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"The Gernsheim Collection" Earns Recognition

"The Gernsheim Collection" (UT Press, 2010).
"The Gernsheim Collection" (UT Press, 2010).

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The Gernsheim Collection, co-published by the Harry Ransom Center and the University of Texas Press, has been awarded an Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, which honors a distinguished catalog in the history of art published during the past year.

Edited by Ransom Center Senior Research Curator Roy Flukinger, The Gernsheim Collection coincided with the Ransom Center’s 2010 exhibition Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection, which explored the history of photography through the Center’s foundational photography collection.

The Gernsheim collection is one of the most important collections of photography in the world. Amassed by the renowned husband-and-wife team of Helmut and Alison Gernsheim between 1945 and 1963, it contains an unparalleled range of images, beginning with the world’s earliest-known photograph from nature, made by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826.

The book includes more than 125 full-page plates from the collection accompanied by extensive annotations in which Flukinger describes each image’s place in the evolution of photography and within the collection.

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.

Preparator Wyndell Faulk installs a video screen in the galleries for the upcoming exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens February 28. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk installs a video screen in the galleries for the upcoming exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens February 28. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Marianne Fulton, a consultant who will be contributing to a book on photographer Arnold Newman, orders photographs for the project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Marianne Fulton, a consultant who will be contributing to a book on photographer Arnold Newman, orders photographs for the project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.

Fellows Find: Finding humanity in the Isaac Bashevis Singer correspondence

Undated photo of Isaac Bashevis Singer, with wife Alma in the background. Unidentified photographer.
Undated photo of Isaac Bashevis Singer, with wife Alma in the background. Unidentified photographer.

Alexandra Tali Herzog, PhD candidate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, visited the Harry Ransom Center in June 2011 on a dissertation fellowship to investigate the Isaac Bashevis Singer collection. In her dissertation, she examines the interplay between demonology, libertinism, and religion in Singer’s work. Drawing from the theoretical frameworks of both Kabbalah and gender theory, Herzog analyzes Singer’s unorthodox conception of love and sexuality, attending to his recreation of an erotic, subversive “underworld” in the Eastern Europe of his writings—one permeated with mysticism, magic, demons, and antinomianism.

With the very generous support of a dissertation fellowship, I had the incredible opportunity to spend four weeks at the Harry Ransom Center exploring the treasure trove that is the Isaac Bashevis Singer archive. With its 176 boxes and adjacent collections, the impressive Singer archive covers the period from 1935 until Singer’s death in 1991—although I found a few manuscripts from as early as 1923 and as late as 1995.

As a Singer scholar, the most striking discovery for me was the Center’s impressive holdings of unpublished correspondence, a testament to how prolific a letter writer Singer was. These letters show Singer’s constant reflection on ongoing political and social events, the complexity of his writing process, as well as his interest in literature in general. A prominent Jewish American, a Yiddish writer and Nobel Prize winner, Singer was also—as this unique collection of correspondence reminds us —a complex human being who was witty, charming, brilliant, and not to be trusted in the matters of the heart!

Exceptionally poignant are the exchanges between Singer and his second wife Alma—or “Papa-Pu” and “Mama-Pu,” as they used to call each other—before and during their marriage: “You have all the qualities of a lover—none of a husband,” Alma writes to Singer. These invaluable letters shed much light on their relationship and the tormented life Alma had before she left her first husband and their children to marry Singer. It is well known that Singer was unfaithful to his wife and had multiple affairs. However, it is less acknowledged that Alma was aware of his infidelity and seemed to accept it under the condition that what Singer felt for her was true love and not some volatile feeling.

In a letter, she writes: “As far as your letter is concerned, I am not disappointed. I took it for granted that you have a girlfriend there and I don’t see why you are so embarrassed—you are not even in N.Y. in the least faithful to me—and why should you be so in the country? I have only the choice to come to you and to surrender finally or to put up with the matters as they are.”

In a note hand-written in pencil, dated 19.1.38, Singer writes: “I must tell you that I love you so very much—you will not believe nor understand—but it is true, you are my life. What happens besides you is only framework—but I only love you—and this is all that matters.”

Similarly, years later on September 6, 1970, he still presents the same honesty: “I hope you are well and that you can forgive me my follies. No one is perfect. Nothing can diminish my love for you.” He signs this letter to her (as he did many others): “Your most devoted pig.” As with many other women in Singer’s life, Alma not only nurtured him romantically, but she was also involved in his writing career, pushing him to publish in certain journals and helping him get some business contacts.

Aside from the rich personal life to which the correspondence attests, it is also interesting to uncover Singer’s interactions with other writers. For example, I was not aware of his friendship with the American writer Henry Miller. It is well known that when Henry Miller turned 86, he went on a heavy campaign to get the 1978 Nobel Prize. He encouraged his friends, publishers, and acquaintances to participate in a letter-writing campaign in his support. In this context, he asked Singer to write him a letter of support for the prize. Interestingly (and ironically) that is the year that Singer received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Their correspondence is very interesting as it is both personal and professional.

The Harry Ransom Center houses a treasure of marvels, and I am very much looking forward to analyzing the data that I have assembled, which offers a glimpse of the charm and genius of a Yiddish writer who became part of the American literary canon.

Charles Dickens turns 200 today

Charles Dickens was born in 1812—200 years ago today—and his works continue to be some of the most beloved and enduring stories in the English literary canon. The Ransom Center has strong holdings of Charles Dickens materials, many of which were donated to the Center in the 1970s by Halstead B. Vanderpoel.

Dickens started his career as a journalist when he was 19, though he kept trying his hand at fiction on the side. He published his first story in the Monthly Magazine in December 1833 at age 21, and three years later he published his first novel, The Pickwick Papers. The book, which was published in serial form, was an enormous success in England, and Dickens went on to become the most popular writer of his time. With the serial format, Dickens could offer his novel at a low cost and enjoy a wide circulation among readers. The formula was so successful that many of Dickens’s subsequent novels were also published in serial form.

Dickens followed up success of The Pickwick Papers with Oliver Twist (1838), Nicolas Nickleby (1839), David Copperfield (1849), Bleak House (1853), Little Dorrit (1857), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860), and other classic titles.

A forerunner to modern-day publishing marketers, Dickens knew how to make his works appeal to the widest possible audience. A Christmas Carol, for example, was published just in time for Christmas in 1843. Dickens wrote with humor, but he also wrote to shed light on the dark side of poverty in England at the time.

In a posthumous biography, it was revealed that Dickens came from humble beginnings. His own father was imprisoned for debt when Dickens was a child, forcing the boy and his siblings to work in a factory in terrible conditions to support the family. His experiences in the factory were later immortalized in David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

Our Mutual Friend was Dickens’s last complete novel before his death in 1870, following a 36-year career as a writer. He was working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood when he died, but he completed only six of the planned 12 installments. Dickens is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Ransom Center’s Dickens holdings are extensive and include 168 letters, a virtually complete run of his published works, 14 books from the author’s library, and Dickens ephemera. The Charles Dickens literary file includes 39 photographs, many of which are portraits of Dickens.

The Charles Dickens art collection contains more than 1,000 paintings, drawings, prints, postcards, plates, clippings, and portfolios relating to Dickens, including original illustrations for editions of his works, renderings of fictional characters, and images of settings of his novels.

In the above slideshow, view some of the materials from the Dickens collection at the Ransom Center. Dickens’s copy of The Life of Our Lord will be on display in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence, which opens February 28.

Please click on thumbnails for larger images.

 

Image: Wax impression of Charles Dickens’s seal. Photo by Pete Smith.

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.

Ransom Center staffers stuff member invitations for the upcoming exhibition
Ransom Center staffers stuff member invitations for the upcoming exhibition
Graduate student intern Kevin Auer applies a silicone gel to a medieval text to conserve the ink on the page.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney
Graduate student intern Kevin Auer applies a silicone gel to a medieval text to conserve the ink on the page. Photo by Kelsey McKinney
Senior book conservator Olivia Primanis demonstrates the elements of book structure with intern Hsiang-Shun Huang and volunteers Christopher Jones and Margaret Schafer so they can write a treatment report before repairing
Senior book conservator Olivia Primanis demonstrates the elements of book structure with intern Hsiang-Shun Huang and volunteers Christopher Jones and Margaret Schafer so they can write a treatment report before repairing

The Letters of Hemingway: a scholar’s work in the Ransom Center archives

Ernest Hemingway as a baby. Unidentified photographer.
Ernest Hemingway as a baby. Unidentified photographer.

The recent publication of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume I, 1907-1922 has re-ignited public interest in Hemingway’s personal life and documents. In the introduction to the book, editor Sandra Spanier writes: “Hemingway’s letters constitute this autobiography in the continuous present tense. They enrich our understanding of his creative processes, offer insider insights into the twentieth-century literary scene, and document the making and marketing of an American icon.” Four of the letters from the Ransom Center’s  Hemingway collection can be found in the book.

Liesl Olson, a 2011-12 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, visited the Ransom Center in October 2011 to study the letters of Hemingway. In January she will become Director of the Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago. She shares some of her findings from the Hemingway collection here:

“In October I spent a few days working in the Hemingway collection at the Harry Ransom Center. I was looking to learn more about the relationship between Hemingway and his Oak Park roots—especially his fraught relationship with his artistic mother, Grace Hall Hemingway. I also mined the collection for materials relevant to Hemingway’s time in Chicago, particularly during 1920-21 when he lived with friends on the north side and wrote for a fraudulent periodical called the Cooperative Commonwealth. What I found at the Ransom Center will help to complete a story that I tell about Hemingway in my book-in-progress, which is about the literary and artistic centrality of Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century.

Perhaps the most fantastic letter that Grace Hall Hemingway sent to her son is dated July 24, 1920, and it is contained in the Hemingway collection at the Ransom Center. The letter is an elaborate reprimand for Hemingway’s late-night lake escapade with friends up in Michigan. In Grace Hall Hemingway’s ten-page letter—for which she composed many drafts (also in the collection)—she conceives of the metaphor of a bank to describe their relationship, and she is quick to point out that he is “overdrawn.” Most Hemingway scholars know about this letter. But in looking at the letter in context of so many others at the Ransom Center, it is striking to learn that Hemingway’s father (who received a copy) called it a “masterpiece” and that the letter itself entered into family lore. Grace Hall Hemingway’s construction of motherhood—in a letter written in flourishing cursive script—is a striking analogue to Hemingway’s own construction of himself, much later in life, as a popular, bearded “Papa.”

I found many other collections at the Ransom Center  that help to illuminate the literary and cultural life of Chicago—especially the Alice Corbin Henderson collection. Henderson was Harriet Monroe’s editorial assistant at Poetry magazine, published in Chicago, where Hemingway’s poems first appeared in 1923. Though Hemingway’s letters to Monroe have been published—and the spectacular multi-volume Hemingway letters project will complete what has been missed—the materials at the Ransom Center provide the other side of the correspondence, the incoming letters to Hemingway. Like the 1920 letter from Grace Hall Hemingway, these letters give voice to the people and places that shaped Hemingway’s life and work.”