Thursday, January 26, 2012


More about the Morgan Library

As I wrote in a previous blog I found New York City’s Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum a marvelous place and I celebrated Pierpont Morgan’s obsession with books and his purchases of some of the rarest books of all time.

I wrote about the excerpts from Dicken’s novels and Dicken’s comments on writing.

In another display case I viewed a letter Virginia Woolf had written to a young poet. This originally appeared in the June 1932 Yale Review. In it she says she considers Jane Austen’s Emma and Trollope’s The Small House at Allington to be perfect books. She writes: “. . .each does fully and completely what the novel is intended to do. That is the characters in both of those books are wholly in being. They take the whole burden of the book upon themselves. . . Nothing is left over for Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope to explain in his or her person.”

As a lover of Austen I could understand what Woolf meant about Emma but I had never read Trollope’s novel which his publisher said was part of the Barchester Towers series while Trollope said it wasn’t.

Wikepedia provided a synopsis and led me to a web site by Catherine Pope who calls herself a ‘Victorian Geek’. She says The Small House at Allington blends with the others in the Barchester series like “an orange in a coal heap” a comparison I like. She dislikes Lily, the heroine, as a spineless woman but finds her sister, Bell, admirable. Unlike Woolf she doesn’t find the characters ‘fully realized.’

Whatever the contemporary verdict, having the letter there in the library to read did stimulate me to do some investigating of my own.

A second item in the display case, the first draft of John Steinbeck’s 1960 novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, again gave the viewer the chance to examine the yellow legal pad and to note the changes Steinbeck had made. Incidentally, he began with the opening soliloquy which he took from Richard II.

Seeing these first drafts reminded me of an experience I had at the University of New Brunswick. I had the opportunity to examine a large personal library immediately after it was given to the university. I poked through the books which were filled with marginal notes, underlining and yellowed copies of newspaper articles relating to a particular book.

Seen in its entirety the collection revealed the donor’s personality, interests and biases in a way that only an autobiography could do better. Later the books were sorted and shelved topically and the articles removed which was a pity.

It’s nice to relate to other people through hand written book drafts or an annotated library and it’s an opportunity that will happen less and less as those sfd’s are erased. Historians and aspiring writers will miss the work which provides insights into a writer’s way of thinking.

A member of the Ladies Killing Circle, Joan Boswell co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and, Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

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