[TESS in original cloth] A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. [London:] James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., (1892). Original ochre-tan cloth decorated in gilt.
First Edition, second or third impression (dated 1892 rather than 1891 on the title versos). This is today Hardy's best-known novel, thanks in part to its appearances on the big and little screens. Hardy's daring subject matter was way ahead of its time: Tess is raped by her cousin Alec, has a baby who lives just long enough for Tess herself to baptize (as "Sorrow"), and, after an ill-fated marriage to Angel Clare (who knew nothing of this), ultimately kills the cousin and suffers the consequences. The public outcry over TESS, and several years later over JUDE THE OBSCURE, led Hardy to abandon fiction in favor of poetry for the thirty-plus remaining years of his life.
The novel first appeared in serialization, in The Graphic -- weekly instalments from July through December 1891. As Purdy points out, two episodes proved unacceptable to the editors of The Graphic (Tess's rape, and the baptism and death of her baby); thus these episodes were removed, with changes in plot (such as a mock marriage) inserted to maintain a plot. However, when the novel was published in three volumes (at the end of November, just before completion of serialization), it was restored to Hardy's original text. The 1000 copies of the first impression sold well, especially to circulating libraries, and there were subsequently a second and a third impression (500 copies each), with some revisions, bearing the date 1892 rather than 1891 on the title versos. (The first American edition, published in January 1892, was bowdlerized as in The Graphic.)
This set, still in the original cloth with gilt design by Charles Ricketts, is in good-to-very good condition: the covers are a bit rubbed, the spines are somewhat darkened as usual, there is minor wear at the extremities, and some of the original endpapers are cracked. That said, in our 40+ years we have never been able to offer a truly fine copy of TESS: since the three volumes were originally priced at 31/6, way beyond the means of most readers, but were made available to the lending libraries at half-price, most copies died a quick death being rented out fortnightly. Purdy pp 67-74. Housed in an attractive morocco-backed pull-off case by Rivière (bearing the date 1891). Item #14635