My good friend Sylvia is a children’s librarian and fellow history-lover, and she often sends me very cool articles and things. Recently, Sylvia alerted me to this amazing document. It’s the log of all the books checked out of the library from 1856 – 1880 by George Frederic Jones. He was the father of American novelist, Edith Wharton (1861 or 2 – 1937). It was transcribed by Alan Behler at the New York Society Library.
Here’s part of it. You won’t be able to see it very well, but if you’re a fan of 19th-century writers, it’s definitely worth it to click on the link:
George Frederic Jones was a gentleman of leisure, and theirs was a society family, although it sounds like there were times when finances were somewhat strained (relatively speaking, obviously). The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” was thought to be a reference to Edith’s great-aunts Mary and Rebecca (who, according to this New Yorker piece, shocked Society when they built their mansion north of Fifty-seventh street).
The ledger of books is a real Greatest-Hits-of-the-mid-19th-century, and includes hot (or at least warm)-off-the-press releases like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (published in 1847, checked out by George 12/19/1857), Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man (published 1871, checked out by George 3/5/1873), Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (published in 1863, checked out by George 11/20/1873), Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (published in 1850, checked out by George 4/1/1874), and Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (published in 1844, checked out by George 8/25/1874).
As far as I can determine, the first English translation of Madame Bovary wasn’t published until the mid 1880s, which suggests that George must have read that (and presumably The Three Musketeers) in French.
The six year gap in the ledger is the result of the family moving abroad from 1866 – 1872, where a society family could still live fairly lavishly but much more cheaply. The family left again in 1881, a year after the end of the ledger, this time for George’s health (he died in 1882).
Edith Wharton, By E. F. Cooper, Newport, Rhode Island, ca 1889 via Wikimedia Commons