Friday, July 19, 2013

Department-store Shakespeare

I have been thinking about the world this receipt represents, or the world that I think this receipt represents. I found the receipt in an Anchor Doubleday paperback reprint of Mark Van Doren’s Shakespeare, a book first published in 1939. The paperback price is ninety-five cents. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the receipt goes with the book, which belonged to Jim Doyle and bears his name. Van Doren’s book is one of at least a dozen that I have from Jim, who was my professor for three classes at Fordham College in the late 1970s.

Jordan Marsh was a celebrated Boston department store that grew into a New England chain. Its Malden store opened in 1954. Jim Doyle grew up in Cambridge, a few miles from Malden, and attended Malden Catholic High School. In 1965, Jim would have been a student at Providence College in Rhode Island. His twenty-first birthday was on April 9, 1965. Was he home for the occasion and spending some birthday money? I would like to think so, but it’s just as likely that he bought the book used, perhaps years later, with the original receipt still tucked between pages.

Here’s what boggles my mind (assuming again that the receipt goes with the book): in 1965, a suburban department store’s book department carried at least one work of Shakespearean criticism.

Other Jim Doyle posts
Doyle and French
From the Doyle edition
Jim Doyle (1944–2005)
A Jim Doyle story
Teaching, sitting, standing

[The Department Store Museum is an excellent source for background on Jordan Marsh. That’s where I found the 1954 date. My guess that Jim was home from college for a long Easter break (Providence cancels classes for Easter Monday) fell through: in 1965, Easter fell on April 18. (There’s a website). Mark Van Doren’s Shakespeare is still available from New York Review Books.]

comments: 5

Adair said...

This is absolutely right: American department stores once had book sections (not to mention book sections that carried literary material). They also use to have stationery sections, lp record sections, Boy Scout uniform sections, and tea rooms...If your younger readers want to see what American department stores were like once, they should go to Germany, and especially Berlin's "Ka-De-We."

Michael Leddy said...

I just saw their website — amazing.

I remember the stamp and coin department too. And record departments sometimes had musical instruments too. I remember staring at guitars in one when very young — I hadn’t thought of that in years.

Geo-B said...

Whenever I was in downtown Cincinnati when I was in high school in the 1960s, which was most Saturdays because I played in a Youth Symphony, I would stop in the great downtown department store Shillitos, because its art department was like a gallery, with paintings by Leger and Matisse, among others.

Michael Leddy said...

George, did you see The Department Store Museum’s Shillito’s post?

Adair said...

Ah, yes, I forgot the coin and stamp departments, and art supplies and musical instruments...There were areas of fabric rolls and Butterick dress patterns, too, for people who made their own clothes. And some department stores even had pets and pet supplies!

Nabokov and his amazing Vera went to Ka-De-We in the 20s or 30s to get their passport photos taken.