Book Inscriptions Entertain, Fascinate

Last Three Weeks of "Between You and Me: Inscriptions and Associations"

Published 11-22-2009

A glimpse into the relationship between husband-and-wife poets – and that of the husband and his mistress. A famous admonition from one author to another to “save the to-morrows for work.” Spontaneous verses scribbled by a well-known poet to his patron.

Those are some of the treasures in the exhibition “Between You and Me: Inscriptions and Associations,” on display until Dec. 14 in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) in the Robert W.
Woodruff Library at Emory University.

In the world of rare books, an association copy is a book inscribed by the author or another significant person to a person of note or someone connected to the author. More than 60 books
on display demonstrate the range of possibilities: intimate inscriptions between a husband and wife, presentation inscriptions from a teacher to a pupil and formal inscriptions from a leader in one field to the leader in another, according to David Faulds, rare book librarian at MARBL and the exhibition’s curator.

The books in the exhibition were culled from MARBL’s collections, including those of poet Ted Hughes, his wife, poet Sylvia Plath, and his longtime lover, Assia Wevill (pronounced Wev-ill); poet W.B. Yeats; writer and poet Langston Hughes; and Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus series.

Faulds says most of the books themselves aren’t notable, but the inscriptions elevate their worth.

“The book itself can be a fairly inexpensive paperback, but with the inscription it gains a huge amount of value in a number of ways,” says Faulds. “A lot of the research in putting the exhibit together came in
trying to work out what was going on, why this book was important, and what they were doing at the time.”

The exhibition contains several noteworthy displays:

• A glass case containing books with inscriptions between husband and wife poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The inscriptions tended to be formal (“For Sylvia from Ted”), which sheds some light on their relationship. Plath also underlined and marked several of the books, such as a volume on nightmares Plath gave Hughes for their first Christmas as a married couple. “She actually read it and marked it through, so I’m wondering if she wanted it herself,” says Faulds.

• A display case containing books exchanged between Hughes and Wevill, with more affectionate – and cryptic – inscriptions than those between Hughes and Plath. One example is a book titled Poems 2 by Alan Dugan, with a presentation inscription from Hughes to Wevill that reads, “For Assia Assia, the Myrrh the Myrrhia, the Cassia the Cassia, from his nibs, Covent Garden, 24th June 1966.”

• Books belonging to Joel Chandler Harris (author of the Uncle Remus series of children’s books), with inscriptions from Mark Twain (“Let us save the to-morrows for work. Truly yours, Mark Twain”) and Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book, who was influenced by Harris’
writings). Faulds notes that though Harris and Twain “were not close friends, they had a high regard for each other’s work and a good professional relationship.”

• W.B. Yeats’ books from the 1890s and early 1900s belonging to Lady Augusta Gregory, the author’s patron. Some of the books are very rare, with just 13 or fewer copies printed. Yeats not only inscribed his published books to her but wrote original poems in them.

• Display cases relating to MARBL’s African American collections, including copies of Langston Hughes’ Shakespeare in Harlem, inscribed by the author to close friends, as evidenced by his
signing his name as “Lang,” a rarity, says Faulds. The inscriptions written by Plath, Hughes and Wevill were probably the most intriguing to examine, says Faulds.

“It was very interesting to dig into their lives,” says Faulds. “The detective work made it fun, looking at the date in the book and seeing what they were doing on that date.” One of Plath’s books bears a
Cambridge bookseller’s label and an undated inscription; Faulds deduced Hughes probably bought it for Plath when she was studying in Cambridge shortly after they first met.

The exhibition is free and open to the public during normal MARBL hours, which are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; MARBL and the library are closed Thursday through Saturday of
Thanksgiving week. MARBL is located on the 10th floor of the Woodruff Library on the Emory University campus, 540 Asbury Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322. For more information, contact Denise Funk at
404.727.6887 or or visit

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