Dr. Jon Wise, an independent researcher and writer, visited the Harry Ransom Center in October 2014 to research the Graham Greene collection with Mike Hill, a retired school teacher and current editor of A Sort of Newsletter, the quarterly journal of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust. Wise and Hill previously Read more
Stephanie Jones is a Ph.D. candidate in the English and Creative Writing Department at Aberystwyth University. At the Ransom Center, she analyzed the Christine Brooke-Rose papers for her dissertation, which is a single-author study on the writer, looking at the neglect of her work as a British author by the industry. Jones’s research was supported by a 2014–2015 Dissertation Fellowship from the Harry Ransom Center, jointly funded by the Creekmore and Adele Fath Charitable Foundation and The University of Texas at Austin Office of Graduate Studies.
The subject of neglected British experimental authors has emerged as a poignant topic of critical discussion over the last few years. Writers of the 1960s and 1970s who had been influenced by the Second World War, as well as the highly reflexive, avant-garde literature produced bysuch modernist heavyweights as James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Samuel Beckett, are beginning to be reassessed as having something useful to offer to the current critical climate. Read more
The Ransom Center’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibition includes a commonplace book kept by Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) with information about ciphers, anagrams, stenography, and labyrinths. As Kelsey McKinney, a former public affairs intern, writes, these “personal anthologies” functioned as “literary scrapbooks”. While these scrapbooks were “commonplace” in Victorian culture, modern means of communication fulfill the same desire for people to record and share their life experiences.
The exhibition—and Dodgson’s commonplace book—are on view at the Ransom Center through July 6, 2015.
Before the affordability of personal libraries, and before people were able to access the world’s knowledge through the Internet, readers and writers had to find reasonable ways to consolidate and store information that could be useful to them. There were no social media to help them aggregate and share stories, quotes, recipes, or images. That doesn’t mean they didn’t do exactly that. They created personal anthologies called commonplace books. Read more
Gabriel García Márquez was a perfectionist when creating his masterpieces, and that quality is demonstrated in his manuscripts. With the Ransom Center’s recent acquisition of the late author’s archive, scholars will be able to see the author’s edits and discuss García Márquez’s writing process. José Montelongo, the interim Latin American bibliographer at the university’s Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, writes about the thrill of delving into García Márquez’s manuscripts and exploring the pentimenti—repentances, compunctions, remorses—in the archive. This piece originally appeared in the Spring 2015 Ransom Edition newsletter.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. I grew up in Holland where the fifth of May is celebrated as “Bevrijdingsdag,” named for the liberation from German occupation that my father, who was 14 years old in 1945 when he stood by the side of the road and cheered a stream of Allied tanks and trucks into The Hague, still vividly recalls.
The Ransom Center holds one unique war trophy “liberated” by an American G.I. that weighs in at 23 pounds of evil: a giant vellum-bound copy in heavy boards of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Emblazoned on the front with a golden eagle atop a swastika, this large-format edition of Hitler’s manifesto is likely one of fewer than a hundred such lavish presentation copies specially produced in München for Nazi leaders during the war.
The book is now kept in a large box, along with two typed letters from the Red Cross nurse-turned-army-wife, Carmel White Eitt, who donated it in 1988. She writes of its being “liberated by a lad named Willie, a cook in the headquarters company of the 143 regiment” (she could not recall the spelling of his Polish surname), during the search of Heinrich Himmler’s residence in Tegernsee, Bavaria, by the 36th division after the signing that ended the war. Once Stateside, this G.I. showed up at her doorstep to give her his war trophy as a thank-you. I get chills every time I read her letter; even now the hairs on my arms tingle a bit.
A rare wartime survivor, the book has physical features and injuries that tell tales. The battered copy suffers from a slightly “cocked spine,” which makes it want to open to the pages where in 1945 it was stepped on and bayonetted by members of the 36th. Those pages still bear the imprints left by muddy army boots and the ragged cuts and punctures made by bayonets. There is something visceral about the damage left behind—a muddy snapshot of a violent history more compelling than the braggadocio of Hitler’s lavishly printed pages.
This particular copy of this particular book is a powerful object that brings up important questions about why a library or archive painstakingly preserves even the ugly aspects of history. When I show this book to my students, the cover alone is usually enough to solicit disgust from them. Yet in 1988 the former Red Cross nurse wrapped this copy of Mein Kampf in “swadling clothes” [sic.] to protect it on its journey to the Ransom Center. Using language more suitable for a fragile and treasured infant rather than Hitler’s 23-pound screed, this army wife who had witnessed the horrors of war first-hand wanted to preserve her enemy’s book because, as she says, she held a “very deep and abiding affection for the 36th Division and those men who fought so long and so well.” Himmler’s copy of Hitler’s ideas had, over time, become a testament to something else entirely.
This semester I called it up for my undergraduate class “The Paperback,” which studies a number of collections in the Ransom Center to measure the impact that the new portability and packaging of the inexpensive twentieth-century book had on literary interpretation, distribution, and audience. Hitler’s monument to vanity served as my anti-paperback example. His massive commemorative edition demanded veneration with its high production values by mimicking an old book, complete with a blackletter typeface that harkens back to Gutenberg. During our show-and-tell it sat near a giant folio edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, dated 1596, which still bears remnants of clasps and a metal chain (it was likely locked to a desk) and is bound in leather over thick wooden boards. Both the Brobdingnagian edition of Mein Kampf and the heavy Renaissance tome embody the traditional elitist stance towards knowledge that the modern paperback combats. On the same table lay some of the first-generation Penguin Specials from 1938 and 1939, with their no-frills orange and black paper covers: Germany Puts the Clock Back by Edgar Mowrer and What Hitler Wants by E. O. Lorimer. These lightweight paperbacks were, some say, an effective instrument in the war of ideas that helped the Allies win WWII.
Not all books worth keeping look pretty or are even good books. Nor are books always studied for the words printed on their pages. In 1988, Eitt mused how “it is very possible that some feet are still walking around Austin that trod over this volume,” since many men in the 36th had been from Texas. Today, more than another quarter century onwards, these men are unlikely to still be with us in person. But this week, in particular, we remember them and their moment in history.
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John Crowley, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, is an American author of fantasy, science fiction, and mainstream fiction. He published his first novel, The Deep, in 1975, and his 14th volume of fiction, Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, in 2005. He has taught creative writing at Yale University since 1993. A special 25th-anniversary edition of his novel Little, Big will be published this spring. Below, he shares how Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland influenced his own work.
A critical (best sense) reader of my work once wrote an entire essay about allusions to and quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland books in a novel of mine called Little, Big—a very Alice sort of title in the first place. Some of the quotes and allusions, while certainly there, were unconscious; the turns of phrase and paradoxes and names in those books are so ingrained in me that they simply form part of my vocabulary. I first heard them read aloud: my older sister read them to me when I was about eight years old. I don’t remember my reaction to Alice in Wonderland—except for absorbing it wholly—because for certain books read or heard at certain moments in childhood, there is no first reading: such books enter the mind and soul as though they had always been there. I do remember my reaction to Through the Looking Glass: I found it unsettlingly weird, dark, dreamlike (it is in fact the greatest dream-book ever written). The shop where the shopkeeper becomes a sheep, then dissolves into a pond with Alice rowing and the sheep in the stern knitting (!)—it wasn’t scary, but it was eerie because it so exactly replicated the movements of places and things and people in my own dreams, of which I was then becoming a connoisseur. How did this book know about such things?
Another profound connection I have with Alice I only discovered—in delight—some years ago in (of all places) the Wall Street Journal. In an article about odd cognitive and sensory disorders, it described “Alice in Wonderland syndrome:” “Named after Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, this neurological condition makes objects (including one’s own body parts) seem smaller, larger, closer or more distant than they really are. It’s more common in childhood, often at the onset of sleep, and may disappear by adulthood…”
I have tried to describe this syndrome to people for years, and never once met anyone who recognized it from my descriptions. In my experience it’s more odd a feeling than this, and more ambivalent: I feel (or felt, as a child, almost never any more) as though my hands and feet are billions of miles distant from my head and heart, but at the same time I am enormously, infinitely large, and so those parts are in the same spatial relation to myself as ever, or even monstrously closer. It was awesome in the strict sense, not scary or horrid, uncomfortable but also intriguing. I wonder if Carroll (Dodgson, rather) had this syndrome. I’ve thought of including it on my resume: “John Crowley was born in the appropriately liminal town of Presque Isle, Maine, and as a child suffered from or delighted in Alice in Wonderland syndrome.”
Acclaimed novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje converses with writer Geoff Dyer in a Harry Ransom Lecture on Tuesday, March 31, at 7 p.m. The event takes place in the Jessen Auditorium, in Homer Rainey Hall, across the plaza from the Ransom Center.
Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje’s work also encompasses poetry, memoir, and film. His Booker Prize–winning novel The English Patient was adapted into an Academy Award–winning film. His other works include his memoir Running in the Family, four collections of poetry, the non-fiction book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, and his novels In the Skin of a Lion, Anil’s Ghost, Divisadero, and The Cat’s Table.
Ondaatje discusses his novels and poetry and his book on film editing, as well as research, editing, adapting books to film, and film as an art itself.
Audience members will be able to ask questions, and a reception and book signing follow at the Ransom Center.
The event is free and open to the public. Priority entry is available to Ransom Center members (one seat per membership card) who arrive by 6:20 p.m. Members arriving after 6:30 p.m. will join the general queue. Complimentary parking for Ransom Center members is available at the University Co-op garage at 23rd and San Antonio streets.
This program is presented by the University Co-op.
Attendees may enter to win Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion, as well as a copy of his book of poetry, Handwriting.
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