his TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES and JUDE THE OBSCURE). Around 1897 (though the project had been forming in his mind for thirty years), he turned to writing what he considered to be his masterpiece, THE DYNASTS; it was first published in these three separate volumes in 1903-1908. He had not actually intended THE DYNASTS to be performed (terming it "a play intended simply for mental performance, and not for the stage"); however, it was in fact staged briefly for two months in 1914-1915 -- "a splendid failure," said Hardy.~The first volume of THE DYNASTS (1000 copies) was ready for publication in December 1903, but because the American edition was not yet ready the book was kept back because of copyright law: except for a few copies that had already been sent out as review or gift copies, all 1000 copies had their 1903 title pages excised and replaced with 1904-dated ones. It is unknown how many 1903 copies went out, but certainly 100 would be about the largest estimate, with most researchers estimating about a third to one-half that number. Vol I sold so poorly in America that there was no separate American edition of Vols II or III; instead, a few copies of those volumes' English editions were bound to match the American edition of Vol I. There are a few -- very few -- copies of Vol II that are dated 1905 rather than 1906, but these are only among the ones in American bindings; there are no English copies dated 1905. Vol II consisted of 1508 copies (of which 248 were sent to America), and Vol III, all copies of which were dated 1908, had just about the same numbers.~All three volumes are in just-about-fine condition (very minor sunning of the latter two volumes' spines). Although THE DYNASTS is seldom read among Hardy's oeuvre today, the presence of the 1903 Vol I and the condition combine to make this quite a set; also, each front endpaper bears the penciled signature of the noted collector and bibliographer Walter E. Smith. Purdy pp 119-135. Housed in a cloth clamshell case. Item #11385