London: Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. (18th volume: Macmillan and Co.), 1895-1913. [Together, 18 volumes.] All in matching original dark blue-green cloth with front cover monogram device in gilt.
First Uniform and Complete Edition of Hardy's prose -- including three first editions. Osgood McIlvaine produced the original sixteen volumes, containing all of Hardy's fiction written until then, individually during the years 1895-1896; his last novel, JUDE THE OBSCURE, first came out during those two years, so that first edition was published as Vol. VIII of these volumes. (Due to the outcry over the daring subject matter in Hardy's last novels, he would write no more fiction; for the 32 years of his life remaining after JUDE, he would write only verse.) After publication of the first 16 volumes, two collections of previously-unpublished fiction, THE WELL-BELOVED (1897) and A CHANGED MAN (1913) came out -- the latter by Macmillan -- so the first editions of these two constituted the final volumes in this series, Vols XVII and XVIII.
Even the volumes that are not first editions are very important:
Osgood, McIlvaine's edition is an important one. The text of every novel was thoroughly and carefully revised, the topography (names and distances) corrected where necessary, chapters frequently retitled, and much rewriting done. In addition Hardy prepared a special preface for each volume (prefaces which have a peculiar interest when read consecutively as the work of 1895-96)... [Purdy]
Thus the Wessex Novels constitutes the definitive edition of Hardy's fiction -- the version of each novel as he ultimately wished it to endure. (All but JUDE had originally appeared as two- or three-volume novels, when the format and even the content were dictated by the lending libraries that would buy up most of the copies of authors' first editions.)
Each novel also includes a frontispiece by H. Macbeth-Raeburn, as well as the ubiquitous Map of Wessex.
Note: the included copy of WESSEX TALES bears on the front paste-down a "From the Author" leaf, which is signed (and dated 27 March 1897) by Hardy's Dorset friend Thomas Perkins, who had been headmaster of the Shaftesbury Grammar School and in the 1890s was rector of the North Dorset village of Turnworth (Turnworth House was "Hintock House" in Hardy's THE WOODLANDERS, and during these years Hardy would ride on his Rover Cob bicycle to that grand hall to give talks); an avid amateur photographer, Perkins was very interested in Dorset history, especially its architecture, and at the time of his death in 1907 he was writing MEMORIALS OF OLD DORSET.
As for condition, this is a remarkable set. A couple of volumes have subtle repair at the spine ends, and one volume lacks its front free endpaper, but all of the other volumes (including all three first editions) are not too far from fine. It is worth pointing out that if one assumes a reasonable price of say $750.00 for this first edition of JUDE THE OBSCURE, that leaves $900.00 for the other 17 -- which is only $53.00 each. Purdy pp 279-282. Item #14522