THE PURCELL PAPERS. In Three Volumes [in one].
[800 pages -- fine] With a Memoir by Alfred Perceval Graves. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1880. Original royal blue cloth decorated in black and lettered in gilt.
First Edition. Although this is a posthumous collection (Le Fanu died in 1873), these are actually some of his earliest writings, written for Dublin University Magazine during the years 1838-1840, when Le Fanu was in his mid-twenties. These are loosely-connected supernatural tales presented as posthumous papers of a parish priest named Purcell; included are "The Ghost and the Bonesetter," "The Last Heir of Castle Connor," "The Drunkard's Dream," and perhaps the best-known of the group, "Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter" (a grim account of Rose Velderkaust's pursuit by, and marriage to, a ghoul). The tales reflect the author's concern with themes of death and despair, reflecting the fact that in 1838 members of the Le Fanu family experienced not only a debtor's prison but also insanity (with the desire for suicide).
THE PURCELL PAPERS did not sell well, with the result that there were numerous bindings-up of the first edition sheets over a number of years. In BINDING VARIANTS (1932), John Carter describes four binding states of the three separate volumes, in probable order ("A" through "D"); he later described (in MORE BINDING VARIANTS, 1938) two additional bindings that had come to his attention -- including this three-volumes-in one binding, his binding "F". About this binding he says "The wooden spoon in the race for priority obviously goes to F, whose cheap finery is in sharp contrast to the sober decoration of all its predecessors." (It is interesting to note the 31/6 price printed in gilt at the foot of the spine: Bentley may have been desperate to unload his unsold PURCELL sheets, but he was nonetheless sticking with this standard price of all Victorian triple-decker novels.)
Remarkably, this hefty 800-page combined volume is in fine, bright condition -- with the outer joints and the inner hinges intact, and only a bit of rubbing. First editions by this father of the modern ghost story have become quite scarce, particularly in this condition. Sadleir 1383 (in "A"); Carter BV pp 130-1; Carter MBV pp 21-2. Item #15121