The Gadfly – Enduring and Collectible

The Gadfly, by E. L. Voynich (NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1897)

The Gadfly, by E. L. Voynich (NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1897)

Here is a lovely first edition decorated American publisher’s binding that is also a gripping and critically acclaimed novel set in revolutionary Italy during the mid-1800’s.

The Gadfly was first published in 1897 (United States, June; Great Britain, September of the same year).  It has become a classic revolutionary book which has been reprinted hundreds of times in multiple languages.

Our copy of THE GADFLY bears the bookplate of Maria Rebecca Audubon (granddaughter of John James Audubon) on front fixed endpaper

Our copy of THE GADFLY bears the bookplate of Maria Rebecca Audubon (granddaughter of John James Audubon) on front fixed endpaper

There have been five theatrical adaptations; seven opera, music or ballet adaptations, and six film adaptations around the world between 1923 and 2003 of this book.  It has been a best seller in many countries – The Gadfly is estimated to have sold 2,500,000 copies in the Soviet Union alone.

A later American edition (NY: Cameron Associates)

A later American edition (NY: Cameron Associates, 1957)

The central theme of the book is man’s conflict with the two great antagonisms – intellectual independence against religious and political conformity.  The protagonist, a devout Catholic at age 19, is caught by the Italian police for illegal political activity and is then betrayed while in prison by a priest, through his confession in the Catholic Church.  Shocked and disillusioned, he flees the country for South America, leaving a suicide note for his family and few remaining friends, only to return years later in disguise to seek revenge for his betrayal and continue his passionate fight for honor and justice. An old romance is soon rekindled, and it takes awhile before the woman even realizes who the man is that she has fallen in love with again.

The Gadfly deals with the greatest of human experiences – love between a man and a woman, love for one’s fellow man, and man’s timeless struggle to relate his love of humanity to his political, spiritual and ethical decisions in life.  There is heroism, romance, adventure, great escapes and tragedy here.  The book’s theme is as relevant today as when it was published in 1897, and it is still a compelling story.

Ethel Lilian Voynich

Author E. L. Voynich was born Ethel Lilian Boole in County Cork, Ireland in 1864.  In 1902 she married Wilfrid Michael Voynich, a Polish revolutionary, antiquarian book dealer and bibliophile.  Her husband won fame for his discovery in 1915 of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript,which presently resides in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. 

The Voynich Manuscript is an illustrated codex handwritten in an unknown writing system which has been carbon dated to the early 15th century.  It has been studied by countless cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II, but no one has succeeded in deciphering the text. 

Voynich moved to the United States in 1920 when her husband transferred his rare book business here.  She wrote four novels, including The Gadfly, between 1897 and 1911, and translated several Russian Classics into English.  The next twenty years of her life were devoted to composing choral and choral-orchestral music.  In 1931 she translated Chopin’s letters from the Polish and French.

Ethel Lilian Voynich died on July 27, 1960 in New York City at age 96. The Gadfly remains her most important and famous work.  Her books are listed below:

     Stories from Garshin (1893)

    The Gadfly (1897)

    Jack Raymond (1901)

    Olive Latham (1904)

    An Interrupted Friendship (Russian Ovod v Izgnanii -meaning “The Gadfly in exile”) (1910)

    Put Off Thy Shoes (1945) 


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