A unique copy of the first full-length audiobook ever made, a set of four LPs recorded in 1935 with the full text of Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella Typhoon, has been rediscovered in Canada. The hunt continues for surviving copies of more of the earliest titles, including The Gospel According to St John, and Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Selecting the books caused controversy at the time, with many blind readers complaining of censorship, and that books judged good for them were being selected instead of the kind of books sighted people were reading. Many titles were rejected for passages of sex, violence or profanity, or judged obscene - including classics like Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People, which now has a library of 25,000 titles available as digital downloads rather than the heavy fragile shellac records of the 1930s, began creating audiobooks in 1935. They were originally intended for blind veterans of the first world war, and it is believed Typhoon must have been taken to Canada by a former armed forces member.
The recording resurfaced through research by Matthew Rubery, a professor of modern literature at Queen Mary University of London, for his new book on the history of talking books - which he regards as an influential modern art form. A Canadian vintage record collector contacted him to say he had acquired the Typhoon set, but had no idea of its significance until he read of Rubery’s work.
Rubery said he had all but given up hope of tracking down the recording.
“This is a tremendous find for anyone interested in literature, sound recording or the cultural heritage of blind and partially sighted people.”
Mark McCree, the senior manager of the RNIB’s library and heritage services, said: “Last year was our 80th anniversary, and to find one of the original collection recordings after all these years is reason to celebrate.”
— Guardian News & Media Ltd.