Boston: John Jewett & Co., 1854. First edition. Original publisher's cloth binding embossed in blind with gilt to spine. Yellow endpapers. Spine gently rolled and trivial shelfwear to extremities. Front hinge tender near the foot and first signature a bit proud, with cords somewhat visible at the gutter of the title. In all, a firm, pleasing and unmarked copy with a touch of light scattered foxing throughout. Accompanied by a 3 page Autograph Letter Signed from the author to W. D. Ticknor regarding her publication plans for The Lamplighter; letter in overall good condition and legible, with the exception of some paper loss to one page affecting one line of text. A female coming-of-age story recognized as one of the best selling books published in America in the 1850s, the present copy carries with it evidence of the author's involvement in and commitment to ensuring its successful distribution.
At 27 years old, Maria Susanna Cummins became a best-selling author with the release of her first novel The Lamplighter. A coming-of-age narrative from a young woman's perspective, it predated by several decades the Mark Twain novels that would later be called the exemplars of the genre. "The Lamplighter tells the story of Gertrude Flint, an abandoned and mistreated orphan rescued at age eight from her abusive guardian Nan Grant by Trueman Flint, a lamplighter" (Barnes). A contemporary reviewer hailed it as "one of the most original and natural narratives" and predicted success -- and succeed it did, breaking records and selling 40,000 copies within the first eight weeks of its release and totaling 70,000 copies sold by the end of that year (Barnes). "It is a commonplace in American publishing history that The Lamplighter was one of the best selling books published in America in the 1850s" (Williams).
An educated woman, Cummins was both creative and business-savvy. Her debut novel's popularity was in part the result of its ability to attract a wide audience; it did this by assuaging some social anxieties about the novel by "articulating the values of feminine self sacrifice and maternal power inherent in middle class domesticity" while also depicting "the protagonist's growing sense of independence, which implicitly contests those values" (Williams). But it was also through Cummin's own involvement in its marketing and publication that these wide audiences were able to access the book. "Soon after The Lamplighter was published, it became available in a variety of formats," from children's abridged books, finely illustrated editions, and railroad editions; "Cummins' publishers both in America and abroad sought to extend her audience well beyond middle-class American women...and they promoted the book in such a way as to guarantee its success. Packaging and promotion went hand in hand" (Williams). As the included ALS shows, Cummins had strong ideas about what publisher would best promote her novels and in what formats she wanted them released. She writes in part: " I think if you should see Mr. Jewett about The Lamplighter, that matter could be arranged with much less difficulty than has proven the case with Mabel Vaughan. I care more about you having The Lamplighter than MV." Jewett did, indeed, publish and market both works, leading to Cummins' international fame. Near Fine (Item #4367)