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|2. AUSTIN, Mary [Hunter] (1868-1934).
The Land of Little Rain. Boston & New York: Houghton,
Mifflin, 1903. xi  280  pp., pictorial title page, frontispiece,
3 halftone plates and numerous marginal decorations by E. Boyd Smith, text
illustrations. Square 8vo, original gilt-lettered olive green pictorial
ribbed cloth, t.e.g. Very slightly shelf-slanted, overall fine and bright.
Front pastedown with two bookplates (Edward Robeson Taylor and Edward Dewitt
Taylor, noted fine printers of San Francisco; see Hart, Companion to
California, p. 440). With pencil notes on lower pastedown by Warren R.
Howell of John Howell–Books: “$37.50 HME 1st ed. Very fine copy
Zamorano 80.” Consignor code HME indicates that this copy came from the
collection of Dr. Herbert M. Evans, bibliophile and discoverer of Vitamin
First edition of author’s first book, first printing; distinguishing factors of the first printing include tipped-in publisher’s note about illustrator (rather than integral) and illustrations printed in dark brown ink. Cowan II, p. 24. Dykes, Fifty Great Western Illustrators (Smith) 29. Edwards, Enduring Desert, p. 14. Graff 114. Howell 50, California 273: “The illustrations and marginal decoration by E. Boyd Smith vividly capture the atmosphere of the desert life described in this literary classic.” Howes A400. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 2. LC, California Centennial 278. Norris 155. Notable American Women I, pp. 67-69: “Mary Austin determined upon a writing career. While moving with her husband from one parched desert town to another she worked at the craft and made studies of the Indians she encountered. A dozen years of ‘picking and prying’ into the mysteries of the wastelands at last crystallized in fourteen sketches which she wrote at white heat. They were published in 1903 as The Land of Little Rain, her first book, which brought her sudden renown and survives yet as a Western classic.... Mary Austin’s chief accomplishment as an author remains her treatment of the arid regions of the West and their manifold life, including that of the Indian.” Powell, California Classics, pp. 44-52; Land of Fact 1: “The California-Nevada borderlands east of the Sierra Nevada are the setting of these clairvoyant essays, which won the author a place in American literature.... There are many editions of her first book to choose from. The first and a later one, with Ansel Adams photographs, are costly.” Streeter Sale 3029. Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, pp. 189-99, 219-22. Zamorano 80 #2. ($250-500)
|2A. AUSTIN, Mary
[Hunter]. The Land of Little Rain. Boston & New York, .
x  280  pp., pictorial title page, frontispiece, 3 halftone
plates and numerous marginal decorations by E. Boyd Smith, text illustrations.
8vo, original tan pictorial cloth. Fine in very good
d.j. (lightly worn, chipped, and darkened).
Later printing. The d.j. blurb includes a comment by H. G. Wells: “Mary Austin will live when many of the portentous reputations of to-day may have served their purpose in the world and become no more than fading names.” ($30-60)
2B. AUSTIN, Mary [Hunter]. The
Land of Little Rain. Boston & Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin
and Company & Riverside Press, 1950. xviii  133  pp., 48 photoplates
by Ansel Adams, endpaper maps. 4to, original yellow and orange cloth. Very
fine in near fine d.j. (light chipping and slightly faded).
This paean to the high California
desert consists of fourteen sketches based on personal observation following
solitary sojourns tramping through desert trails and “the streets of the
mountains.” Mary Austin, naturalist, feminist, mystic, and poet, wrote
thirty-five books and hundreds of articles during her lifetime, but The
Land of Little Rain, her first book, is regarded as her masterpiece.
Her nature writings have been compared to those of John Muir (q.v.), John
Burroughs, and Henry David Thoreau. Living in the little town of Independence,
Inyo County, she, more than anyone, succeeded in conveying the beauty of
this simultaneously forbidding yet magnetic landscape with its hardy mixture
of plants, animals, and human beings. Lawrence Clark Powell summed up
the beauty of her words, writing: “With her feet on earth and her head
in the sky, she gave voice in singing prose to the soul of a hitherto unsung
land.” Through her carefully crafted essays, she conveyed to her readers
the feel of the soil, the inherent beauty of the desert flora, the graceful
movements of the rattlesnake, and the pleasant aromas emanating from a
Native American cooking bowl. Importantly, Austin painted a word picture
of an Owens Valley that would soon be changed forever when a thirsty Los
Angeles siphoned off the life-giving water from this “land of little rain.”
——Gary F. Kurutz
Additional sources consulted: Augusta Fink, I—Mary: A Biography of Mary Austin (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1983); Jacqueline D. Hall, “Mary Hunter Austin,” in A Literary History of the American West (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987), pp. 359-69; Lawrence Clark Powell, California Classics (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1971), pp. 44-52.