The Penn Libraries now houses the best collection of material relating to 18th century British novelist Laurence Sterne and his works in the western hemisphere with its acquisition of the Geoffrey Day Collection of Sterneana. Sterne is most famous for his nine-volume novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman which attracted a wide readership in its day and remained influential to writers and thinkers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and other modernists cited the influence of Sterne on their own work. His innovative stream-of-consciousness and self-referential prose has become a common feature of the contemporary literary canon. Sterne also used typography, art, and book layout in ways not before seen in the English novel. Every copy of the first edition of volume three of Tristram Shandy included a uniquely marbled leaf of paper inserted within the printed text. Subsequent editions and translations of the novel have had to grapple with this technical challenge. The Geoffrey Day Collection, for instance, contains dozens of examples of this marbled leaf, some elaborately colored, some cheaply and uniformly printed, and some blank with a textual note to the reader of what is missing.
Amassed by Day over a lifetime as a Sterne scholar, this collection includes over 100 volumes of Sterne’s work printed before 1800 in English alone, including three copies of the rare York-printed first edition of volumes one and two of Tristram Shandy. The collection also includes over 100 translations of Sterne’s work in 21 languages (including Basque, Japanese, and Hungarian), dating from Sterne’s lifetime to the present. Among these translations are at least two (one in German, one in Dutch) which are not known to exist anywhere else. Further, the Day collection also includes the only known copy of a completely spurious edition of volume 9 of Tristram Shandy, published clandestinely in 1767. Beyond Sterne’s fiction, the collection also contains copies of the works he drew from in his writing, editions of his letters and sermons, and difficult-to-locate scholarly works on Sterne from around the world. In addition to the purchase of his collection of printed volumes, Day gifted the Penn Libraries a manuscript letter written by Laurence Sterne to a local apothecary the day following the death of Sterne’s daughter in childbirth. Day had himself received the letter as a gift from scholar and Penn benefactor Dr. William Zachs (C’83) who helped connect the Penn Libraries with Day this past year.
The Day collection will add to what is already one of the premier collections of 18th century English fiction in North America including the Singer-Mendenhall collection and the Teerink collection of Jonathan Swift. The acquisition of this wealth of Sterne material builds on these strengths while also encouraging new research on experimental writing, book design, and the transmission of English fiction to continental Europe. The Penn Libraries was able to acquire the collection thanks to the generosity of local philanthropist Dan Gordon.
About the Penn Libraries
The Penn Libraries serves the world-class faculty and students of Penn’s 12 schools. The mission of the Penn Libraries is to provide high-quality information resources - both print and digital - in a manner that is reliable, timely, responsive to the needs of our constituents, and delivered with expertise while stewarding and preserving the knowledge contained in our holdings. The Penn Libraries is a force for the democratization of access to information and hands-on scholarly experimentation, equally available to all at the University and, increasingly, to the world. Collections at the Penn Libraries comprise more than 8.3 million volumes, over 192,000 journals, some 3.5 million digitized images, and extraordinary rare and unique materials that document the intellectual and cultural experience of ancient and modern civilizations. Through our collaborative relationships, we supplement Penn’s great local collections with physical access to the Center for Research Libraries (approximately 5 million items), the combined holdings of the Ivies (more than 70 million volumes), and exclusive electronic access to some 2 million public domain titles in the HathiTrust. Today, the Penn Libraries plays an instrumental role in developing new technologies for information discovery and dissemination, and we are noted for groundbreaking work in digital library design.
About the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
The Kislak Center is a vibrant space that brings together people, technology and unique content. Located on the top floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, it was redesigned in 2013 to allow several different groups to interact with objects of study simultaneously, increasing the use of primary resources in the University’s curriculum and access to the Libraries’ resources for the larger scholarly community. Today the Kislak Center encompasses the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Furness Memorial Shakespeare Library, the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. To learn more about the Kislak Center, visit http://www.library.upenn.edu/kislak.