Every year on New Year’s Day (less popularly known as Public Domain Day), thousands of creative works – whether books, music or art – enter what is known as the ‘public domain’. This means that the copyright on them has expired and they can be used freely in the format you want. Both the UK and US provide automatic copyright protection for original works from the date of their creation (with some exceptions), but this is limited. Works will be publicly available 70 years after the author’s death, so the writings of those who died in 1951 will be available next year. In America, the law extending the copyright term further stipulates that books published in 1926 will be publicly available by 2022 – an extended 96-year protection.
The list of public domain books 2022 below has a few big names on it, though next year by and large will not be a big bonanza for suddenly available classics. I have compiled a list that attempts to reflect some of the most popular authors, whose works are now free, from a variety of backgrounds. If you are interested in seeing what else will be offered, take a look at the Wikipedia pages for ‘1951 in the literature’ (specifically, deaths that year) and ‘2022 in the public domain’.
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Absolutely no introduction needed. Milne’s classic, much-loved character first captured the public’s imagination with the publication of this book in 1926. Since then, his fame has grown by leaps and bounds. A couple of years ago, I attended an auction of rare books at Sotheby’s, and so a first edition cost hundreds of thousands of pounds!
On a mildly dark side of Plush’s health, Milne’s son Christopher Robin grew to hate being his father’s famous inspiration. He described a poem about his pious younger self as being ‘the one’ [work] it has over the years brought me more toe-crunching, fist-binding, lip-biting embarrassment than anyone else ‘, and relentless bullying at his primary school made him realize that’ it almost seemed to me that my father had reached the point where he was climbing my young shoulders that he had insulted me for my good name and left me with the empty fame of being his son. ‘ Christopher’s relationship with his mother was also extremely strained, to the extent that the two did not see each other for the last 15 years of her life, and she refused to see him on his deathbed.
The sun also rises by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s debut novel, written while cheating on his wife Hadley with her best friend Pauline, * was published in 1926. It was dedicated to Hadley and their son Jack; Hadley filed for divorce immediately after the publication, and all royalties from the novel were decreed for her.
It is now considered his best work, and one that shows his ‘Iceberg’ writing style. This consists of a journalistic, sparse prose style, devoid of irrelevant details or context.
* As Eppie Lederer famously remarked, ‘if you marry a man who is unfaithful to his wife, you will marry a man who is unfaithful to his wife’. Pauline’s marriage to Hemingway ended in the same way it began, with his infidelity.
My mortal enemy by Willa Cather
Cather’s eighth novel, published in 1926, traces the depressing gloomy fortunes of a series of intertwined, fateful people. Or, as Laura Winters more academically puts it, the book ‘represents the bitter apotheosis of the questions of exile Cather worked with all his life.’ Cheering stuff.
The dancing girl from Izu by Yasunari Kawabata
Kawabata won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, the first Japanese to do so. The dancing girl from Izu is a short story that is widely considered among his best works. Although published in 1926, an English translation was not published until 1955.
The blind owl by Sadegh Hedayat
This work, originally published in Persian, is – considered the finest by Iranian author Hedayats – a dark, ‘crazy’ tale of an unreliable narrator revealing his murderous inclinations to a shadow on the wall. Deeply pessimistic, it was banned under Reza Shah for apparently promoting suicide.
The murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
No description needed, I’m sure. Christie’s 1926 novel is one of the most popular and is the third with Hercule Poirot.
Soldiers’ Salary by William Faulkner
As with Hemingway, Faulkner’s debut novel was published in 1926. He was paid $ 200 for the script, and it ended up being a commercial failure, selling only 1,200 copies of the 2,500 original editions. However, since Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in Literature, its popularity has skyrocketed. First editions have been known to go for over $ 35,000.
Don Segundo Sombra by Ricardo Güiraldes
This 1926 Argentine novel, written by a friend of Jorge Luis Borges, revolves around the gaucho’s folk figure – a Latin American archetype with parallels to the cowboy figure. It was made into a acclaimed film in 1969.
These old shades by Georgette Heyer
Heyer is one of my favorite writers of all time. I wrote my second year dissertation on her and I have even written a post here about some great quotes from her books. These old shades is technically not her first novel – the honor accrues The black moth – but that’s where her signature style and humor first shine through. Her lifelong aversion to publicity can also trace its roots back to the publication date of this book in 1926. Despite the general strike that shook Britain at the time, it was immensely popular and convinced her that things like newspaper interviews were not necessary to sell a book.
I like the title so it’s worth adding These old shades is a quote from the Victorian poet Austin Dobson’s ‘Epilogue’ in Vignettes from the eighteenth century. A great commentary on what draws him (and others) to a fascination with bygone times. Here it is:
“WHAT is it then,” – asks some readers, –
‘What is it that binds
Your desire for fans and masks, –
For periwigs and patches?
‘Is human life today so poor, –
So bloodless, – you despise it,
To ‘galvanize’ the past once again? ‘
– Allow me. I will explain it.
This age I give (and give with pride),
Is varied, rich, eventful;
But if you touch its weaker side,
Belaud it and it takes your praise
With an air of calm conviction;
Condemn it, and immediately you travel
A storm of contradiction.
Whereas with these old Shades of mine,
Their ways and their garments delight me;
And should I stumble upon word or line,
They can not accuse me.
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence
Thomas Edward Lawrence – much better known as the Lawrence of Arabia, of course – published this autobiographical account of the Arab uprising of 1916-1926. he handed five of the copies by hand, and these have gone for close to a million dollars at auction.
Winston Churchill said of it, “It ranks among the greatest books ever written in the English language. As a tale of war and adventure it is unsurpassed.”
In case you missed them, here are the books that became the public domain in 2021!