By Emily Hewlings and Sarah Karlen
When Molly Greenberg ‘16 disclosed to a family friend a little more than three years ago that she was studying at Goucher, she had no idea that the largest collection of works by or about Jane Austen in the United States resided at the library there.
“My friend was asking me about where I go to school and I said, ‘Goucher College,’ and started to give the whole explanation of, ‘It’s a small liberal arts school in Baltimore, I found it in “Colleges That Change Lives,”’ and so on,” Greenberg explained. “But, before I could get there, he exclaimed, ‘That’s the school with the Jane Austen collection!’ I was taken aback. It was the first time I’d heard of it.”
Greenberg added that this feature of the library is “a unique thing for our school to have.”
Indeed, administrators at the Goucher College Library pride themselves on having possession of the first editions of each of Austen’s six novels, including the highly praised “Pride and Prejudice.” In addition to these editions, the Jane Austen collection includes works by Austen’s contemporaries, a selection of British color plate books written during the Regency period in which Austen lived and periodicals, as well as translations in more than 40 languages.
One novel in particular has been in the spotlight in recent months—the 1816 edition of “Emma,” Austen’s first book to be published in the States. Also known as the Philadelphia “Emma,” such an edition is extremely rare, as only a handful of copies have survived. Curator of Special Collections Tara Olivero considers the Philadelphia “Emma” to be one of the treasures at the college library.
“There are only six copies that exist in the entire world,” Olivero said. “Of those six, Goucher’s copy is probably in the best condition. Other copies are either incomplete or too fragile.”
How the Goucher College Library was able to get its hands on such an edition, as well as other noteworthy Austen-related works, is due largely to Alberta Hirshheimer Burke, who graduated from Goucher in 1928, and her husband, Henry Burke, a native of Baltimore. Upon Alberta’s death in 1975, Henry confirmed that it was his wife’s wish to donate the Jane Austen collection—which the two of them acquired over a course of 40 years—to the library.
Austen fans all over the world are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the original British publication of “Emma” this December, so administrators of the Goucher College Library viewed it as the perfect opportunity to release a completely digitized version of the Philadelphia “Emma.” They launched the “Emma” in America fundraising campaign in December 2014 to, as the official website states, “raise money for an open-access digital copy of Jane Austen’s 1816 Philadelphia edition of ‘Emma’ and to offer an interactive educational website experience.” The first volume of the digital copy was released earlier this week.
In addition to the digital project, library administrators also created an exhibit entitled “‘Emma’ in America: Jane Austen’s Novel Through Two Centuries,” which can be found on the fourth floor of the Athenaeum, just outside of Special Collections and Archives. The exhibit explores the nearly 200-year-old history of the Philadelphia Emma, including its publication process and initial owners. The exhibit will run until June 20 of next year.
The Goucher College Library launched the exhibit by hosting an opening reception in the Hyman Forum on October 17. In addition to a viewing of the exhibit, the reception included hors d’oeuvres and wine, a dance performance by Choregraphie Antique, the dance ensemble history of Goucher led by Professor Emerita of Dance Chrystelle Bond and remarks by Juliette Wells, Associate Professor and chair of the English Department at Goucher. Wells edited Penguin Books’s newly released “Emma: The 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition.”
“It was a splendid event,” College Librarian Nancy Magnuson said of the opening reception. “The audience enjoyed the dancing. They were very impressed with the exhibition.”
The dance performance included a number of specific dances, such as the Grand March and Prince of Wales Waltz, and resembled the grandiose events Austen attended during the latter half of the 18th century. The performers wore elegant Regency-inspired outfits, including trousers and short-waisted dresses.
“I think the audience enjoyed the dancing because it’s a visual display of what kind of parties folks in Austen’s time attended,” said Randi Kennedy, Assistant to the College Librarian. “It’s very different from what we experience growing up in modern America.” Kennedy is a member of the “Emma” in America team.
Olivero, who is also part of the team, explained the process for building a digital archive so as to allow interested viewers free access to the Philadelphia “Emma.”
“We wanted to have it done in a fashion where it looked like you were reading the book,” Olivero said. “We wanted to create a complete digital facsimile. It’s just like looking at the physical book. You can see the dimensions, colors, what the page looks like and how it’s set up. We even had it sent to a conservation center because it is so rare.”
As Olivero pointed out, this process took a long time, in part because the Philadelphia “Emma” is “such a valuable and fragile book” and therefore cannot be fed through a scanner. Each page had to be photographed and edited individually before being uploaded online.
“One thing that we really tried to get across with this exhibit is looking at this book as an object,” Olivero added. “So, again, you’re not intersecting with just the text and that’s it, but also the container that the text is in.” Readers will be able to view the plain text alongside the facsimile. The text is searchable, which will be useful for scholars.
The “Emma” in America campaign team is still in the process of updating the official website to include more various digital components that center around the novel as a whole.
“We’re trying to add some other elements to it, such as a glossary, annotated essays, provide definitions of words that aren’t used today, what the words would have meant in Jane Austen’s time,” Olivero explained.
Olivero added, “We hope to expand it—we’re not sure in which way yet, though. We want to work with other Jane Austen projects that are online. There are a few other scholarly projects that we would like to intersect with. We want to share our knowledge and resources.”
Both the Goucher College Library and English Department will host events in the coming weeks to further commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of “Emma.” Alexander McCall Smith, author of “Emma: A Modern Retelling,” will give a lecture in the Kraushaar Auditorium on November 3 from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. On February 17 at 7 p.m., Jane Austen Scholar-in-Residence Kathleen M. Anderson, a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, will give a lecture entitled, “Emma As Medieval Queen: Jane Austen’s Glorification of Female Hospitality.”
More information about Austen-related events and the “Emma” in America campaign is available at http://www.emmainamerica.org, where the digital copy of the Philadelphia Emma can also be accessed.