London: Digby, Long & Co., . 8vo, 3 vols.: [iv], 225, [3, blank], 8 (ads, dated October 1894); [iv], 215, [1, blank], 8 (ads); [iv], 225, [3, blank], 8 (ads) pp. Original blue cloth, backstrips lettered in gilt, covers blocked in blind; light rubbing to the extremities, light foxing including titles, a very good copy. Extremely rare first edition and a completely overlooked Victorian triple-decker novel by a woman, published under a male pseudonym. It is the fourth and final novel of the little-known Lilian Duff (1863-1922). What is known of her seems to come solely from census records: she was the daughter of a Cheshire merchant, later the wife of a barrister-turned-Oxford tutor, she was a teacher herself and the mother of three children, one of whom was army officer and colonial administrator Sir Charles Patrick Duff (1889–1972) (victorianresearch.org).
Three of her novels are social dramas; the novel at hand being a classic tale of family intrigue and turbulent romance with a strong Aesthetic streak. (The fourth, fascinatingly, is a fictionalized biography of a 16th century French alchemist.) As Sotheran's write, "The Eccentrics is fortunate in that the title describes not only the main characters of the novel, but also the setting, prose, and probably the author... In wonderfully and needlessly dramatic fashion, the story is a classic tale woven of family intrigue, fainting ladies, and dark inheritances... Typical of novels contemporary to it, the main topic of discussion throughout the volumes is the possibility of marriage for the female protagonists, and how to attract the attentions of the men they desire. The men, however, spend their time threatening to engage in civilised fisticuffs, and glowering at each other, before swooping in to save the heroines from certain death when the hour is most bleak... The novel is indeed typically aesthetic, with Moorish lamps burning in open doorways and Reneé sheltering her agitated face with an ibis fan. Subtexts might be discovered by the reader of the book, which towards the end and after a marriage hints that "when people talk of Mordant;s marriage, the ladies bewail his alliance with so masculine a woman, who answers the description of his comrade more that of his wife."
Certainly deserving of further attention, Duff's books are notably absent from the market and from institutions. WorldCat lists only three copies of this title in the US (UCLA, Yale, Arlington) and three copies in the UK (British Library, Cambridge, National Library of Scotland). There is one further copy at the Bodleian. Not in Wolff. Item #122861