Showing posts with label bibliomania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bibliomania. Show all posts

May 27, 2014

Anna M. C. Knutsson on "It's Beyond My Control": A Historical and Psychiatric Investigation into the Claim of Bibliomania in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime

Anna Knutsson studied history at the University of St Andrews before going on to work in the auction world. Since then she has worked as an editor for the Council of Europe and a library manager. She has lately been working on a publication about early books on geology and have been a regular contributor to the ARCA blog since the summer of 2013. In December 2013 she completed the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Heritage Protection and was awarded with the Outstanding Dissertation Award for her treatment of bibliomania. She is currently working as a freelance writer based in London.
“It’s Beyond My Control” A Historical and Psychiatric Investigation into the Claim of Bibliomania
Book theft has been an on-going problem ever since books first appeared. The list of prominent book thieves includes such illustrious names as King Ptolemaios and Pope Innocent X. However, whilst book thieves have occurred in the popular literature from time to time an academic overview of the phenomenon has been remarkably absent. The fact that they are rarely caught might have contributed to their elusive character. What makes them particularly interesting is that they, as opposed to most other art criminals, are nearly all collectors themselves. This article considers why book thieves willingly risk their own security and reputation to acquire books and exactly how far compulsive collecting might reach into the dark crevasses of the mind. This article strives to give a brief historical overview of the argument that bibliomania is a diagnosable condition. Having established the historic link between bibliomania and the psychiatric discipline article analyses past and current psychoanalyst ideas on bibliomania in order to explore what bibliomania is and how it works. Whilst by the mid twentieth century the scientific concern with bibliomania had all but disappeared this article explores what recent developments in neuroscience might reveal about bibliomania and whether this could affect the treatment and punishment of book thieves. 
Looking from the outside, the love of books can seem like a folly. People spending large amounts of money on some dusty old boards and some ink-spotted leaves. From the inside, book collecting can be the most rewarding and mysterious element of their lives. So rewarding and mysterious, in fact, that it might be in danger of taking over their lives. This is what is known as bibliomania, book obsession. Bibliomania occurs when the love of books, bibliophilia, takes a turn down the darker corridors of the human mind. Books suddenly become the ruling passion and nothing is considered that is not in relation to books: where to live, who to marry and so on. 
The bibliomaniacs usually find nothing wrong in the affliction, but see book love as the most elevated form of love and whilst they may joke about the ‘book-disease’, they are rarely serious about the adverse effects. Despite this, bibliomania has often been related to bibliokleptomania, the stealing of books. 
The theft of books has alternatively been described as the most heinous and the most forgivable of crimes. Some would say that taking a book amounts to taking a part of the possessor’s soul, whilst others would argue that the person who loves the book the most is its ‘natural’ possessor, and the real crime would persist in actually damaging the book. Occasionally, bibliomania, or an ‘uncontrollable passion for books’ has been used as a defense for book theft, and on some rare occasions it has indeed worked in the favor of the accused. 
This article investigates whether bibliomania can indeed be considered a disorder. One of the few attempts to diagnose bibliomania in the modern period was conducted in 1966 by Norman D. Weiner in ‘On Bibliomania’. However, his article focuses almost solely on interpreting bibliomania in the light of psychoanalytic literature. In addition to this there are some highly dated articles such as Paul F. Cranefield’s ‘Diagnosis and Treatment of Book Collecting’ from 1964, where bibliomania is linked to cigarette smoking, air pollution and even explained as a viral infection. It seems that what is needed is an updated attempt to consider bibliomania in the light of new psychiatric developments and neuroscientific discoveries. 
Although book collectors at large will be passing through these pages the main focus for this investigation is looking at how and why book collecting can turn into a real obsession that takes over the subject’s life. Therefore, book thieves stealing for profit will not be considered as they have different motivations. Rather the intention of this article is to assess the defense of compulsion and whether or not this might viably be used by the chronic book-collecting thief. 
It is also important to mention that I am not an educated psychiatrist or neuroscientist but an historian. I do not propose to develop a diagnosis for bibliomania, rather, this investigation intends to evaluate the claims of bibliomania and see whether there could be any scientific backing for them.
You may finish reading this article in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue (#11) of The Journal of Art Crime edited by ARCA founder Noah Charney. The Journal of Art Crime may be accessed through subscription or in paperback from The Table of Contents is listed on ARCA's website here. The Associate Editors are Marc Balcells (John Jay College of Law) and Christos Tsirogiannis (University of Cambridge). Design and layout (including the front cover illustration) are produced by Urška Charney.

March 10, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014 - 2 comments

'Bibliomania': Gustave Flaubert; Don Vincente, Catalan monk and Barcelona bookseller; Murder and Planas' Argument with a Legend

by A.M.C. Knutsson

In early 1837 a young promising writer published a novella called ‘Bibliomania’ in the French literary magazine Le Colibri. [1]  The young writer’s name was Gustave Flaubert and his novella was inspired by a news article that the 16-year-old had read only a few months earlier.

In October 1836 an article had appeared in La Gazette des Tribunaux accounting for the wondrous tale of Don Vincente a Catalan monk who after the dissolution of his monastery, Poblet, had become a bookseller in Barcelona. Whilst it was unknown whether Don Vincente could read, he was never seen reading a book, his passion for books was indisputable. It was described that he was very unwilling to part with all but the cheapest of his stock and once a valuable book entered his collection it would most likely never emerge again. Evil gossip circulated about the book dealer and people hinted at a dubious origin for his impressive stock. People suggested that the poor monk might have helped himself to the monastery library contents at the dissolution of Poblet.

At a book auction in the middle of 1836 a very rare book came up for sale.  The book was Furs e Orinacions, printed in 1482 in Valencia by Lamberto Palmar – the first Spanish printer, and it immediately caused a stir. No other copy of this edition was known and any book collector worthy of the name would have made ample sacrifices to be able to add this treasure to their collection. Don Vincente was no different, he is said to have bid furiously at the auction but was in the end beaten by Agustin Patxot, a fellow book dealer.

However, not even a week after the sale the residents of Barcelona woke up to find Patxot’s shop devoured by flames. When the fire had finally been tamed the body of the bookseller was recovered under the debris of burnt books. It was concluded that he had fallen asleep whilst smoking. During this time several other bodies were also found around Barcelona, they bore no trace of robbing as gold and jewels had been left on the bodies. The nine people that were found had no seeming connection apart from their love of learning and their passion for books.

An investigation was commenced and by chance a police officer noticed Furs e Orinacions, on one of Don Vincente’s shelves. Remembering the title from all the buzz around the auction, he confronted Don Vincente. The former monk claimed that the book had been sold to him but other dealers insisted that this claim was most unlikely. Further investigations of Don Vincente’s stock revealed books that had belonged to several of the dead men and Vincente was arrested. After first denying his guilt, the article tells us that he finally admitted to the murders on the understanding that his library would remain intact.

Under questioning the prosecutor asked why Vincente had left Patxot’s money behind when he had taken the Furs e Orinacons. Vincente is said to have answered, “Take money? Me? Am I a thief?" Commenting on why he committed these monstrosities, he answered calmly “Men are mortal. Sooner or later, God calls them back to him. But good books need to be conserved.” Don Vincente was condemned to death.[2]
Gustave Flaubert’s account of Don Vincente’s destiny would not reappear at the printing presses again until 1910 in Oeuvres de Jeunesse Inédites, Vol. 1. However, many other writers would also lace their pens with ink to cover this marvelous story.  To these count:
·     Le Voleur, no. 60 (Paris, 31 Oct 1836)
·     The Literary Gazette; and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences &c., for the year                1837, (1837)
·     Serapeum (Leipzig), no. 22 (20 Nov 1843)
·     Jules Janin, Le Livre (Paris, 1870), pp. 120-27.
·     P. Blanchemain, Miscellanees Bibliographiques, II (1879)
·     Lang, Andrew, The Library, (1881)
·     Halkett, Lord, ‘Don Vincente, the Assassin Bookseller’, in The Book-Lover, Vol IV,              Oct 1903.
·     Jackson, Holbrook, The Story of Don Vincente, (1939)
·     Sander, Max, Bibliomania, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1931-1951),                Vol. 34, No 3, (1943)
·     Roland, Charles G., ‘Bibliomania’, JAMA, Vol 212, (1970)
·  Basbanes, Nicholas A., A Gentle Madness- Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, (1995)
·     Hoover Bartlett, Allison, The man who loved books too much, (2009)
The story reached far and H.C. Watson even wrote about the case in his Statistics of Phrenology (1836).

However, already in 1928 a book had appeared in Spain written by bibliophile and author Ramon Miquel I Planas (1874-1950). The name of the book was El Llibreter assassí de Barcelona, and in it Planas sought to rectify the story of Don Vincente, arguing that the anonymous article in La Gazette des Tribunaux, which had informed the world about the existence of Don Vincente, had been fictional. Indeed, Planas argued that the article had been written by French author and librarian Charles Nodier, (1780-1844), most known for his influence on the French Romantics. Planas argued that Don Vincente’s crime does not appear in any local newspapers of the time, that there was no monk by the name of Fra Vincentes at Poblet at the time of its closure, and that the local ‘colour’ does not ring true. [3] Despite the fact that little research has been conducted into the case of Don Vincente since Planas, most scholars hold his version for true despite a disagreement about the identity of the original author. If Nodier was indeed the original author, it is interesting to note that it was rumoured that Nodier had killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain. [4]

Only 14 years short of the centenary of Plana’s book it is high time to introduce his theories also into the English accounts of book thieves and to add a scrap of skepticism into the accounts of this famous library-assassin. 

[1] Richmond Ellis, Robert, ‘The legend of Fra Vicents in European and Catalan Culture’, in Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, Vol. 56, Issue 3, (2002), p. 129-131
[2] Anonymous, Gazette des Tribunaux, (23 Oct 1836)
[3] Private correspondence with Barry Taylor at the British Library, 17-18 September 2013  & Richmond Ellis, Robert, ‘The legend of Fra Vicents in European and Catalan Culture’, in Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures,  Vol 56, Issue 3, (2002)

[4] Loving, Matthew, ‘Charles Nodier: The Romantic Librarian’, Libraries & Culture, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Spring, 2003)