November 17, 2003 Vol. VIII, No. 7

One of the world's best Charles Dickens collections will come to the Oviatt Library courtesy of its owner, scholar Harry Stone. Pictured with works by the Victorian novelist are (from left) Special Collections and Archives Curator Tony Gardner, President Jolene Koester, Stone and Library Dean Susan Curzon.

Professor Donates Prized Dickens Collection to University

Retired English Teacher Harry Stone Spends Lifetime Amassing Thousands of Books, Writings, Illustrations

Retired Cal State Northridge English professor Harry Stone, who quietly spent a lifetime amassing one of the world's largest and finest collections of books and other materials on famed English novelist Charles Dickens, has agreed to donate the priceless collection to the university and its Oviatt Library.

"This Dickens collection is one of the three or four best in the world," said Stone, a professor emeritus who taught at Cal State Northridge from 1960 until his retirement in 1992. "Cal State Northridge will have a treasure that I hope will be utilized by the world and one that also will add greatly to the prestige of the university," Stone added.

University President Jolene Koester praised Stone, a 77-year-old Westside resident, for his generosity in donating the vast collection through a bequest in his estate plan. "These kinds of gifts are so special because we would never have them without the extraordinary generosity of our very dedicated faculty members, such as professor Stone," Koester said.

A sampling of the thousands of items in the Harry Stone Dickens Collection is on display now through Wednesday, November 26 on the second floor, west wing, of the university's Oviatt Library. The university also will honor Stone's gift with a $75-per-person "Traditional Dickens Dinner" on Friday, November 21, at 6 p.m. in the Oviatt Library.

A world renowned Dickens scholar who has authored or edited nine books on Dickens and contributed sections to more than a dozen others, Stone has spent the past 60 years building his personal Dickens collection literally piece-by-piece. The collection includes prized writings by Dickens, handwritten letters and photos from throughout the author's life, and an array of other items relating to Dickens and his many works.

"The power of the collection is in its wide range and completeness, offering anything you might want to study by or about Dickens. A lot of these items you won't find in any other collection," said Stone, who taught English literature at the university and specialized in Victorian literature and Dickens during his long and distinguished career.

Dickens, who authored such classics as "David Copperfield," "Oliver Twist" and "A Tale of Two Cities," is often considered the greatest novelist ever to have written in the English language. He was born in 1812 and died in 1870.

Under the terms of Stone's bequest, the collection will remain in his family during his lifetime and then pass to the university, where it will be kept in its entirety in the Oviatt Library's Special Collections area. The collection is so large that Tony Gardner, the university's curator of Special Collections and Archives, has worked for months just beginning to catalog it.

"We are honored that this magnificent collection will be entrusted to us," said Susan Curzon, dean of the University's Library. "This is the collection of a distinguished scholar who devoted his professional life to understanding the greatest novelist of the Victorian Age. The collection will be an extraordinary resource for scholars," Curzon said.

"This resource will be of great interest to scholars from across the nation and the globe, and is a truly magnificent gift to Cal State Northridge, the community of Dickens enthusiasts, and the reading public generally," added Donald Hall, chair of the university's English Department and himself a specialist on Victorian literature.

A contemporary of Stone, veteran Northridge English professor John Clendenning, who retired this year after 43 years on campus, called him "perhaps the most distinguished scholar the English Department ever had." Clendenning added, "Professor Stone's collection is absolutely priceless. He is a bibliophile in the best sense of the word."

Stone credits his love of books and Dickens to the influence of his father Bernard, an Oxford University graduate and voracious reader, and a home environment filled with many different kinds of books. "My first exposure to Dickens occurred as a child before I could even read," Stone said, recalling seeing illustrated versions of Dickens tales in his earliest years.

After beginning to collect Dickens materials in his late teens, Stone became more active in the early 1950s when he was doing research for his doctoral degree in English literature and his dissertation on Dickens. Not only did the collecting nourish his love of books and Dickens, but it also provided the practical benefit of having his research materials close at hand.

Thus through the decades, whether at home in Los Angeles or while traveling abroad for his research in England and elsewhere, Stone made purchases with his personal funds whenever an opportunity arose. "I did it because I loved these things. I did it because they were useful to me. A whole variety of reasons came together for me to do this," he said.

Stone came to Cal State Northridge in 1960 when the then two-year-old institution was known as San Fernando Valley State College. Apart from the current exhibition in the Oviatt Library and a prior display Stone hosted at the campus in 1962, his collection has never been publicly available. That means it may be the finest private Dickens collection in the world.

Among the hundreds of Dickens items now on display in the Oviatt Library are a handwritten Dickens letter, all the first editions of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby," an original steel etching plate used to create an illustration for "Nicholas Nickleby," a set of Royal Doulton bone china figurines of Dickens' characters, and a Dickens board game invented by his great great granddaughter.

The broader Harry Stone Dickens Collection includes complete sets of all of Dickens' novels as they were variously published during his lifetime, including his novels as they first appeared in monthly parts and later were published as bound books.

The collection also includes books from Dickens' personal library, drawings and illustrations about Dickens' works, books by other authors including Stone about Dickens and his characters, and even books by and about Dickens printed in other languages including French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Hebrew.

"There is a huge universe of laughter, sadness, satire and social comment in Dickens' writings," Stone said, explaining his admiration for the author. "The great thing about Dickens is he wasn't a narrow writer. He went all over the map, literally. You could be interested in many different aspects of human life and thought, and it would all be connected together.

"Studying Dickens has been a joy and a revelation to me. It was something that gave joy and meaning to my life," Stone said. "Having this collection at Cal State Northridge will allow the world to appreciate what this man did and what this man was capable of."

The current Harry Stone Dickens Collection exhibition at the Oviatt Library is free and open to the public through November 26. The Dickens Dinner honoring Stone on November 21 in the Oviatt Library has limited seating. Those interested in purchasing the $75 per-person tickets can contact the Oviatt Library by November 17 at (818) 677-2638.

@csun | November 17, 2003 issue
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