It is appropriate that the talk be in the Library’s Special Collections Reading Room for a number of reasons. Lovett is a former antiquarian bookseller, and remains an avid collector, especially of books by and about Lewis Carroll. Attendees will also be able to view a new exhibit about William Shakespeare, marking the campus celebration of Globe & Cosmos: Celebrating 450 Years of Shakespeare and Galileo. Not only is Lovett knowledgeable about the subject, the Bard and his work are important elements of his first novel, the best-selling The Bookman’s Tale, which introduced scores of readers to the meaning of the word bibliophile.
In his second novel, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, Lovett once again immerses readers in a world where books hold closely guarded secrets that threaten to turn the literary world upside down. For Lovett, old books hold a power like none other; in his mysteries, their contents become matters of life and death. Careful Austen scholars will note that First Impressions was the original title for Pride and Prejudice.
Here’s a synopsis of the new novel: In 1796, Jane Austen is living in Hampshire and working on her first book, an epistolary novel tentatively titled Elinor and Marianne, when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an aging cleric named Richard Mansfield. An author himself—albeit of a less-than-artful book of allegories—Mansfield soon becomes Jane’s closest literary companion. On long walks through the countryside and engaging chats by the fire, they offer each other not only friendship, but also professional advice. Neither can foresee the impact their collaborations will have on future generations. In present day London, Sophie Collingwood is a lifelong book lover bereft at the loss of her beloved Uncle Bertram. After his books are sold off to pay debts, Sophie takes a job at an antiquarian bookshop hoping to earn enough to slowly buy back the books and restore his collection. When, on the same day, two customers request a copy of the same obscure book—the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield—Sophie is drawn into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice. Sophie, a dogged researcher and devoted Jane Austen fan, is quickly drawn into a frantic search for a book that threatens not just Jane Austen’s reputation, but Sophie’s own life.
Combining a very Austen-like love triangle; a portrait of one of our greatest literary legends; and a tribute to the typesetters and printing presses of the eighteenth century, First Impressions may appeal especially to bibliophiles and Jane Austen lovers. It’s also a tale well told. Lovett pulls readers into his world where true joy comes from a life lived in books.
Charlie Lovett is a member of The Grolier Club, the preeminent club for bibliophiles in North America. He and his wife split their time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kingham, Oxfordshire, in England. He is also the recently-elected President of Bookmarks, the Winston-Salem-based organization known for putting on North Carolina’s largest and best-attended annual book festival for the past ten years.
For more information, see Charlielovett.com