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Landgraf Victor Amadeus (1779-1834)Founded by Ludwig the Pious, son of Charlemagne, in 822, the Benedictine abbey of Corvey became a significant centre of northwestern European culture in the ninth and tenth centuries. Emperors lodged at Corvey as guests, Christianity found a stable locus in Corvey, and monks from Corvey occupied important positions within the ecclesiarchy of Germany.  Destroyed for the most part during the Thirty Years’ War, Corvey was eventually rebuilt from about 1660 onwards in its present form, as a Baroque residence with church, monastery and farmhouses.  The Imperial Abbey became a Principality in the early thirteenth century and a Bishopric in 1794, but during the Secularization of 1803 its ecclesiastical significance was dissolved.  In 1821, Victor Amadeus (1779–1834), Landgraf von Hesse-Rotenburg, acquired Schloss Corvey by exchange, and his nephew, Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, inherited the estate in 1834, becoming in 1840 the first Duke of Ratibor and Prince of Corvey.  It was Victor Amadeus and his wife Elise—both avid encyclopaedic book-collectors typical of post-Aufklärung Germany—who were responsible for collecting the works of literature which now form the Corvey Collection.

The collection held at Corvey consists of approximately 73,000 volumes, forming one of the largest private collections in Europe, and since 1987 it is a listed cultural monument of Germany; Corvey as a whole will probably soon become part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage of the world.  The preliminary breakdown of the volumes is as follows: German–36,000; French–19,000; English–16,000; Other languages–2,000.  The library was begun as a court library for the Landgrafs of Hesse-Rotenburg, typical of the tastes of the times until the coming of Victor Amadeus in the 1790s.  Following the French Revolution, there was an increase in the number of English titles collected, something unseen in comparative collections of the time.  Victor Amadeus was a bibliophile, who carefully collected books in French, English, and German from a variety of interests.  Compared with similar libraries which offer a broader spectrum of texts, the Corvey collection is interesting because of its concentration of belles lettres: a depth of focus which is of a significantly different order from its more austere contemporaries.  The kinds of works collected by Victor Amadeus could be considered those of the more ‘trivial’ sort: novels, tales, travel literature, biographies, memoirs, and drama.  As a result of Victor Amadeus’ more populist tastes, many of the books held at Corvey are simply not to be found in other significant libraries in Europe or the United States.  The density of popular literature which had been collected during Victor Amadeus’ tenure at Corvey dissipated with his death in 1834, which coincides with the focus of Peter Garside and Rainer Schöwerling’s bibliography of the English novel, 1800–1829.

In August 1985, a contract was signed between the state of North Rhine Westphalia and the Duke of Ratibor and Corvey, which gave the University of Paderborn exclusive rights for the extensive cataloguing of the collection at Corvey.  In 1987, Belser Wissenschaftlicher Dienst of Stuttgart were commissioned to publish the Corvey Microfiche Edition (CME), under the editorship of Professors Rainer Schöwerling and Hartmut Steinecke, and Klaus Barckow, Head Librarian, of the University of Paderborn.  Selection of what was to be fiched was based on the rarity and availability of the books, with precedence given to first editions.  Approximately 80% of belles lettres held at Corvey have been fiched, constituting 9,654 titles (about 27,000 volumes), totalling over six million pages.  Of these, approximately 2,672 are in German, 3,692 in French, and 3,290 in English.  The main literary types which comprise the Edition Corvey are novels, short stories, and drama, and this includes various genres of the time: historical literature, the gothic, exoticism, domestic sagas, chivalric tales, as well as the more obscure areas of interest.  Included here is an example of the quality of the facsimiles which can be found in the CME; this example is from Ianthé (1798) by Emily Clark [ISBN:3-628-45021-7].  The reproduced image is of the title-page from the first volume.  To view further facsimiles, click here.

The Edition Corvey, the English language version of which was purchased in March 1997 by Cardiff University, is now coming into its own, ten years after being made available to the academic community.  Numerous research projects are either developing from it, or are using Edition Corvey for substantial first-hand consultation of texts of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries.  The University of Innsbruck is conducting a study of the German historical novel, Sheffield Hallam University is addressing the issue of women’s authorship, and Paderborn and Cardiff are co-operating on a thorough-going assessment of the novel and its reception during the period of Corvey’s greatest density.

[Our thanks to Prof Dr Rainer Schöwerling for ensuring the accuracy of this material.]

Last modified 5 January, 2003 .
This document is maintained by
Anthony Mandal (Mandal@cf.ac.uk).