Another Brideshead Anniversary

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Brideshead Revisited in America in book format. A serialized version had been issued in four installments in November 1944-February 1945 in Town & Country magazine published in New York. The novel had first appeared in book format in the UK on 28 May 1945. That edition was jointly published by Chapman & Hall and the Book Society. See previous post.

The US debut also involved a book club edition, and both that and the first trade edition were published in January 1946. The US publisher Little, Brown had planned to issue the book in September. But the Book of the Month Club wanted to make the book one of its monthly selections and decided to offer it to members as its January 1946 choice. Little, Brown was in no position to argue given the leverage of the BOMC.

In an apparent compromise, Little, Brown issued a “limited edition” in September 1945 consistent with its previous publication schedule. On the copyright page, this states that it was “Published September 1945”. Below that, this notice appeared:

This edition limited to 600 copies, of which 450 are for sale and 150 are for presentation, has been printed before the printing of the first American trade edition.

The normal Little, Brown trade edition was rescheduled for January 1946, consistent with the BOMC’s distribution of the book as its choice for that month. One of BOMC’s conditions was that the trade edition not be distributed in advance of its selection month. Most of the book club members would have elected their choice in December 1945 when the BOMC’s monthly News brochure was distributed.

Little, Brown’s copyright page for its trade edition states: “First edition after the printing of a limited edition of 600 copies/ Published January 1946.” Book dealers in the US (as well as this writer) have been confused for years about the release date of the large number of BOMC copies that flooded the market. Unlike Little, Brown, BOMC included no publication date in in its edition, merely the “copyright dates” of 1944 and 1945. The former was presumably necessary because of the magazine serial publication that began in November 1944. Many used booksellers seem to have assumed (as did I) that the BOMC edition preceded Little, Brown’s and was being flogged earlier in 1945. The formal release date of both editions would properly be stated as “January 1946”. Moreover, the texts of the two editions were identical. There is no reason to believe, contrary to the great weight of ill-informed opinion on the internet, that the publication of the BOMC edition “preceded” that of the Little, Brown “First Trade Edition” in any meaningful sense.

NOTE: The foregoing is an abbreviated version of an article that will appear in a future edition of Evelyn Waugh Studies. The delay in EWS publication is due to lack of access to research libraries because of the Coronavirus epidemic.


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