The original print run of the Seven Lady Godivas was for 10,000 copies. We aren’t sure exactly how many copies actually sold. But estimates are that it was between 2,500 and maybe even just 50. The rest of the copies were rounded up and sold in a chain of cigar stores for twenty-five cents. There are a few possibilities for why the book didn’t sell well. First, it was released in the middle of the Great Depression. And at two dollars, it might have been too expensive for most people. Or hungry people might have just not been in the mood for a funny book about naked girls and their horses.
The nudity itself probably didn’t help. A lot of critics rejected the book for being offensive. But Seuss didn’t think the nudity was the problem. He thought he was just terrible at drawing naked women. “It was all full of naked women,” he said, “and I can’t draw convincing naked women. I put their knees in the wrong places.” Whatever the reason, the failure had a huge impact on the future path of Seuss’ career. While today we think of Seuss as one of the greatest children’s authors in history, there was a time when he could easily have gone in another direction.
A lot of the reason he started publishing his books under the name “Dr. Seuss” was that he was saving his real name for a time when he could write serious, adult novels. In fact, it seems like he didn’t even really like children. According to his wife, he was actually slightly afraid of them. He was uncomfortable being around children because he found it hard to predict what they might do. It wasn’t until the failure of The Seven Lady Godivas, his first book for adults, that he decided he should stick to writing for kids.
After the cold reception for the book from grown-ups, he decided that kids were “more appreciative.” But even then, there was no guarantee that Dr. Suess would be the giant he is today. After the book came out in 1939, Seuss went back to working in advertising. Then, after the US entered WWII, he started working for the Government. He spent the next few years producing propaganda cartoons to support the war effort. It wasn’t until The Cat in The Hat was published in 1957 that Seuss’ career as an author really took off.
And it’s strange to think that The Seven Lady Godivas, “a book that nobody bought,” as Seuss described it, helped make him into the artist that he eventually became. But if Dr. Seuss had lived to this day, he might have felt a little better about the book. Today, the original copies that sold in a cigar store for twenty-five cents are collector’s items. And a copy in good condition can sell for hundreds of dollars. It’s not a bad ending for Dr. Seuss’ scandalous book of nudes.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: