Factory House library

In 1982 McFarlin Library added a most unusual collection of nineteenth century fiction formed at the time the books were being published. In the early 1820s the merchants and wine-traders who had come from Britain and settled in Porto (also called Oporto), Portugal, felt the need for a library of English books to serve the increasing number of British families living in and near the city. A small library had existed earlier, but this had been destroyed during the Peninsular war and had not been replaced. A librarian was appointed who also used an agent in London to supply books as they were published. A fiction library was established at an early date, with the titles being chosen either by the librarian, by the agent or in response to the wishes of the readers. To cope with a British population which numbered about 1,000 at its peak, the number of titles was considerably increased also to 1,000 over the following 70 years. In time the local population of readers decreased and many of the books were withdrawn from circulation. Tastes in literature also changed and once popular authors were no longer read. So the books were returned to the shelves or stored away in back rooms. The current and popular books were located in a more accessible place and gradually the “old” fiction library was forgotten.

This intact circulating library formed between 1820 and 1890 was discovered in the 1970s and thence moved to The University of Tulsa. It was started when the three-volume (or “three decker” or “triple-decker”) novel was supplanting the Gothic four-volume novel. The collection ended in the 1890s when the three-decker was at its last gasp, and the one-volume novel had finally replaced it. The library also includes one- and two-volume titles published at the same time and in its entirety numbers 2.500 volumes of 1,000 titles. This remarkable library provides insights into the reading tastes of a British community living abroad in the nineteenth century.

It holds such outstanding items as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein side by side with the works of that popular author of sea tales, Captain Chamier. The prolific and popular Mrs. Gore is represented by over 20 novels, mostly in first editions. W. Harrison Ainsworth, Lady Blessington, the “silver fork” novels of R. P. Ward, and others are widely represented, as are the works of the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper. Mrs. Frances Trollope has some 18 titles present; all very rare, and both her sons Anthony and Thomas Adolphus are represented by scarce titles. Charles Reade, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Banim, the popular Mrs. Oliphant, Captain Marryat (a considerable collection), Mary Russell Mitford, Anne Manning, George MacDonald, Henry Kingsley, Lord Lytton, a desirable group of novels by G. P. R. James, Disraeli, Mrs. Braddon, and Rhoda Broughton are just some of the many writers of the century whose works are present, usually in first editions.

About Marc Carlson

The Librarian of Special Collections and University Archives, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa since November 2005.He holds a Masters in Library and Information Studies from the University of Oklahoma, and a Bachelor of Arts in History and Anthropology from Oklahoma State University. He has worked in McFarlin Library since 1986.
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  1. Pingback: The Swiss Family Robinson and… Frankenstein? | From McFarlin Tower

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