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Driftwood in an archive

Writer Jim Crace, author of Continent (1986), Arcadia (1992), Quarantine (1997), Being Dead (1999), and The Pesthouse (2007), speaks about ephermera in archives and the narratives and stories they provide.

Crace elaborates about a piece of driftwood found in his archive that contains a note that was later incorporated into his novel Signals of Distress (1996).

Enter by July 13 for a chance to win a signed copy of Crace’s Continent by visiting the Ransom Center’s Facebook page.

Crace will be in residence this fall at the Michener Center for Writers at The University of Texas at Austin. He will give a public reading on December 6.

Piece of driftwood in Jim Crace’s archive. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Piece of driftwood in Jim Crace’s archive. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

In the Galleries: Robert De Niro's King James Version-inspired tattoos in "Cape Fear"

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The 1991 Martin Scorsese–directed thriller Cape Fear may seem an unlikely candidate for documenting the use and influence of the King James Bible, but its central character, Max Cady, as played by Robert De Niro, wielded biblical verses like weapons.

This aspect of Cady was absent in both the original 1962 film starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum and in The Executioners (1957), the novel by John D. MacDonald on which the film was based.

Cape Fear follows Cady, a convicted felon, as he seeks vengeance against his attorney, Sam Bowden. While in prison, Cady learned that Bowden suppressed information that might have resulted in a lighter sentence or acquittal. The biblical story of Job’s suffering looms large as a model for Cady’s punishment of Bowden.

The research materials from the Robert De Niro collection reveal the extent to which De Niro was involved in the development of the Pentecostal past of and biblical influence on Cady. To prepare for the role, De Niro consulted multiple Bibles, a concordance, Bible study guides, Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Book of Job, and books and articles about Pentecostalism and Pentecostal worship.

Screenwriter Wesley Strick recalled, “Every scene of Bob’s, he would call me and say, ‘Can Max say something else here about vengeance, from the Bible?’” De Niro also worked closely with Scorcese and artist Ilona Herman to identify Bible verses and designs for Cady’s extensive tattoos.

Cape Fear did not offer viewers a traditional Bible story. Indeed, Cady’s use of the Bible was troubling for many audiences, and it contributed to the tension of the film. One critic observed, “The dissonance between the cultural expectations we associate with the Bible and our immediate perception of this character [as evil] contributes to the sustained horror of the film.”

Materials from Cape Fear and other films influenced by the King James Bible are on view in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence through July 29.

A production still of Robert De Niro as Max Cady, the bible verse-tattoo sporting convict from "Cape Fear."
A production still of Robert De Niro as Max Cady, the bible verse-tattoo sporting convict from "Cape Fear."

First Photograph to travel to Europe for first time in 50 years

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's 'View from the Window at Le Gras' c. 1826. Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum.
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's 'View from the Window at Le Gras' c. 1826. Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum.

The First Photograph will be loaned, along with 119 other images and photography-related items from the Harry Ransom Center’s Gernsheim collection, to the Reiss Englehorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany, for the exhibition “The Birth of Photography-Highlights of the Helmut Gernsheim Collection.” The exhibition runs from September 9 through January 6, 2013.

The First Photograph has been removed from display at the Ransom Center to be prepared for its departure in July. The First Photograph will be back on display at the Ransom Center in February 2013.

The First Photograph was acquired by the Ransom Center as part of the Gernsheim collection from Helmut and Alison Gernsheim in 1963. Taken in 1826 or 1827, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras depicts the view from an upstairs window at Niépce’s estate, Le Gras, which is in the Burgundy region of France. Niépce’s photograph represents the foundation of today’s photography, film, and other media arts.

The First Photograph forms the cornerstone of Helmut Gernsheim’s photographic collection, which was the largest in the world when the Ransom Center acquired it in 1963. The Gernsheim collection is one of the seminal collections in the United States of the history of photography and contains an unparalleled range of more than 35,000 images. Its encyclopedic scope—as well as the expertise with which the Gernsheims assembled the collection — makes the Gernsheim collection one of the world’s premier sources for the study and appreciation of photography

In 2002, the Forum International Photographie at the Reiss Engelhorn Museum acquired Gernsheim’s later collection of contemporary photography, along with his own photographs and archive. For the first time in half a century, major portions of both Gernsheim collections are being reunited: the historical material housed in the Ransom Center and the contemporary collection in the Forum International Photographie at the Reiss Engelhorn Museum.

While the First Photograph is on loan, the photographic print View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826, 2009 by Adam Schreiber will occupy the display in the Ransom Center’s lobby. The photograph depicts the Niepce plate in situ in the museum display, as photographed by Schreiber in 2009. Schreiber is a member of the Lakes Were Rivers artist collective, a group of artists who work primarily in photography and video. In summer 2013, the Ransom Center will host an exhibition in which members of the collective will display their original works paired with Ransom Center collection material that inspired them.

Alice in Burnt Orange: Salvador Dalí’s rendition of the Lewis Carroll classic at the Ransom Center

Sarah Sussman is a graduate student in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Though currently writing about nineteenth-century American Spiritualism, she is interested in Surrealist art, children’s literature, and British literature as well.

Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel that stretches the imagination and playfully defies logic has been adapted by a number of artists throughout the years, but perhaps none have been so well-suited to put their own spin on the English author’s topsy-turvy adventure as Salvador Dalí. The surrealist artist’s galas might have rivaled the Mad Hatter’s tea parties, and his paradoxical identification of himself as a sane madman would have put him at home as one of Carroll’s whimsical characters.

Dalí’s illustrations for the novel come more than 100 years after its original printing with John Tenniel’s images. Although many will be familiar with Tenniel (a number of his images can be seen reproduced today on all sorts of Alice ephemera), the Dalí prints are far less common. Viewers will be struck by the artist’s intensely vivid, color-saturated heliogravure with woodblock prints. They offer a new way to read Alice’s Adventures, from a twentieth-century perspective only Dalí could provide—from an outlandishly sized, wide-eyed, dashing white rabbit, to dripping fluorescent mushrooms, to larger-than-life butterflies and, yes, even one of the artist’s signature melting clocks. It seems especially fitting that this portfolio is at The University of Texas at Austin, because Dali’s edition is highlighted entirely in burnt orange, from the portfolio’s burnt orange box, to its burnt orange typographical accents, to its featured frontispiece of Alice, looming large in frenetically etched orange lines, carrying a jump rope or a hoop against a cloud-scudded sky.

Published in New York by Maecenas Press–Random House in 1969, the portfolio-style book features 12 prints to correspond with each chapter of Carroll’s book and an original signed etching as the frontispiece. The Ransom Center’s copy is signed and one of 2,500 portfolios. Dalí’s rendition is a well-paired match for Carroll’s adventure and a lively part of the Ransom Center’s holdings.

Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.

Ransom Center appoints Chief Curator of Photography

Jessica S. McDonald. © Caren Alpert Photography.
Jessica S. McDonald. © Caren Alpert Photography.

The Ransom Center has appointed Jessica S. McDonald, a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as its new chief curator of photography. McDonald begins her position at the Ransom Center in September.

As the Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography, McDonald will oversee a collection that spans from the world’s earliest-known photograph to prints from some of the great masters of the twenty-first century. The Center’s photography holdings include the Helmut and Alison Gernsheim collection, a seminal collection of the history of photography and one of the world’s premier sources for the study and appreciation of photography.

In addition to the history of photography, the Ransom Center’s photography collection focuses on photojournalism and documentary photography, with holdings of more than 5 million prints and negatives, supplemented by books, manuscripts, journals, and memorabilia of photographers.

“McDonald’s broad experiences —  from teaching to curatorial — confirmed that she can lead our photography department, build the collection, support research, and plan exhibitions,” said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley. “The possibilities under her guidance are exciting.”

McDonald’s professional experience includes affiliations with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Visual Studies Workshop and George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. In 2011, McDonald received an Ansel Adams Research Fellowship from the Center for Creative Photography.

McDonald recently curated the exhibition Photography in Mexico: Selected Works from the Collections of SFMOMA and Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser and edited the anthology Nathan Lyons: Selected Essays, Lectures, and Interviews, which University of Texas Press published in June.

Clues help date pair of Hebrew Bibles with common thread

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Behold this pair of Bibles. They were both owned by Andrew Fletcher (1653–1716), noted as the “Scotch patriot” in the Dictionary of National Biography. Fletcher had an interest in politics and letters but is often remembered today for his extensive library, believed to be the finest library in Scotland at that time. His distinctive signature can be seen on both images and in a Ransom Center copy of the first edition of the King James Bible (1611).

The first image is of the title page of a 1525 Hebrew Bible printed in Venice by Antwerp-born painter Daniel Bomberg. This was his third Hebrew Bible and the first to present the Masora, critical notes made on manuscripts of the Hebrew scriptures before the tenth century. It is dated ‫ה”רפ on the title page, indicating 1525. The colophon, shown in the second image, is dated ח”רפ, but Darlow and Moule (no. 5086, Historical catalogue of the printed editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1903) cite C.D. Ginsburg, who believes that the letter ח was substituted in error for the letter ה, thus changing the date from 1525 to 1528.

Also shown is a second Hebrew Bible. It was printed by Christopher Plantin of Antwerp in 1566. Leon Voet’s extensive bibliography on the Plantin Press [no. 650, The Plantin Press (1555–1589): A Bibliography of the Works Printed and Published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp and Leiden, 1980] notes that the matrices for the type used in this Bible came to Plantin from his partner, Cornelis van Bomberghen, whose uncle was Daniel Bomberg, the printer of the 1525 Hebrew Bible. So, the two Bibles have a common thread.

The title page of a 1525 Hebrew Bible printed by Daniel Bomberg. It is dated ‫ה”רפ on the title page, indicating 1525.
The title page of a 1525 Hebrew Bible printed by Daniel Bomberg. It is dated ‫ה”רפ on the title page, indicating 1525.

Letters in Knopf archive show challenges Ray Bradbury faced early in his career

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Legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, author of the classics Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, died last Wednesday at the age of 91. In his long writing career, Bradbury published hundreds of novels and short stories, becoming an icon in the world of literature that describes aliens, space ships, faraway planets—and the future of books.

Like the 13-year-old characters in his Something Wicked This Way Comes, Bradbury spent much of his boyhood visiting the public libraries of his Midwest hometown, where he was inspired by the works of such writes as Aldous Huxley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells. Throughout his life he was an enormous supporter of libraries, advocating them as some of the most important institutions in American life and culture. The son of an electrician father and a Swedish immigrant mother, Bradbury lacked the means for a formal college education and prided himself on being largely self-taught. In 1971, in aid of a fundraising effort for public libraries in southern California, he published the essay “How Instead of Being Educated in College, I Was Graduated From Libraries.” Like the characters in his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury feared a future wherein books would become obsolete.

Bradbury faced an arduous challenge in making his own futuristic novels part of the libraries he so dearly loved. Early in his career, he had difficulty garnering interest for his science fiction stories from mainstream publishing houses. He was famously “discovered” by a young Truman Capote, then a staff member at Mademoiselle, who picked Bradbury’s 1947 short story “Homecoming” out of the slush pile of submissions to the magazine and encouraged its publication. The Alfred A. Knopf archive at the Harry Ransom Center, however, reveals that despite Capote’s early advocacy, Bradbury continued to meet with difficulties when seeking a home for his work. In a rejection letter from 1948, a reader at the publishing house professes hesitation toward Bradbury’s first novel, Dark Carnival. The evaluator states that though there is “much talk about town” of Bradbury’s “weird, unusual, and tricky” stories, “the style, while adequate, lacks distinction.”

Three decades later Bradbury, by then a seasoned author with dozens of publications to his credit, became a highly valued writer at the Knopf firm. During the 1970s he worked closely with editors Robert Gottlieb and Nancy Nicholas, who published his Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns, Dandelion Wine, and When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, among others. In a letter to Nicholas (shown in the slideshow above), Bradbury, who often wrote nostalgically of childhood, included a picture of himself at the age of three. He jocularly describes the photograph as “beautifully serious, as if the young writer had just been disturbed in the midst of some creative activity.”

The Ransom Center also houses manuscripts and letters related to Ray Bradbury in its Lloyd W. Currey, Sanora Babb, Eliot Elisofon, Lillian Hellman, B. J. Simmons, and Tim O’Brien archives. Additionally, the Ransom Center’s Lewis Allen collection contains screenplay drafts, correspondence, casting notes, call sheets, and promotional materials for François Truffaut’s 1966 film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.

The book jacket for the first edition of Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451."
The book jacket for the first edition of Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451."

Win a signed copy of an Alan Furst book

Alan Furst. © Shonna Valeska
Alan Furst. © Shonna Valeska

Alan Furst, whose papers reside at the Ransom Center, has added a new novel to his list of historical espionage tales set in pre-World War II Europe. Mission to Paris (Random House) follows the story of Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl who travels to Paris in 1938 to make a movie and participate in an informal spy service being run out of the American embassy in Paris.

To celebrate this publication, the Ransom Center is giving away a signed copy of a book by Furst. Visit the Center’s Facebook page to enter to win.

Read a Q&A with Furst about the new novel and his writing process in the Wall Street Journal.

Need more for your Furst fix? Cultural Compass has compiled a list of interviews, videos, recommended reading, and more.

-Watch videos of Furst discussing how he develops atmosphere, the importance of first drafts, his archive at the Ransom Center, and why he writes spy novels.

-Furst’s novel Spies of Warsaw is being turned into a miniseries starring David Tenant and Janet Montgomery by the BBC. Listen to Furst read from the novel.

-View a list of books recommended by Furst

-Read a Q&A with Furst

-Read “Interrogation of a Spy Novelist,” which originally appeared in The Alcalde magazine.

In Memoriam: Barry Unsworth (1930–2012)

Handwritten draft of Barry Unsworth's 1992 novel, "Sacred Hunger."
Handwritten draft of Barry Unsworth's 1992 novel, "Sacred Hunger."

British author Barry Unworth, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, died earlier this week at the age of 81.

Unsworth, who is known for such acclaimed novels as Sacred Hunger (1992), Pascali’s Island (1980), and The Ruby in Her Navel (2006), handwrites all of his novels, and the archive contains manuscripts of all but one of the 16 novels he wrote before 2007.

In this age of computers and word processing, Unsworth’s handwritten drafts reveal much about his creative process. The above page is from a draft from his Booker Prize–winning novel, Sacred Hunger (1992). This draft fills five notebooks. The novel centers on an eighteenth-century slave ship, which Unsworth describes on this page as: “a particle in a bloodstream constantly circulating negro slaves, and a minute, discrete element in a gigantic commercial enterprise that was to change the world forever, cost forty million lives, bring to Africa misery on a scale hardly conceivable, to Europe enormous infusions of capital, to France the Industrial Revolution, to America the plantation system, the Civil War and the shape of the nation.”

Unworth visited the Ransom Center in spring 2009 to read from his novel Land of Marvels (2009). His last novel, The Quality of Mercy, was published in 2011.

Unsworth visited the Ransom Center in 2009. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Unsworth visited the Ransom Center in 2009. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

T. C. Boyle's recommended books featured in web exhibition

T. C. Boyle tours the Ransom Center with Megan Barnard, Assistant Director for Acquisitions and Administration. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
T. C. Boyle tours the Ransom Center with Megan Barnard, Assistant Director for Acquisitions and Administration. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

The American Writers Museum Foundation has launched the online exhibition Power of the Word:  Leaders, Readers and Writers, which invites visitors to join in a discussion of how literary works influence lives.

This online exhibition of the American Writers Museum includes writer T. C. Boyle, whose archive was recently acquired by the Ransom Center.  Boyle identifies the works world leaders could read to understand America, his favorite childhood books, and the international writers who have influenced him.

The mission of the American Writers Museum Foundation is to establish the first national museum in the United States dedicated to engaging the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on history, identity, culture, and daily lives.