I’ve had this set of E.F. Benson novellas for quite a few years. Originally I only had one of them, realized it was part of a set, and went online to find a complete set (and then donated the single volume). Until a few weeks ago, I had only read one of the volumes (Friend of the Rich), which I enjoyed, but for some reason never picked up the others. When I decided to give the other three a go recently, I enjoyed each of them.
Each volume depicts a little slice of life of “Old London” in a different era. Georgian, Victorian, Mid-Victorian, and Edwardian. These are not highly descriptive of London itself. In fact, now that I think of it, there isn’t much in the way of description of the locale at all. In the way that Benson does so well, he focuses primarily on the conventions and foibles of class, each volume with a sly twist.
But the real news was an advertisement I noticed on the back flap of the second volume. Not only did E.F. Benson write this Old London series but Edith Wharton wrote an Old New York series? And like the Benson set, each volume was set in a different decade.
I fully intended to to go online and see if I could find the Wharton set. But then, on another back flap I encountered even more Old [Inset City] sets. All by authors I had never heard of, but the long dormant completist in me suddenly sprang to life.
Much to my delight I was able to find complete sets for each city at fairly reasonable prices. If you are so inclined, there are lots of onesies/twosies out there, but there are also a fair number of full sets available. I even got two sets with their original box. You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t actually like boxed sets or boxed books (like Folio Society volumes). I don’t like the way they look on the shelf. To me they ruin the look of a shelf of “normal” books. I tried to get all deboxed (it’s a word now) sets, but when comparing price and condition, I had to bite the bullet and get two sets with the boxes.
It’s a good thing they didn’t do more cities.
Some of them are nicely covered in plastic. (Something Frances of Nonsuch Book was going to come over and show me how to do until Covid made that impossible.) These are pretty even without the dust jackets.
They also each have illustrated endpapers. The Benson series was illustrated by Reginald Birch, with the rest by Edward C. Caswell.
And two sets came with lovely bookplates. But they beg the question about bookplate usage with illustrated endpapers. Especially in this case where the front and back each have different images. (Incidentally, I just looked up Claire H. Keeney. He was a man, and a playwright. Check this out. And this, appears to by Ralph L. Lovejoy.)
And I loved coming across this inscription that appeared in each of the four volumes in the New Orleans set.
After a serious book cull in 2014 when I got rid of lots of books and book sets that at one point I just had to collect and own, I was a bit shocked at my buying binge. But I’m interested in reading these and not just looking at them so maybe it isn’t as crazy. (It turns out that I actually already owned the Wharton series in a single modern volume and had even read them. Time to give them another go.)
It’s possible I might try and read them all before the end of the month in observance of Novellas in November, but I may have other fish to fry. We’ll see.