Free docent-led tours of the gallery exhibitions are offered at 2 p.m. on this Saturday and Sunday.
Visit the Harry Ransom Center as part of Austin’s Cultural Campus “Museum Crawl” on Saturday, November 26. Enjoy the exhibitions with your family, friends, and out-of-town guests. Join us at 2 p.m. for a docent-led tour of the exhibitions. Kick off your holiday shopping with one-day discounts on Ransom Center merchandise, including postcards, totebags, and books. Purchase a gift membership specially packaged in an archival box and receive a free set of postcards ($10 value). Complimentary beverages will warm you on your walk to your next Austin’s Cultural Campus destination.
The Reading Room will be closed on Friday, November 25, and Saturday, November 26, but will reopen on Monday, November 28.
In 1919 Mary Ware Dennett (1872–1947) published The Sex Side of Life, a sex-education pamphlet for young people that she originally wrote for her sons. The U.S. Post Office declared the pamphlet obscene in April 1922, and Dennett struggled on her own to get the ruling reversed, all the while continuing to distribute The Sex Side of Life through the mail.
In 1928, in consultation with attorney Morris Ernst, Dennett agreed that it was time to test The Sex Side of Life in court. The trial came sooner than anticipated when the Justice Department indicted Dennett for mailing the pamphlet to “Mrs. Carl A. Miles” in Virginia. A jury convicted Dennett of distributing obscene material, and the judge fined her $3,000, which Dennett refused to pay. Newspapers and magazines across the country expressed outrage at the jury’s decision. Dennett became a cause célèbre and received a contract from Vanguard Press to write about her experiences.
Dennett’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1930. In his decision, Judge Augustus Hand wrote: “The defendant’s discussion of the phenomena of sex is written with sincerity of feeling… Any incidental tendency to arouse sex impulses which such a pamphlet may perhaps have, is apart from and subordinate to its main effect.”
Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.
Alain Dame may very well be the Ransom Center’s biggest fan.
The letter carrier from Quebec, Canada, visits the Center about twice a year and spends days (yes, days) in the galleries exploring the exhibitions. In a scenario that exhibition curators can usually only dream about, he takes the time to read every label and studies each item in the exhibition.
Dame first visited the Ransom Center in 1999. At that time, the Center had no gallery space of its own and often mounted small exhibitions in what was essentially a hallway on the fourth floor of the Flawn Academic Center. Dame’s first visit was for an exhibition on Oscar Wilde, and he remembers seeing another exhibition on photographer Eliot Elisofon.
But when the Center completed a renovation and added a gallery space in 2003, it was able to mount in-depth shows drawn from its collections. One of the first exhibitions in the new galleries was Make It New: The Rise of Modernism, and it made quite an impression on Dame: “It was so good,” he said. “It’s my favorite of all time.”
An item from the Arthur Conan Doyle collection caught his eye in the Make it New exhibition because he found it so moving.
“He [Doyle] was into a lot of esoteric things because of his son’s death in the war. He drew the night, and he was so angry that his son died that he was making holes, piercing the paper with his pen. That was a touching one.”
While Dame has an interest in modernism and James Joyce—one he shares with Ransom Center Director and Joyce scholar Thomas F. Staley—his interests range far and wide. He remembers a letter from J. D. Salinger in which the famously reclusive writer thanks a female correspondent for recommending Ovaltine because it helped him sleep.
“I love arts in general,” he said.”I’m crazy about arts.”
And that love is apparent when speaking with him on the topic of the humanities. He speaks knowledgably and eloquently about writers and artists from Joyce, Salinger, and Doyle to Igor Stravinsky, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace.
The Ransom Center’s current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censoredreveals the rarely seen “machinery” of censorship in the United States between the two world wars. See the Center’s recommended reading list of historically banned books, and visit the exhibition to learn more about these and many other books caught up in the complex world of American censorship. See which book was considered so obscene prosecutors “assiduously avoided using its title in public discussions of the case.”
Long before Beatlemania, mid-nineteenth-century European audiences went wild for Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist/composer with shoulder-length hair. Women fought over his broken piano strings and collected his coffee dregs in glass vials. One woman retrieved Liszt’s discarded cigar stump from a gutter and encased it in a diamond-studded locket monogrammed “F.L.” To describe this phenomenon, German poet Heinrich Heine coined the term “Lisztomania.”
Liszt took the classical music world by storm. Considered the best pianist of all time by his contemporaries, Liszt essentially created the piano recital. He was the first pianist to emerge onstage from the wings, he introduced the custom of performing in profile because he didn’t want the piano to block his face, and his unmatched technique and virtuosic piano compositions pushed the boundaries of what the piano could do.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. On November 18 and 19, the Austin Symphony celebrates both birthdays when Anton Nel performs Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S. 125 with the Austin Symphony.
Liszt is well represented in the Ransom Center’s collections. The musicians collection contains photos of Liszt, one of which Liszt autographed; two collections hold notebooks, manuscripts, and other materials for two Liszt biographies; and the Carlton Lake collection includes a signed manuscript of Liszt’s Gaudeamus igitur and 150 letters between Liszt and his daughters, Blandine and Cosima.
In these letters, spanning from 1850 to 1862, Liszt comes across as a caring but demanding father. It is clear that his daughters’ musical education is a priority. In an 1854 letter addressed to both daughters, Liszt tells Blandine and Cosima to make the most of the approaching winter, when the only teacher around will be their piano teacher:
“How goes it with your piano strumming? Do you practice? Is M. Seghers giving you regular lessons?… Music being the universal language, and even to a certain extent able to dispense with ideas, it is by no means my intention to end your studies with M. Seghers. But try to learn yourselves what even the best teachers cannot convey through lessons; and, until the day when I try to shape your talents to my liking, I kiss you most tenderly.”
Liszt also discusses the difficulty of navigating his relationships with other composers. In an 1858 letter to Blandine, Liszt writes about German composer and conductor Richard Wagner, who later married Cosima and with whom Liszt had a notoriously tumultuous relationship:
“With his immense genius which becomes more and more indisputable through all the foolish disputes he has to embark on, he unfortunately can’t manage to rid himself of the most trying domestic vexations, not to mention all the disappointments of his fantastic expectations. In this way he resembles those lofty mountains, radiant at their peaks, but shrouded in fog up to their shoulders…Tell me something of him in your next letter, for I love him with all my heart and admire him as Germany’s finest génie-artiste.”
While living in Rome in 1862, Liszt tells Blandine that he’s a little annoyed with French composer Charles Gounod:
“You know what sincere esteem and liking I have always had for the talent of Gounod, and how affectionate our personal relations were. Well! Can you believe that he spent more than six weeks in Rome without taking the trouble to come and see me, and that we didn’t once see one another?”
Through these letters, we catch a glimpse of Liszt’s life as a rock-star pianist, at its height in the 1840s. But Liszt’s letters from the 1850s reveal that he cherished solitude and was tiring of public life. On May 4, 1858, Liszt wrote to Blandine about his visit with Cosima in Berlin:
“The wholly public life (less and less to my taste) that I had been obliged to lead these last two months made me feel all the more, by contrast, the charm and intimacy of her affection.”
On July 19, 1862, Liszt sent his last letter to Blandine, who died two months later at the age of 26 following childbirth: “The fact is, I am comfortable only in my own company and in that of the very small number of those I love with whom I feel at one in thought and feeling.”
Selected items related to Liszt will be on display in the Ransom Center lobby from Tuesday, November 15 through Sunday, November 27.
Frank Shay’s shop at 4 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village was a bookstore, a community gathering place, a circulating library, and a tiny publishing house all at once. Shay published a newspaper, a magazine, and more than a dozen books from the shop during his time there: small, handcrafted editions with a simple, charming aesthetic that may also reflect the tastes of Shay’s wife, the artist and designer Fern Forrester Shay. In 1924 Frank Shay sold the bookshop and moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he had already been spending summers with his traveling bookshop. The 4 Christopher Street location closed down just a year later. We know that the shop was being managed at the time by a woman named Juliette Koenig, but little further evidence of its final year is found in the Ransom Center’s collections.
Shown here is an envelope for a letter from Frank Shay to Christopher Morley, dated August 1, 1921. The designer of the shop’s stationery was the multitalented Hendrik Willem Van Loon, who won the first Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature for his illustrated Story of Mankind (1922). The envelope may or may not render the shop’s exterior accurately; without surviving photographs, we do not know.