I used to love to hang around in this wonderful library, even though my studies never required a visit for research purposes. You were only allowed to bring a pencil and a yellow legal pad. I sometimes amused myself by checking out pulp paperback editions of then-out-of-print Philip K Dick novels. In retrospect, I wonder what the librarians thought?

Tools of the Trade- Slideshow

A portfolio of images of literary artifacts and documents from the archive at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Article here

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars.

The current director of the center is Thomas Staley. Seventy-one, and a modernist scholar by training, he is mercurial and hard-driving. Amid the silence of the center’s Reading Room, he often greets visiting scholars with a resonant slap on the back.
From his office in Austin, Staley keeps tabs on writers who interest him—e-mailing and writing to them about their plans for their papers. To him, the world is a map of treasures whose locations he already knows. His eyes are fixed equally on the aging British literary couple (who are moving to a smaller house, now that the children are grown) and the Pulitzer-nominated phenom (who thinks that his inclusion in the same archive as Graham Greene will help cement his stature). Staley can wait years for the right moment to make a bid. “It’s chess, not checkers,” he likes to say. “You have to think ahead.” Once, he put a woman he thought was dating Cormac McCarthy on the Ransom’s advisory board in the hope—vain, as it turned out—that it would prompt the reclusive author to sell his papers. Gene Cooke, an investor who is an old friend and tennis partner of Staley’s, says, “You can always tell if Tom’s ahead or not. When he’s winning, it’s Hopkins.” (Staley will recite “The Windhover”: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon.”) “When he’s losing, it’s Milton.” (Staley likes to quote from “L’Allegro”: “Hence loathèd Melancholy, of Cerberus and blackest midnight born.”)

During Staley’s two decades in the job, he has bought nearly a hundred literary collections—including papers of Jorge Luis Borges, John Osborne, Julian Barnes, Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, Penelope Fitzgerald, John Fowles, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Don DeLillo—and, as he moves toward retirement, his buys are getting bigger. In 2003, Texas bought the Watergate papers of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for five million dollars. (A sealed file revealing the then secret identity of Deep Throat, Mark Felt, was deposited at a trustee’s office in Washington.) In 2005, Staley paid two and a half million dollars for the collection of Norman Mailer, which included twenty-five thousand of Mailer’s letters, along with the identification tags of his late poodle, Tibo. The archive—weighing twenty thousand pounds in all—came to the center in a tractor trailer. The New York book dealer Glenn Horowitz, who brokered the two deals, says of Staley, “He’s looking for projects that have a culminating quality to them.”

read more, including this fun tidbit:

At Texas, Staley quickly learned to avoid the mistake of his immediate predecessor, Decherd Turner, who focussed on the preservation of manuscripts. “Acquisitions are what people like,” he says. “They like to be a part of it.” Shortly after he took the job, Staley had his first big success. In 1988, one of his curators got word that the archives of Stuart Gilbert, who had been James Joyce’s translator and friend, might be for sale. Staley went to the senior administrators of the university—some of whom, he was convinced, did not know who Joyce was. “I said, ‘This is an opportunity for the University of Texas to get back in the game, in a big way.’ ” Gilbert’s widow wanted an offer up front. Staley took the gamble, paying her the full two hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars that she was asking, without examining the papers.

There were also legal hurdles. Gilbert was British, his widow French; they had been living in France. Staley feared that France, under its cultural-patrimony laws, might lay claim to the papers. To avoid litigation, Staley hired a bakery truck and had workers stuff the papers in it and drive it to the English Channel. “I said, ‘Look, a very good day to do it would be on Ascension Thursday. There might not be as many guards out.’ ” The strategy worked. Gilbert’s literary remains were loaded onto the Channel ferry; in London, they were repacked and shipped to Austin.

The archives were more than worth the price. They contained Gilbert’s unpublished diary, which provides an intimate portrait of how Joyce wrote “Finnegans Wake.” On January 1, 1930, Gilbert wrote, “At last J. J. has recommenced work on W. in P.”—the work in progress. “Five volumes of the Encyclopedia Brit. on his sofa. He has made a list of 30 towns. New York, Vienna, Budapest. . . . Whenever I come to a name (of a street, suburb, park, etc.), I pause. J. thinks. If he can Anglicise the word, i.e., make a pun on it . . . the name or its deformation [are recorded in a] notebook. Thus ‘Slotspark’ (I think) at Christiania becomes Sluts’ park. He collects all queer names in this way and will soon have a notebook full of them.”

A student who was unpacking the Gilbert material for Staley found, as Staley puts it, “an odd thing.” It was a typewritten sheaf of onionskin pages with handwritten emendations: Joyce’s edit of the first chapter of “Finnegans Wake.” Any document with Joyce’s handwriting would be valuable, but these pages answered the question of how “Finnegans Wake,” parts of which had originally been published in the magazine Transition, assumed its final form. “No one knew how those changes had been made,” Staley says. “It was the missing link in the stemma.” He estimates the value of the pages at seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Technorati Tags: ,


Slightly off topic but on a similar tangent: I read today that Terrence McKenna's library and personal papers burned in a fire in February this year. He had some rare books.

Yeah, I read that somewhere too, but can't remember where. I wish I had met the guy, seems like he was a fun dinner companion.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on July 3, 2007 11:39 AM.

Dear Abby was the previous entry in this blog.

The Nietzsche Family Circus is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Powered by Movable Type 4.37