Heritage Press: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1942)

January 7, 2011 § 5 Comments

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1942)
Sandglass Number Unknown
Artwork: Wood Engravings by Agnes Miller Parker
Introduced by John T. Winterich, with Hardy’s Preface and Postscript included
An Heritage Press exclusive, part of the Thomas Hardy collection.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – The other Hardy books put out by the Heritage Press tend to repeat an artistic motif that represents the book done by Agnes Miller Parker (Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Caster Bridge do for certain, as I own those, and I believe I’ve seen Tess of the D’Ubervilles run with the same idea), the series’ illustrator, but this one does not.  It instead relies on a fairly sterile piece of brown cloth.  Not the most pleasing book in the Press’ history.  However, there may be a good reason as to why this book lacks a more dynamic cover:

Django2694’s Copy

This one shares a similar styling to my other two Hardy novels.  His was printed in the Netherlands, while mine was composed and printed at Quinn & Boden Company in Rahway, New Jersey, and bound by Russell-Rutter, based in New York.  I noticed that the LEC did not print a version of this novel, so I asked Django if he had any insights.  Here’s what he has to say about that, his copy of the book, as well as the possibility as to why there’s differences between our two books:

In answer to your question about why the LEC didn’t do The Return first…I don’t know, and the Sandglass (Number 5LX in my copy) offers no help either. (Hardy had not yet achieved the popularity that he was to have in the late 1950s and 1960s that was to result in the LEC doing all the other Wessex novels–as well as acclaimed film versions of Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles–so when this first Hardy novel was conceived and published in the early days of WW II, it may have been Macy feeling a wave of pro-British feeling and wanting to publish something “English,” but feeling that it might not be acceptable to the subscribers of the LEC, who were still grousing about the LEC publishing works not in the canon of accepted classics.)

The Sandglass spends the first half of its length praising Agnes Miller Parker–and rightly so. The Sandglass calls The Return the “best” of Hardy’s novels, because in addition to hardy’s usual pessimism and gloom, there is “romance and excitement”–two qualities caught amazingly in Parker’s wood engravings.

The book’s designer was A.G. Hoffman, who died after completing the layouts for this book. He chose Caledonian as the type–an adaptation by W.A. Dwiggins of the old Scotch font.

The plainness of your binding brings up one of those interesting conundrums that make the Heritage Press a never-ending source of research. My copy, which bears a copyright date of 1942, and was printed in the Netherlands, has the same design characteristics as the other Heritage Hardys. To quote the Sandglass:

“There is a decorative pattern printed on the covers, built up out of a recurring motif engraved in wood by Mrs McCanse (Parker’s married name–the motif is made of Egdon Heath butterflies and snakes). The sheets are…stitched into a binding case which is covered with a staunch linen upon which this pattern is printed in a kind of earth-green. The title is stamped in gold on a bright green label.”

The Sandglass says the page tops are dyed green, but my copy has green-speckled page edges all around. This is one example of the amazing variety of bindings in which a single title from the Heritage Press may be found. One could have a very interesting library by collecting all the variants!

Neither of us know which version came first, so it’s one of those pleasant mysteries that make collecting these books so fun!  It would seem World War II is the culprit in this book’s basic cover design – they had little choice in a time with heavy rationing.  A.G. Hoffman was responsible for this book’s design according to the book’s final page detailing the book’s creation, as well (which isn’t a surprise, as I imagine the two are identical beyond the binding).

Spine – The spine’s declaration of the book’s title is the same as the other two Hardy books I own – a block, boldly colored, with similar fonts, the declaration of Parker as its illustrator, and the Heritage brand at the bottom.

Title Page – Parker’s woodcut engravings are a great fit – she’s one of my favorites.  The title page includes a quote from the text, I’m assuming.

Page 19

Page 380 – I apologize for the blurriness of this one, and will put up a replacement in the near future.


Personal Notes – I can’t quite remember where I got this one, but I got it for cheap, I know that.  I’d wager a library book sale.  Parker’s exquisite art sold me more than anything else – it was water damaged on several pages (the art from Page 19 is one of those pages, but I cropped it to keep that stain out), and lacked a Sandglass or slipcase, and isn’t the most attractive book of theirs I’ve seen…but Parker did a great job with the engravings, and it served as my introduction to her work, which I’ve been collecting eagerly since.

Haven’t read Hardy yet, so no comments on that side of things.

I plan on doing a post discussing some of the classics that the LEC did not print in the near future, so look forward to that. ^_^



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