In conjunction with tonight’s lecture by author Morris Dickstein, an accompanying display case in the Ransom Center’s lobby features items from the Center’s Commentary magazine archive. Dickstein’s lecture, titled “America’s Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s,” takes place tonight at 7 p.m. in the Prothro Theater. The Commentary magazine archive was donated to the Center in 2011.
Materials on display include a 1961 subscriber survey, a 1986 exchange of letters between Allen Ginsberg and Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, and the May 1952 issue of the magazine, which contains the first American publication of “Diary of Anne Frank.”
This program is co-sponsored by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation made a generous donation to support this program and the cataloging of the Commentary magazine archive.
Note: This post originally appeared on April 18, 2013.
James Salter’s All That Is (Knopf), his first new novel since 1979, is a reflective work, a reconsideration of many of the themes he has explored in his earlier fiction. Looking back at Salter’s prior novels through his archive at the Harry Ransom Center, one can see the artist at work and better understand the sentiments that guide his craft. Read more
Many of the items discussed here are featured in the display “The Intertextual Sherlock Holmes,” which can be seen outside the Reading and Viewing Room on the second floor of the Ransom Center until April 21.
While fanfiction may seem like an Internet-dependent phenomenon, its origins stretch far back into the past, beyond even the age of print. Adapting others’ literary creations for new purposes is at least as old as the Aeneid, in which Virgil adopts a minor character from Homer’s Iliad, Aeneas, as the hero of his story. The scholar Henry Jenkins has argued for fanfiction as modern myth-making, “a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk.” Just as ancient Greek storytellers could draw upon shared cultural knowledge to spin a tale featuring Theseus or Ariadne, their present-day counterparts seeking a similar resonance might instead turn to Harry Potter, Captain James T. Kirk—or Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes captured the imagination of other writers almost from his inception. In 1891, an anonymous author published “My Evening with Sherlock Holmes” in The Speaker, less than four years after the detective’s 1887 debut in A Study in Scarlet. One might argue that it was not long before other writers were more enamored of Holmes than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was himself, for Doyle attempted to kill off his obstreperous creation in 1893 in a thwarted effort to refocus attention on his historical fiction. Even Holmes’s apparent death at Reichenbach Falls did little to stem the rising tide of Sherlockian pastiches, parodies, and fanfictions, of which the Ransom Center holds a diverse selection.
Many of the early extra-canonical Holmes sightings crop up as brief, humorous episodes in newspapers or periodicals, often with absurd variations on the detective’s distinctive name. In 1892, The Idler featured the adventures of Sherlaw Kombs, while Punch followed in 1893 with tales of Picklock Holes. Even P. G. Wodehouse joined the fun, publishing “Dudley Jones, Bore-Hunter” in Punch in 1903. Andrew Lang, best known for editing the Blue Fairy Book and its sequels, took a more serious approach in his pastiche “At the Sign of the Ship” (Longman’sMagazine, 1905), in which Holmes applies his deductive powers to the unsolved mystery of Edwin Drood. Across the Atlantic, Arthur Chapman took time off from writing cowboy poetry to pen “The Unmasking of Sherlock Holmes” for The Critic (1905), in which Auguste Dupin derides Holmes as an attenuated derivative of himself. (The story ends with Holmes shamefacedly conceding his debt to Dupin.)
While Chapman leaves Holmes at home in London, other authors took Holmes on some distinctly American adventures. In A Double Barrelled Detective Story (1902), Mark Twain transplants the detective to a California mining camp, much to the chagrin of his murderous nephew, Fetlock Jones. In “The Sleuths” (1911), Austin’s own O. Henry re-imagines Holmes as New York private eye Shamrock Jolnes, whose “thin, intellectual face, piercing eyes, and rate per word are too well known to need description.” The Center holds unusual copies of both books: Twain’s is a signed first edition from the author’s own library, while Henry’s is a tiny volume originally distributed as a free prize in cigarette packets.
Alongside the proliferating Holmesian fictions, a tradition of tongue-in-cheek nonfiction also arose that treated Holmes and Watson as real people, with Doyle demoted to mere editor when he was acknowledged at all. In 1911, future mystery writer and Monsignor Ronald Knox regaled an Oxford audience with “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” couched in the stentorian style of Biblical exegesis. Knox’s disquisition not only presumed the actuality of Holmes himself, but also fabricated a bevy of rival Holmesian scholars, whose interpretations of the canon Knox demolished with great relish. Taken up by other enthusiasts, this practice of fan-nonfiction became known as the Higher Criticism or the Great Game. The Center’s collections include key entries in the genre by Vincent Starrett, H. W. Bell, S. C. Roberts, and Dorothy L. Sayers, among many others.
Fascination with Holmes soon expanded beyond his English-speaking audience. A German newspaper wrote in 1908, “It is certain that contemporary Europe is suffering from a disease called Sherlockismus […] a literary disease similar to Werther-mania and romantic Byronism.” The Bookman concurred, diagnosing Paris with “what may be described as a bad case of Sherlockitis,” and citing some alarming symptoms: “In connection with two recent sensational murders the Paris newspapers have been giving their versions of how these crimes were committed in the form of imaginary interviews with Sherlock Holmes.” Versions of Holmes also thrived on the Spanish stage, with several plays produced and published between 1908 and 1916. While some of these drew directly on the canon, many were original works that borrowed only the character (and sometimes no more than the name) of Holmes.
As Doyle’s frustration with Holmes’s popularity became more and more apparent, and new adventures appeared less and less frequently, fans turned to supplementing the canon with their own creations. After the publication of the final Holmes tales in 1927, a Wisconsin teenager named August Derleth started writing stories that both imitated and explicitly referenced Holmes, introducing his detective Solar Pons as “the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street.” Derleth again translated his fan enthusiasm into action when he founded Arkham House to ensure the publication of H. P. Lovecraft’s works in formats more durable than pulp magazines. Arkham later published the Pons stories under the imprint Mycroft & Moran, with each volume featuring an introduction by a noted Sherlockian. Derleth eventually wrote more stories about Pons than Doyle did about Holmes.
The rise of organized fan societies created new venues for fans to communicate with other fans. In 1934, Christopher Morley founded the Baker Street Irregulars, which began publishing The Baker Street Journal in 1946. After a brief stint in the 1930s, The Sherlock Holmes Society of London re-formed in 1951, bringing out the first Sherlock Holmes Journal the following year. Both periodicals featured stories by fans alongside Sherlockian news, reviews, essays, and criticism. In addition to issues of both journals, the Center also holds the papers of Christopher Morley, including many documents from the early days of the Baker Street Irregulars. A limited edition pamphlet of the sonnet in which Vincent Starrett famously declared “It is always 1895,” a recreation of the portrait of Irene Adler that caused so much trouble in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and a self-published book of original songs about characters from the stories illustrate the wide range of creative engagement that flowed through these channels for fan-centered community.
The mythology of Sherlock Holmes continues to expand across media. Recently published fictions by Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, and Laurie S. King re-envision the classic Holmes in new contexts. On television, BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary each mix and match elements of the original adventures and characterizations to produce two very different modern takes on Holmes and Watson. Fanworks inspired by the original Holmes or his many reincarnations proliferate both online and in print. The Ransom Center’s collections illustrate that the current boom in re-imagining Doyle’s detective is only the most recent chapter in a long history of Sherlockian creative enthusiasm. The case-book of Sherlock Holmes is nowhere near closed.
In 2011, the Baker Street Irregulars published “Bohemian Souls,” a facsimile of the original manuscript of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” accompanied by annotations and commentary. This was followed by their 2012 edition of “The Golden Pince-Nez.” Both manuscripts are owned by the Ransom Center.
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Known for her evocative depictions of life in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, author Sanora Babb shares her family’s perpetual bouts with struggles against crop-failure, starvation, mortgage foreclosures, and loneliness in her memoir An Owl on Every Post. Experiencing pioneer life in a one-room dugout shelter, Babb viewed the land—which both tormented and beguiled her—from an up-close, eye-level perspective.
When her family relocated from the security of a small town to an isolated 320-acre farm on the western plains, the young Babb sought to find beauty and joy in her vast and desolate surroundings. The result of her introspection is a body of work that includes essays, short stories, poems, and five books.
In a new edition of her long-out-of-print memoir, An Owl on Every Post, Babb writes with immediacy and lyricism about growing up on the Colorado Plains. An Owl on Every Post reveals the values—courage, pride, determination, and love—that kept Babb’s family from despair and total ruin. The memoir, originally published in 1971, is now available with a new introduction by Pulitzer Prize–winning author William Kennedy.
Alan Furst’s 2008 novel The Spies of Warsaw has been adapted into a new miniseries. Starring David Tennant of Doctor Who fame, the series premieres in two parts on BBC America at 8 p.m. CST Wednesday, April 3, and on Wednesday, April 10 . Tennant plays Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated French war hero who finds himself in a passionate love affair with Anna (Janet Montgomery), a Parisian lawyer for the League of Nations.
Furst, an American author, is best known for his historical espionage novels. In 2005 the Ransom Center acquired his archive, which contains drafts of his fiction and non-fiction works, as well as correspondence.
To celebrate the TV adaptation’s premiere, the Center will give away two signed copies of the novel The Spies of Warsaw. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Furst” in the subject line by midnight CST tonight to be entered in a drawing for the book. [Update: This contest is now closed. A winner has been drawn and notified.]
The University of Texas at Austin’s Michener Center for Writers hosts a reading by novelist and short-story writer T. C. Boyle this Thursday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the University’s Avaya Auditorium (ACES 2.302).
Boyle is the author of more than 23 novels and short story collections and a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California.
The Ransom Center recently acquired Boyle’s archive, which covers the breadth of his prolific career. In honor of the event, the Ransom Center will give away two signed copies of Boyle’s novel The Tortilla Curtain (1995). Email email@example.com with “Boyle” in the subject line by midnight CST Wednesday to be entered in a drawing for the book. [Update: The winner has been drawn an notified.]
In Chicago in the fall of 1962, heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson squared up to face Sonny Liston, also known as “The Bear,” in a monumental fight. Liston, a former convict with ties to organized crime, seemed the opposite of the ambivalent and introspective Patterson, who was known to help an opponent mid-round to find a misplaced mouthpiece. Against the advice of his famed trainer, Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, Patterson agreed to confront Liston in the ring, only to be defeated in less than three minutes. Liston knocked out Patterson again the following July in Las Vegas.
The 1962 title bout against Liston in Chicago, a milestone in Patterson’s life and career, attracted hundreds of reporters. Norman Mailer was among the writers who traveled to Chicago to observe the event. Mailer, who trained as a boxer at Patterson’s gym, used boxing as a major motif in his work and was a lifelong fan of the sport. Out of the Patterson-Liston matchup, Mailer produced an important essay about boxing, “Ten Thousand Words a Minute” for Esquire, a piece that became a cornerstone in Mailer’s book The Presidential Papers (1963).
In his 2012 book, Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), author W. K. Stratton draws from the Norman Mailer papers at the Ransom Center to share a portrait of Patterson’s boxing career. Mailer, who recognized the symbolic importance of Patterson’s confrontation with Liston, kept press kits and materials from both Liston fights. In addition to examining these materials, Stratton quotes Mailer’s handwritten notes about his interest in boxing.
Other boxing materials from Norman Mailer’s papers will be on display in The Ransom Center’s exhibition Literature and Sport, which runs from June 11 to August 4, 2013.