April 19, 2016

Teacher seeks owner of rare edition of Persuasian


Image courtesy of Boston Globe

Image courtesy of Boston Globe

A heartwarming story out of Middlesex County: a high school teacher has set out to reunite a rare edition of Jane Austen‘s Persuasion with the family of its original owner. (Not to be confused with that first edition of The Iliad.)

Steve Annear reports for the Boston Globe:

The tattered book with the small golden stag embossed on its cover, bearing the initials “JA” underneath, arrived in March in an envelope that read, “Ayer High School. ATTN: English Department.”

Along with the musty leatherbound book there was a letter. It had a picture of a rose in the bottom righthand-corner, and was addressed to “anyone who cares.”

Eleanor Capasso, once she realized what she might have in her possession, cared deeply.

As a rare book collector and head of the English department at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School, Capasso said that being sent what she believes could be a first edition of a Jane Austen novel felt a lot like winning the golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

“This is what English teachers live for,” said Capasso. “This—and being published as novelists.”

The book displays a publication date of 1818, though the book’s true age has yet to be verified. It holds an inscription that indicates the original owner was a Lillian M. Flood, an Ayer High School alumna who won the book as a prize in May 1900. From Flood, the book eventually made its way into the possession of the mother of Alice B. Bantle of Pawley Island, South Carolina. Bantle’s mother, formerly of Dudley, Massachusetts, then left the book to her daughter, who subsequently sent it back to Ayer with the following note: “Even though ‘Persuasion’ is in very bad shape, it might be of interest to someone in your English Department, or traced back to its original family.”

Capasso, meanwhile, has taken up the challenge to track down Flood’s remaining family.

Capasso has the time, she said, because it’s almost school vacation week.

“My vacation will be spent at Town Hall,” looking at records, and sifting through old high school yearbooks, she said. “It’s not quite the Bahamas.”

But having the book feels just as good as the sun would on her face.

“For an English teacher, this is like the Holy Grail,” she said. “This makes my career to have in my possession a possible first edition.”

It’s lovely to witness an educator work during her time off to do a good deed, especially given her clear respect for the object itself. Here’s hoping she’s successful!



Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.