Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

Will and Jane go to war

Penguin Editions
Penguin Editions

During World War I, the works of Shakespeare and Austen reached American troops on active duty through the American Library Association’s “War Service Library” program.  Between 1917 and 1920, the program collected donations of used books to help them distribute reading materials to the military, ultimately amounting to over 100 million books and magazines to hospitals and encampments.

This battered edition of Pride and Prejudice with Northanger Abbey, printed in the 1880s in Philadelphia as one rather hefty volume, is an example of such wartime reading. Remarkably, it survives in its original publisher’s binding by Porter & Coates.

Pride and Prejudice with Northanger Abbey

Similarly, this particular 1892 copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare was part of the same wartime book drive. Pasted inside both of these rare survivors are the WWI camp library bookplates that served as their passports to the front. Austen and Shakespeare were deemed wholesome and entertaining reading—fitting reminders of the European traditions that the American military had joined the Allies to protect.