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Get the best seat in the house

Photo by Pete Smith.
Photo by Pete Smith.

With over 7,300 square feet of exhibition space, an average of 300 items per exhibition, and tours lasting an hour or longer, it’s easy to see why you might like to take a seat in the Ransom Center galleries.

The Center is currently raising funds for 40 portable gallery seats that can be used while you enjoy our exhibitions. A gift of $50 will purchase one seat, but a donation of any size is welcome.

Photo Friday

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.

Graduate student Madeline Fendley works on digitizing the Perry Mason archive. Photo by Pete Smith.
Graduate student Madeline Fendley works on digitizing the Perry Mason archive. Photo by Pete Smith.
Wendell Faulk, preparator at the Ransom Center, moves the Cornelli Terrestrial Globe. Photo by Pete Smith.
Wendell Faulk, preparator at the Ransom Center, moves the Cornelli Terrestrial Globe. Photo by Pete Smith.
Student volunteer, Carly Dearborn, works in the film collection.
Student volunteer, Carly Dearborn, works in the film collection.

Two Texas sorority sisters inspire Graham Greene and John Sutro to establish Anglo-Texan Society

On a trip to Edinburgh in the summer of 1953, novelist Graham Greene and producer John Sutro met Margy Crosby Leifeste and Mary Alexander Sherwood, roommates and Pi Phi sorority sisters who had recently graduated from The University of Texas at Austin. Charmed by the young women, Greene and Sutro jokingly established the Anglo-Texan Society. Here’s the story as Mary remembers it.

Mary and Margy were traveling Europe on a two-month group tour. One of their first activities was to see Graham Greene’s play The Living Room in London. Two months later, they arrived in cold, rainy, and misty Edinburgh. Several girls on the trip went shopping, but Mary and Margy decided to stay back at the hotel and drink some tea to “warm our bones,” Mary recalls.

While drinking their tea, a waiter handed them a note reading: “If by any chance you are free, would you come to see The Devil’s General tomorrow night or to have a drink with us to discuss the matter tonight? Signed, Graham Greene and John Sutro.” Mary and Margy figured their friends were pulling yet another practical joke, so they told the waiter he must be mistaken.

“We spent the next 15 minutes saying, what if it was? Oh! What stupid people we are not to have at least said, why sure, and gone to see,” Mary recalls.

As they got up to leave, two men emerged from behind a screen and said: “We didn’t mean to offend you, but my name is John Sutro, and this is Graham Greene, and we would like for you to have a drink with us.”

Mary and Margy accepted the invitation, and Greene fired question after question about their travels and reactions to Europe.

“They were hanging on our every word, asking questions. They really seemed to be interested in our answers, which was sort of a first,” Mary says.

As the evening wrapped up, Greene again invited Margy and Mary to see The Devil’s General. They both declined. Mary had to catch an overnight train to visit a friend in London, and Margy had to attend a farewell dinner.

“I know what we’ll do,” Greene said. “You, Ms. Alexander, pack your bags. You come to the first two acts of the play, we will put you in a taxi with your suitcase, and off to London you go. And you, Ms. Crosby, after your dinner, you come to the third act of the play, and then we’ll have dinner with Trevor Howard and the producer.”

Mary and Margy accepted. In their ship cabin on the return trip were a dozen yellow roses and a card reading, “Happy landfall. Come back soon. Graham.”

“I really think that there is a side to Graham Greene that you don’t know about, that may surprise you. And that is that he’s a gentleman and a very thoughtful, sensitive, compassionate person,” Mary said.

On the train back to London, Greene and Sutro jokingly decided to establish an Anglo-Texan Society, and they ran an announcement in The Times.

“Much to the astonishment of Graham Greene and John Sutro, some people took it very seriously. At one of the first big meetings in London, they sent three steers, Texas’s best beef, and all sorts of barbecue sauce. 1,500 people attended,” Mary said.

Years later, Mary says people often ask whether she and Margy were afraid when Greene and Sutro invited them to the play.

“Absolutely not. We had no fear of anything. I remember thinking to myself at that time, I could live anywhere in the world. I was just totally without fear of any kind,” Mary says. “Though all of this gave the tour leader a heart attack.”

Related blog posts:

Fellows Find: Graham Greene papers lift curtain on author’s psyche

 

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Fellows Find: Graham Greene papers lift curtain on author's psyche

Photo of Christopher Hull by Pete Smith.
Photo of Christopher Hull by Pete Smith.

Dr. Christopher Hull from the University of Nottingham, UK, came to the Harry Ransom Center on a British Studies Fellowship to research the Graham Greene collection. His initial plan is to write and publish a book on Greene and Cuba, concentrating on the writer’s journeys to the island prior to writing Our Man in Havana (1958), his depiction of the island and the Cold War in this iconic novel, and his continuing relationship with the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro after 1959. His larger project is to write a book on Greene and Latin America. He shares some of his findings in the collection here.

Supported by a British Studies Fellowship, I spent five profitable weeks at the Harry Ransom Center in June 2011 researching its Graham Greene collection. I was particularly interested to read material related to Greene’s contacts with Latin America, specifically three of his novels: Our Man in Havana (1958), The Comedians (1966), and The Honorary Consul (1973). The Center holds all the manuscript drafts for these works, as well as Greene’s screenplays for film versions of the first two novels. They offer a fascinating insight into the gestation of storyline and characters by one of Britain’s most renowned twentieth-century novelists.

As well as full-length manuscripts, the Ransom Center holds many of Greene’s shorter works, including unfinished and unpublished scripts, journalistic articles and opinion pieces, and an assortment of personal letters. Among these, we can see that the writer’s reputation for practical jokes and a mischievous sense of humor sometimes got him into trouble. In 1953, Greene was returning from a visit to Edinburgh with a friend after meeting “two delightful Texan girls” in a hotel. After imbibing a few pints of Black Velvet on their southbound train to London, the author and his friend decided as a joke to set up a new society. They published an announcement in The Times: “May we beg the courtesy of your columns to announce the formation of the Anglo-Texan Society?” It had the avowed objective of “establishing cultural and social links” between Britain and the Lone Star state.1

Abroad on a journalistic assignment in Kenya to cover the Mau-Mau rebellion, Greene soon received the perturbing news that the Society had received 60 membership applications on its first day. By the time Greene had returned to Britain, the Anglo-Texan Society had already held an inaugural cocktail party. His friend was now the Society’s Chairman and Greene its President. There was, however, some cynical reaction from the United States. The New York Times wondered if Greene, known as a creator of “diabolisms and plenty of hells” and no great supporter of U.S. foreign policy, might have a dastardly plan underfoot to make Texas cede from the Union.  But the Society went from strength to strength, and during another of Greene’s absences in Vietnam, prior to the publication of The Quiet American (1955), his friend presided over a jamboree at a film studio outside London. The Houston Fat Stock Show lent four prime steers and three Hillbilly bands to delight 1,500 Texans and Society members. Double-decker “Texas to Piccadilly Circus” buses carried 300 of the overseas visitors from London to the event. 2

Greene diplomatically resigned his presidency of the Society, using his frequent absences abroad as a credible excuse. The sobering Anglo-Texan Society experience dampened his enthusiasm for large-scale practical jokes, but the Society was still holding events 25 years after its formation.

Perhaps the biggest source of riches in the Harry Ransom Center’s Graham Greene collection is its series of “Dream Diaries.” As a troubled teenager, his headmaster father had sent Greene to London for six months of psychoanalysis alongside his pretty first cousin. Forty years later, when suffering from recurrent depression in the 1960s, a psychoanalyst recommended the peripatetic British author to write down the content of his dreams. The advice produced remarkable results, and gives an invaluable insight into the mind of the prolific author. Several volumes contain the writer’s memories of his dreams, intermittently, for the years 1964–66, 1972–75, 1979–81, 1983–86, and 1988. Greene’s “Dream Diaries” detail the writer’s nightly obsessions, fantasies, and episodes of repeated paranoia, as well as memories of past events. Among many fantastical accounts, the diaries recount his experiences from childhood and adulthood, his many travels to dangerous spots around the world, famous personalities (both living and dead), and time spent with several female partners in addition to his long-estranged wife. Four decades after his teenage experience of psychoanalysis, Greene was still fantasizing about an affair and possible marriage to his pretty cousin.

The recounting of most people’s dreams does not make for stimulating entertainment, but in Greene’s case they are riveting. Greene had served as an air-raid warden in Central London during the blitz. And his house in Clapham (South London) was destroyed by Nazi bombs in World War II. One of his recurrent fears was evidently a German invasion of Britain and further bombing raids. He also feared persecution by Haiti’s voodoo-worshiping President-for-Life “Papa Doc” Duvalier, years after his novel The Comedians had painted a dark picture of the dictator’s rule.

From a writer described by Lord of the Flies author William Golding as the “the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man’s consciousness,” even less dramatic nocturnal thoughts come alive. In his miniscule handwriting, for example, is the following dream from 1981:

Having dinner at Bentley’s I felt rather strange as I was wearing my dressing gown & had bare feet. I was relieved that no waiter objected. Evelyn Waugh was at the next table with three men—one of whom had an exceedingly ugly voice. I was glad when he separated from Evelyn & went to the other end of the table with a companion where his voice was more subdued. Later I had a better opinion of him when he was reproached by a woman at another table for having left his wife. She urged him to return, but he said it was out of the question – he could not live with her. I became impatient at the bad service & called out to a wine waiter – “I ordered a glass of port half an hour ago & a Welsh rarebit three quarters of an hour ago.” I wondered whether the bad service was due to the way I was dressed.3

Currently, only a brief and sanitized collection of these dreams exists in published form.4 Greene fans must relish the day when his recorded dreams can be transcribed and published in their entirety.

1 The Times, Aug. 22 1953, p. 7.

2 ‘The Joke That Went Wrong’, Jan. 29 1974, Box 19.1, Graham Greene Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

3 ‘Dream Diaries’ (1979–81), Jan. 17–18 1981 (p. 15), Box 38.3, Graham Greene Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

4A World of My Own: A Dream Diary (London: Viking, 1992).

Related posts:

Two Texas sorority sisters inspire Graham Greene and John Sutro to establish Anglo-Texan Society

Win a copy of Denis Johnson's latest book

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Writer Denis Johnson, whose archive is currently being cataloged at the Ransom Center, is best known for his National Book Award–winning novel Tree of Smoke (2007), Jesus’ Son (1992), and several plays and poetry collections. Farrar, Straus and Giroux recently published Johnson’s novella Train Dreams, which was originally published in a slightly different form in The Paris Review in 2002.

Johnson’s archive contains materials related to the novella, some of which can be seen in the above slideshow.

In honor of the book’s release, the Ransom Center is giving away two copies of the novella. Email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “Johnson” in the subject line by midnight CST tonight to be entered in a drawing for the books.

Denis Johnson's 'Train Dreams.'
Denis Johnson's 'Train Dreams.'

A glimpse into J. M. Coetzee’s bound drafts: "Life & Times of Michael K"

The day-to-day work of a special-collections curator does not leave much time for actually reading manuscripts, despite assumptions to the contrary on the part of outsiders. I sometimes look with envy at researchers who sit with one document for hours at a time. So it was with great anticipation that I set aside time to survey a shipping carton containing drafts of J. M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel Life & Times of Michael K. I chose it because I was halfway through my first reading of this, the writer’s fourth novel and the recipient of his first Booker Prize. After my brief encounter with this novel’s drafts, I could only imagine the rich research potential of the Coetzee archive as a whole.

The novel concerns Michael K, a gardener of unidentified race who may or may not be mentally challenged. When his mother, Anna, becomes ill, he leaves work to care for her. Anna works as a domestic servant for a wealthy couple and lives in a tiny room beneath their expensive apartment in Cape Town. When the city erupts into violent unrest, the wealthy couple flee, and Michael and Anna briefly inhabit their apartment and then begin a long trek to escape the war-ravaged city for the countryside where Anna once lived; I won’t give away the remainder of the story. The portion of the story described above is told in a flat third-person voice, the distanced narration contrasting dramatically with the appalling physical and emotional conditions of the two main characters.

Like the remainder of the Coetzee papers, the drafts of Michael K arrived at the Ransom Center in remarkably good order, carefully arranged by Coetzee (my pleasure in perusing these materials was enhanced by Coetzee’s elegant, eminently legible handwriting—a rare boon for archival researchers). The novel’s nine drafts are held in five hand-bound volumes, and all but the last are titled simply “#4.” Each draft is numbered and bound in sequence. All of the drafts are written (and in one case typed) in one or more yellow or blue University of Cape Town examination books; each of these is likewise carefully numbered and marked with the appropriate version number. Coetzee appears to have bound the volumes together himself, using whatever materials were near at hand: while some are anchored in large file folders using brads, others are bound in large sheets cut from heavy cardboard shipping boxes, held together by hand-cut pieces of thick metal wire bent and pushed through the hole-punched manuscripts. The resulting artifacts have a charm that belies the novelist’s very serious and explicit intent to preserve a linear record of the novel’s composition.

This compositional record is indeed replete with opportunities for scholars of Michael K. The earliest versions of the novel reveal that Coetzee settled upon several foundational elements of the finished novel early on: the characters are named Anna (or Annie) and Michael. They are related. Anna lives in a room on the ground floor of an expensive apartment complex, and her employers flee. She is ill, and Michael comes to help her. Even some wordings in the earliest drafts appear in the finished novel.

But these similarities are accompanied by profound differences. The first five versions are perhaps best described as windows into alternate realities for the characters of Michael and Anna K, who are reimagined anew by Coetzee as he seeks to determine the nature of the novel’s central relationship. In the first version, Michael is Anna’s son, but he is a brilliant poet, not a gardener who is perceived as dimwitted. In the second, Michael is again her son, but is married and has a child; his wife is killed, and his child taken away before he comes to stay with his mother. In the third, Michael is Anna’s young grandson and worships his absent father (notably, this draft is told entirely in the first person by the child). In the fourth, he is her adult grandson who works as a gardener. In the fifth version, he is Anna’s common-law husband.

Only in the sixth version does Coetzee settle upon the published relationship; this heavily annotated draft is much longer than the ones that precede it and appears to mark a major shift in the compositional process. I skimmed through the later drafts and found further interesting changes too numerous to mention here, but found myself repeatedly returning to the variant Michaels and Annas, wondering how many further variations Coetzee may have considered, and wondering, too, at the elements that he apparently never doubted. For instance, he knew from the beginning that Anna’s legs would be swollen—this detail is described in grim detail in the published novel and appears often in the early drafts—but did not know whether the woman’s son, grandson, or husband would cope with this ailment.

The Annas and Michaels have stayed with me, and I have already started reading the novel again from the first page, seeking traces of those lost characters and viewing the swollen legs, the room beneath the apartment, and the names “Anna” and “Michael” with fresh attention.

 

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Coetzee’s ties to Texas date back almost 50 years

The acquisition of Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee’s archive by the Ransom Center is a fitting tribute to the writer’s long-standing ties to The University of Texas at Austin and, in a way, brings his relationship with the University full circle.

Coetzee enrolled in the University in 1965, and he earned his Ph.D. in English, linguistics, and Germanic languages in 1968. While at the University, he conducted research in the Ransom Center’s collections for his dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett.

In a 1984 essay for the New York Times titled “How I Learned About America—and Africa—in Texas,” Coetzee writes about working in the collections at the Ransom Center:

“In the Manuscripts Room of the library, I found the exercise books in which Samuel Beckett had written “Watt” on a farm in the south of France, hiding out from the Germans. I spent weeks perusing them, pondering the sketches and numbers and doodles in the margins, disconcerted to find the well-attested agony of composing a masterpiece had left no other traces than these flippancies. Was the pain perhaps all in the waiting, I asked myself, in the sitting and staring at the empty page?”

Once the Coetzee archive is cataloged, students will have access to Coetzee’s own papers for scholarly work and perhaps will explore some of these same questions about the writer’s process.

Coetzee was on campus during the Charles Whitman shooting in 1966, and in the same essay, he recalls hiding under a desk during the ordeal. He also recalls happier times on campus spent with cricket teammates and traveling to College Station to play the Aggie team, also composed mostly of students from colonial countries. Coetzee lived in Austin with his wife during those three years, and their son Nicholas was born here.

Coetzee returned to the University as a guest of the linguistics department and again in 1995 to teach students in the MFA program at the Michener Center for Writers. Student evaluations from his time at the Michener Center are included among his papers, and the anonymous responses are almost unanimous in their praise.

“John Coetzee has an astonishing mind,” wrote one student.

“I feel very fortunate to have had him as a teacher,” wrote another. “His intellect is world-class. I admire his writing as well as his teaching. He parses meaning with rather exquisite precision, displays humor, never loses the larger sense. He has high standards but was always approachable. He guided classroom discussions with a light hand—they were spontaneous but not chaotic. He was, in short, very great—interesting and interested.”

The Texas Exes, the alumni organization for The University of Texas at Austin, awarded Coetzee the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2004.

Coetzee returned to the University once more in May 2010 to give a talk as part of the Graduate School‘s 1910 Society Lecture Series, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the school.

In his talk, Coetzee said of his time in Austin: “My free hours I spent in the library, which I cannot praise more highly than to say it did not know all the treasures it contained.”

Scholars, researchers, and students will no doubt be mining the Coetzee archive in the coming years in search of the many treasures that it contains.

 

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Nobel Prize-winning writer J. M. Coetzee's archive acquired

A portrait of J. M. Coetzee taken during his visit to The University of Texas at Austin in May 2010. Photo by Marsha Miller.
A portrait of J. M. Coetzee taken during his visit to The University of Texas at Austin in May 2010. Photo by Marsha Miller.

The Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Nobel Prize-winning writer and University of Texas at Austin alumnus J. M. Coetzee. Spanning more than 50 years, the archive traces the author’s life and career from 1956 through the present.

“My association with The University of Texas goes back almost half a century,” said Coetzee. “It is very satisfying to me to know that my papers will find a home at the Ransom Center, one of the world’s great research collections.”

Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940 and graduated from the University of Cape Town. After working three years as a computer programmer in England, he enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin in 1965 to pursue his Ph.D. in English, linguistics, and Germanic languages, which he earned in 1969. While at the university, he conducted research in the Ransom Center’s collections for his dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett.

Coetzee is an acclaimed novelist, academic, and literary critic. Influenced by his personal history of growing up in South Africa, he writes with strong anti-imperialist feelings. He has published 13 books, including Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999. Both novels received the Man Booker Prize, awarded each year for best full-length novel, making Coetzee the first author to receive the award twice.

Photo Friday

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.

Pete Smith, Supervisor of Photography at the Ransom Center, delicately moves the Coronelli terrestrial globe for an interactive multimedia project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Pete Smith, Supervisor of Photography at the Ransom Center, delicately moves the Coronelli terrestrial globe for an interactive multimedia project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
The Coronelli terrestrial globe, commissioned in 1681 by  French King Louis XIV, waits to be photographed for an interactive online project. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Coronelli terrestrial globe, commissioned in 1681 by French King Louis XIV, waits to be photographed for an interactive online project. Photo by Pete Smith.
John Wright, Chief Preparator at the Ransom Center, packs a painting for shipment.  Photo by Pete Smith.
John Wright, Chief Preparator at the Ransom Center, packs a painting for shipment. Photo by Pete Smith.

In the Galleries: The Greenwich Village bookshop door

Front side of door from Frank Shay's bookshop in Greenwich Village. The door is covered in more than 240 signatures on the front and back side.
Front side of door from Frank Shay's bookshop in Greenwich Village. The door is covered in more than 240 signatures on the front and back side.

In the early 1920s, noteworthy visitors to Frank Shay’s Bookshop at 4 Christopher Street began autographing the narrow door that opened into the shop’s office. Signed by over 240 artists, writers, publishers, and other notable habitués of Greenwich Village, this unusual artifact is a literal portal to the past, revealing the rich mix of innovators— from anarchist poets to major commercial publishers—that defined this slice of Bohemia from 1920 to 1925.

The shop was a haunt of legendary figures: novelists Upton Sinclair and John Dos Passos browsed alongside artists John Sloan and James Earle Fraser. Poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and Vachel Lindsay rubbed elbows with publishers Thomas Seltzer and John Farrar. Playwright Susan Glaspell and Theatre Guild founder Lawrence Langner crossed paths with Algonquin Round Table members Donald Ogden Stewart and Heywood Broun.

This narrow pine door began its life in a flat at 11 Christopher Street once occupied by the novelist and prominent Villager Floyd Dell. In 1921 the building was demolished, but not before Frank Shay saved the door—painted red at the time—and took it across the street and installed it at the back of his shop. As Christopher Morley tells the story, Shay enjoyed an afternoon drink in his office and hung the door to hide this then-illegal activity; these were the days of Prohibition.

According to Morley, the first signer was artist Hendrik Willem Van Loon. His name appears in the center front, accompanied by a cartoon ship. We do not know whether signing the door was a privilege reserved only for some customers. The vast majority of signers were well known; a small number were local businesspeople or friends of the shop’s various owners.

As the number of signatures grew, the door became a well-known curiosity, and people visited the shop to see it. Over the five years that the shop was in business, the door was covered with approximately 242 signatures, most in pencil. Shay likely added the blue “frame” before he sold the shop in 1923. Varnish was added at some point, protecting most of the signatures, though some had already smudged or faded beyond recognition.

When the shop closed in 1925, then-owner Juliette Koenig moved the storied door to her New York apartment. In 1960 she put it up for sale, and the Ransom Center purchased it.

The Greenwich Village bookshop door can be seen in the current exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925, on display through January 22, 2012. Many of artist Van Loon’s cartoons appear on the walls throughout the exhibition.

A close-up of signatures on the door. Novelist Upton Sinclair appears at the bottom of this selection.
A close-up of signatures on the door. Novelist Upton Sinclair appears at the bottom of this selection.