London: Henry Colburn, 1813. Five octavo volumes, measuring 7.5 x 4.5 inches. Original paper boards covered in green silk, manuscript paper spine labels. Publisher’s advertisements present, text uncut. Ink ownership signature of Charlotte Broome facing half-title in each volume. Light shelfwear to silk bindings, spines toned to brown, partial loss to spine labels.
Early edition of Sarah Burney’s third novel, published one year after the first, a Burney family copy in a homemade binding. Sarah Harriet Burney (1772-1844) was the much younger half-sister of acclaimed novelist Frances “Fanny” Burney, whose anonymous debut Evelina was the talk of London when Sarah was a young child. Sarah grew up in the shadow of Fanny and five other half-siblings, a close-knit group who resented their father Charles Burney’s second marriage to Sarah’s mother. Always something of an outsider in her own home, Sarah struggled, throughout her life, to forge stable family relationships, setting up house with her half-brother James for a period, and caring for her father in his last years, only to be effectively disinherited all the same. Sarah’s first two novels were published anonymously, without great success, but Traits of Nature, the first to appear under her own name, went through multiple editions in England and the United States. The young heroine Adela Cleveland, exiled from her family as a child, eventually finds happiness in marriage, but the real drama of the novel is in the contempt Adela endures from her hostile relations: “in the midst of society, to experience loneliness; in the thickest concourse, to feel like an outcast; and amongst a multitude of eager speakers to be the only being to whom no one addresses a word.” This copy of Traits of Nature belonged to Sarah’s youngest half-sister, Charlotte Burney Francis Broome, eleven years her senior: “I loved her warmly and fondly, -- perhaps the best of any of my family” (The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney, xxxiii). The original publisher’s paper boards have been neatly but inexpertly covered in silk, with handwritten labels pasted to the spines: very possibly Charlotte’s own work. A poignant association copy of the novel Sarah Burney considered her best, with notable parallels to her own precarious family position.