What comes to mind when you think of graphic novels? Unless you’re among the form’s most diehard fans, most of us would be unlikely to identify a pioneering book which uses 94 woodcut prints to present the life of a middle-class girl living in the Czech Republic.
The book, entitled, From My Childhood, is considered to be the first graphic novel devised by a woman. And now, thanks to a $1 million dollar donation by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to the State Library of Victoria’s Women’s Writers Fund, a signed first edition of From My Childhood, now calls the library home.
Popular throughout the twentieth century, graphic novels first emerged from Europe in the 1920s. From My Childhood was published in 1929, making its author a pioneer of the form, regardless of her gender.
State Library Victoria CEO, Paul Duldig said the book’s presence in the library’s collection will help to correct the perception that the graphic novel is largely a male genre.
“It offers a visual insight into the ordinary life of a girl in a rural town, allowing her voice and experience to be respected and engaged with on the same level as the experiences of a male, urban artist.”
The work was acquired alongside Emilie du Chatelet’s French translation of Principa Mathematica by Isaac Newton. This translation is still considered the standard French translation today.
Duldig said that du Chatelet’s works were the perfect example of why it’s important to look for women’s voices.
“She was a remarkable woman, whose ideas were championed by and influenced the work of other leading figures of the French Enlightenment, including Voltaire and Diderot.”
The purchase of these two books represents the most recent efforts by the library to address historical gender bias in its collection. These efforts have largely been supported by the Women Writers Fund, which has enabled the library to add over 100 titles to its collection since it was established a year ago.
Acquiring each title involves a considerable amount of research and lengthy negotiations with a vendor. Duldig said that philanthropic support was integral to the library’s ability to grow its collection at such a pace.
“To grow the collection in this way this quickly is significant and has only been possible with the support of our key donors,” he said.
“We would never have had the opportunity to acquire Du Chatelet’s works without the dedicated support the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust has given to the Women Writers Fund.”
Board President, Christine Christian added that philanthropy empowered the library to promote the books once they are safely housed on its shelves.
“We want more people to know about the knowledge and treasures here – items that belong to them and can improve their lives,” she said.
The grant from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to the State Library is made alongside a $250,000 commitment to the Stella Prize, the major literary award celebrating women’s writing.