top of page
Le Morte Darthur by Thomas Malory / Aubrey Beardsley first edition 1893-94

Le Morte Darthur by Thomas Malory / Aubrey Beardsley first edition 1893-94


MALORY, Sir Thomas; Aubrey BEARDSLEY, [Illus.]

Le Morte Darthur

London: J. M. Dent & Co., [1893-1894]


Large 4tos., 12 vols; original green publisher’s wrappers printed in black; with repeat design by Beardsley to upper covers, titles along spine, and advertisements to lower; complete throughout with 18 full and double-page wood-engraved plates, as well as over 350 chapter headings, illustrative borders, rubricated initials and additional in-text decorations by Beardsley; some with the original tissue-guards; the title, frontis and contents found half-way through vols VI and XII; the incredibly fragile wrappers all creased, nicked and chipped to the edges, with closed tears; lower cover of Vol I torn, and repaired internally with archival tape; all covers slightly dirtied, but marginally so; the pages, sometimes found foxed in the superior issue, here remaining clean and bright, save for some patches of very light spotting to the fore-edge, and one or two spots to some of the final endpapers; a remarkable survival.   


First edition, and first appearance of Beardsley’s interpretation of Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas Malory’s chronicle of Arthurian legend. One of 1500 copies produced on ordinary paper. Initially published thus, in monthly parts, subscribers received 12 in total, (the last being a double issue). Upon publication of the final issue, most customers returned the complete set to the publisher to be finely bound (indeed, Dent’s advertisement offering such a service can be found tipped in to the front of Vol. XII), making this unbound set of parts rare indeed. 


As a young man, Beardsley would often frequent London bookshops, and it was through mutual friend and bookshop owner Frederick Evans that he first became acquainted with J. M. Dent. Dent was in the process of planning a beautifully-illustrated edition of the Arthurian legends, using a style similar to that of William Morris’ Kelmscott press, but using a less-expensive printing process. Upon receiving Beardsley’s sample, The Achieving of Sangreal - here used as a frontispiece - the publisher was so impressed that he immediately commissioned the artist to produce the illustrations for all 12 volumes. At the time a 20 year old insurance office clerk, and relatively unknown as an artist, it is certainly true that the publication rocketed the young Beardsley to fame, and it went on to become one of the most controversial 19th century interpretations of the classic tales. 


It is evident, in the illustrious full-page illustrations, that Beardsley’s first major commission was intended to cause a stir. In fact, it did much more than just that, proving to be such a sensation that it cemented him as somewhat of a legend himself, and positioned him right at the forefront of the major illustrators of the day. In fact, the Morte constituted almost half of his life’s work, and their interpretation, in their strong black line, with an overtly erotic tone, was in direct competition with the more popular pre-Raphaelite imagery in which he had been educated. Ultimately, Beardsley took “a revisionist and parodic treatment of their medievalism…[he] went far beyond his original intention to 'flabbergast the bourgeois' of his day; he also challenged generations of readers and artists to view Arthurian society through his own modernist lens" (Lupack, chapter 4).


Originally penned in 15th century Middle English, the tales include such notable figures as Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table, with sources from both French and English tellings of the classic tales. First published in print by William Caxton in 1485, it was Wynkyn de Worde who produced the first illustrated edition in 1498, after inheriting Caxton’s printing works. By the mid 17th century, interest in Arthurian legend began to decline, as the European trend tended towards more classic tastes, and the tales remained out of favour for many years in the centuries that followed. It was not until the 19th century that the Arthurian revival truly brought the stories back to popular interest, in particular with Tennyson’s reworking of the poems. Victorian society began to regard Arthurian legend as the starting point for their history, with the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood favouring the mystical and ritualistic aspects to the legends. 


A lavish, and strikingly beautiful production.

    Product Page: Stores_Product_Widget
    bottom of page