Bowdoin Library Displays Rare Books in Exhibit "Old Wine in New Bottles"
Story posted November 19, 2002
A well-known biblical quotation tells us not to put new wine into old bottles, or the bottles will burst and the wine will be spilled. A twist on that expression is often applied nowadays to deride the practice of presenting banal or tired concepts in glitzy, novel packaging.
But in the world of written communication -- especially in books -- the practice of reinterpreting and presenting old works in new ways usually adds value to the author's expression and enriches the reader's experience.
The exhibition "Old Wine in New Bottles: Publishing Texts in New Ways" is currently on view on the 2nd floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library on the Bowdoin College campus. The exhibit, which features rare books from the Bowdoin Library, is open daily during regular library hours.
Some of the ways by which "old wine" has found its way into "new bottles" in publishing include the addition of textual commentary, scholarly interpretation, illustration, layout, and paraphrase and adaptation.
Touching texts in these ways raises questions about authorship, textual authority, readership, and literacy. New editions may introduce misinterpretation as easily as they do clearer understanding.
Beyond challenging both the reader and text, however, such re-workings also typically attract new and different audiences, and consequently contribute significantly to the dissemination of the original text.
Among the works included in the Bowdoin exhibit:
The Smallest English Dictionary in the World, published in Glasgow in the 1890s. The 27mm-high, 384-page book came encased in a tin locket with a magnifying glass.
A variety of versions and adaptations of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Written while Stowe and her husband (a Bowdoin professor) lived in Brunswick, this novel is one of the first titles that became a multimedia event. Included is a sample of The National Era newspaper which serialized the novel between 1851-52, an 1852 first edition of the book, and a contemporary Classic Comics adaptation.
A 2002 edition of Aeschylus's Oresteia by the Gehenna Press in Leeds, Massachusetts. With just 60 copies printed, this version of the Greek tragedy is by Ted Hughes, with woodcut illustrations by Leonard Baskin, printed directly from cherry woodblocks that Baskin had cut.
A 1934 reprint by Munich's Bremmer Press of Andreas Versalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the groundbreaking scientific work on anatomy first published in 1543. The original woodblocks were thought lost, but were discovered in the 20th century. They were subsequently destroyed when Munich was bombed during World War II.
A 1481 edition of Dante's Divine Comedy alongside the 1862 French edition with the famous illustrations by Gustave Doré. Doré's illustrations have since been used in countless editions and represent the most familiar pictorial translation of Dante's work. A variety of other illustrated editions of Divine Comedy are included in the exhibit, as well as a three-volume 1867 edition with translation and sonnets by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow developed the romance language curriculum at Bowdoin and taught modern languages at both Bowdoin and Harvard.
Varied editions of Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha," as well as the 1856 parody edition of "The Song of Drop o' Wather, a London Legend" by one Harry Wandsworth Shortfellow (the pseudonym of Mary Cowden Clarke).
Several fine press editions of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome. The most recent, published this past summer by Portland's Ascencius Press, is an edition limited to just 50 copies featuring a portrait etching of Wharton by Thomas Cornell, Bowdoin College's Richard E. Steele Professor of Studio Art.
The exhibit will run through May 1, 2003. For more information call Bowdoin College's George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives at 725-3288.
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