Great French Romances

William Heinemann (London, UK)
Series dates: 1923-1927
Size: 5.5″ x 8″

Doubleday Co. (New York, US)
Series dates: 1923-1927
Size: 5.5″ x 8″

The simple fact that reprint series books were a cheap commodity means that the same series of books were often sold under different names (by the same publisher) and also sold to and printed by other publishers – sometimes with name changes, and sometimes without. This leads to significant confusion when trying to figure out dates (if the books are undated) and exactly where a particular book fits in a sequence of printings.

The Great French Romances series was a reprint of an earlier series which has at least two names: A Library of French Masterpieces and A Century of French Romance. This dual-named series was published by Heinemann in the U.K. and Appleton in the U.S. from about 1902-1904 and is typically dated on the title page. The series consisted of what seem to be new translations of approximately 12 French literary classics, edited by William Heinemann’s literary advisor, Edmund Gosse and in the case of the Balzac title below, provided with a critical introduction by Henry James. This early run of this book series seems to have more elaborate bindings and some illustrations.

From about 1907 to 1908, the London Book Co. takes over publication of the series, probably when Heinemann’s initial run of the series was sold out. As with the earlier Heinemann / Appleton series, the series title is listed as A Library of French Masterpieces as well as A Century of French Romance. These books seem to be a cheaper edition, with no illustrations. Heinemann, then, did not seem to want to market a cheaper version of the series (or it was easier to let another company do it for a fee). The London Book Co. seems to have in some cases published books and series for other publishers, including the Novel Library (1920-1937, published for Collins).

Heinemann is once again publishing the series in 1914, but references to the series disappear not long afterward.

Retitled the Great French Romances series, the books are once again sold by Heinemann from about 1923 to 1927, after Doubleday purchased a significant share of the firm (in 1920) upon the death of William Heinemann. Doubleday was very much focused on reprint series at the time and may have been behind reissuing the moribund series. The books were sold in the U.S. by Doubleday, although the books themselves were printed in the U.K. at the Whitefriars Press in Tonbridge. The jackets (probably only on the U.S. copies) contain an advertisement on the rear flap for a Doubleday edition of Conrad titles announced in 1924. Heinemann published that set in the UK. It’s likely that the particular book below was published in or around 1924.

This copy of Balzac’s The Two Young Brides is undated but probably printed around 1924 (see above). The jackets are common to the series, with a rather elaborate jacket spine of a charging knight. The series name is included on the jacket spine, at the top. The front of the jacket is blank but for a small illustration of a village (undoubtedly French) which appears on all jackets in the series.  The front flap indicates “A Hint of What to Look for in This Book” and follows with a synopsis of the book.

The back of the jacket is blank, and the rear flap advertises the Doubleday edition of a series of Conrad titles announced 1924. Doubleday and Heinemann both published this set of Conrad titles, and some of the books shared plates (but most had minor differences between the U.S. and U.K. books).

The binding is dark blue with gold (now faded away) decorations and typography. The spine mimics the dust jacket. The Eiffel Tower replaces the village scene on the jacket front.

A gift inscription on the endpapers of Jan 25, 1925, supports the 1924 print date for the book.

The half title page includes the series name.

The title page includes the series name and original editor, Edmund Gosse. The translation is indicated, but no translator named. The introduction by Henry James is also included. No date is included on the title page.

The copyright page includes an indication of the printer.

The printer is also noted on the last page of the book – rather ill printed and bound. This suggests this cheaper edition of the original A Library of French Masterpieces and A Century of French Romance series.

The Great French Romances series name was used in the late 1940s by the Nonesuch Press but does not seem to be related to this Heinemann / Doubleday series.