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  • The Murray Edwards Duse Collection by Anna Sica and Alison Wilson
  • Thomas Postlewait
THE MURRAY EDWARDS DUSE COLLECTION. By Anna Sica and Alison Wilson. Milan: Mimesis Edizioni, 2012; pp. 300.

Eureka! The experience of making a major discovery in the archives is one of the great rewards for a scholar. These Eureka! moments, which usually result from a combination of diligent detective work and serendipity, are the justification for one’s research skills and determination. At the same time, the discoveries also result from the contributions of others. We stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, mentors, and colleagues. Moreover—as we sometimes acknowledge—we are beholden to the librarians and archivists who create, catalog, expand, maintain, and protect the research collections in which we make our discoveries. Their knowledge and dedication often make the difference between success and failure.

This book, which results from a four-year search for the missing personal library of the great Italian actress Eleonora Duse, is both a history of a decisive Eureka! moment, and also a fine illustration of the partnership of a scholar, Anna Sica, and a librarian, Alison Wilson. Sica, an Italian scholar who studies theatre history and the drama of Italy, Russia, and the United States, began her investigation of the lost Duse library in 2007. The search took her to Cambridge, England, in order to figure out how and why Duse’s library had apparently disappeared there. Duse’s letters reveal that between 1915 and 1921 she gathered together most of her books at Casa dell’Arco, her home in Asolo, Italy. She then sent boxes of books to Cambridge, where her daughter Enrichetta lived with her husband, scholar Edward Bullough, and their two children. Then in 1933, a decade after Duse’s death, Enrichetta transferred more of the books from Asolo to Cambridge. When Enrichetta died in 1961, her two children, Father Sebastian Bullough and Sister Mary Mark, donated the Cambridge books of their parents to New Hall (now Murray Edwards College). But because Enrichetta had removed Duse’s bookplates and name from most of the books, the donation was assumed to be the academic library of Bullough, who had died years earlier. Duse’s books had disappeared within the Bullough Bequest. [End Page 491]

Sica’s search led to a series of questions about events and motives in Cambridge. There, with the help of Wilson, who specializes in rare books and manuscripts, Sica carried out a major investigation and reclamation project. Why was Duse’s identity concealed? The mystery—a tale worthy of a P. D. James novel or a microhistory by Carlo Ginzburg—proves to be a fascinating case of family intrigues, acts of concealment and subterfuge, the destruction of vital documents, misguided religious sensibilities, and even spying for the British Intelligence Service by Bullough and Enrichetta. “The mystery of the disappearing library” was also related to Bullough’s questionable role in the establishment of a chair in Italian literature at Cambridge University in 1919. The arrival of Duse’s books apparently provided the opportunity for Bullough to transform himself into the Serena Professor of Italian and to claim Duse’s books as his own.

In the first section of The Murray Edwards Duse Collection, Sica presents the complicated history of the Duse library, from the period during World War I when Duse began to pack up the books to their recovery almost a century later. She also analyzes how the books reveal vital information about Duse’s life and acting methods. Complementing her history, Sica provides an annotated catalog of 137 pages that identifies the author, title, and publishing data, as well as the distinctive qualities for each of the books—more than 1,600 books in total. She also discloses which books have annotations by Duse. In addition, Sica presents, in the appendices, a catalog of the much smaller holdings of Duse’s books that are now located at the Asolo Municipal Museum and the Giorgio Cini Duse Collection in Italy. Concluding the book, Wilson presents a brief history of what happened to the Duse books when they were first cataloged as part of the Bullough Bequest, and then were identified and...


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pp. 491-492
Launched on MUSE
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