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Summer by the Lake: Travel vicariously through letters and postcards from the Carlton Lake collection

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Looking for inspiration this summer, or maybe just some relief from the heat? Take a trip with these authors and artists from the Carlton Lake French manuscript collection.

Carlton Lake (1936–2006), a longtime curator at the Ransom Center, collected a wealth of modern French materials, including manuscripts, musical scores, and art by Paul Eluard, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, and Claude Debussy.  Below are selected items from his collection. Full-size versions of the thumbnail images can be viewed in the above slideshow.

Catch some rays with Marie-Thérèse Walter

Pablo Picasso’s model and mistress sent this letter to the Spanish artist from her vacation on the Côte d’Azure. She included a “pin-up” picture of their daughter, Maya, who at 13-and-a-half years old still has her “milk teeth.”

Visit the aquarium with Léon-Paul Fargue

The French poet was so taken with the aquatic life on display—part of the famous Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925 that gave Art Deco its name—that he wrote and illustrated this letter to an unidentified friend. “There are not many species, but they are all chosen from among the most beautiful and unusual. Silurids, catfish with astonishingly large and serene snouts barbeled like a French tickler, other tall fish looking like big rusted cleavers swimming with blue scythes, flying fish all in platinum and enameled silver, and others that are exactly like hummingbirds, drops of fire from the seas of China and South America, and whole bushes of thorny seahorses, rambling in their crystal Sabbath. I was delighted. We are going back to find out if one can buy them.”

Summer in Santa Fe with Virgil Thompson

In a 1962 letter to his old friend Alice B. Toklas, the longtime companion of writer Gertrude Stein with whom Thompson had collaborated on several occasions, the composer shares his enjoyment of the West in general and Santa Fe in particular.

Tour Egyptian antiquities with Pierre Louÿs

The poet and novelist disdained money, but he managed to travel anyway. He caught his enthusiasm for Africa from friend and novelist André Gide, and was earnest enough as a tourist to purchase a pass to see the sights.

Cast off with the literati of Paris

In June of 1924, the fair at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris drew crowds to the banks of the river Seine. Novelist and poet Valery Larbaud, poet Léon-Paul Fargue, Marie Monnier, Shakespeare and Co. bookstore owner Sylvia Beach, and Maison des Amis des Livres bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier posed for their portrait aboard the “Seagull.”

Venture to Cannes

French composer Francis Poulenc sent this postcard from the Mediterranean city of Cannes to Surrealist artist Valentine Hugo. Don’t be afraid to lift the apron of the young woman on the front of the postcard; she has pictures she wants to show you!

Relax on the French Riviera

Join artist Stéphane Fanièl vacationing on the French Riviera in Cannes during the summer of 1957. In his letter to poet Georges Hugnet, Fanièl includes paintings to describe the Croisette, the prestigious promenade of the French Riviera. At 6 o’clock in the evening the promenade is filled with people and distractions, but by 10 o’clock at night everyone is asleep. Fanièl sums up his vacation: “I sleep, I eat, I sleep. Sometimes I sleep, I eat, I read, I sleep and at other times I sleep, I eat, I draw, and I sleep. That’s my vacation. Apart from that Cannes is an awful place.”

Hike with Alfred Freuh in Andorra

New Yorker cartoonist and caricaturist Alfred Frueh (pronounced “free”) wrote to his boxing buddy, novelist Henri-Pierre Roché, about a summer trip to a small country between France and Spain called Andorra. Frueh describes the hike he and his wife took from Aix les Thermes, France into Andorra la Vieja, Andorra (also known as Andorra la Vella): “We came over without a guide—just followed the mule path… The natives on this side seemed to think it was something marvelous for a stranger to find his way alone across without a guide but I cant [sic] see where the difficulty was—the path, it is true, is not too plain but when you are in a valley with uncrossable peaks on either side you have either to go forward or backward and forward was Andorre and back was where we started from—so there.”

Befriend a camel

Enjoy a sunny afternoon at an oasis in Biskra, Algeria with artist J. Hamman. Narrating his trip to Tunisia and Algeria, watercolors replace words for Mr. Hamman in this letter to Valentine Hugo. With a camel as a friend in Northern Africa, you can go anywhere.

This text was adapted from label text written by Richard Workman, Catherine Stollar Peters and Monique Daviau.

"Lisztomania" hits Austin

Print of Franz Liszt, 1841.
Print of Franz Liszt, 1841.

Long before Beatlemania, mid-nineteenth-century European audiences went wild for Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist/composer with shoulder-length hair. Women fought over his broken piano strings and collected his coffee dregs in glass vials. One woman retrieved Liszt’s discarded cigar stump from a gutter and encased it in a diamond-studded locket monogrammed “F.L.” To describe this phenomenon, German poet Heinrich Heine coined the term “Lisztomania.”

Liszt took the classical music world by storm. Considered the best pianist of all time by his contemporaries, Liszt essentially created the piano recital. He was the first pianist to emerge onstage from the wings, he introduced the custom of performing in profile because he didn’t want the piano to block his face, and his unmatched technique and virtuosic piano compositions pushed the boundaries of what the piano could do.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. On November 18 and 19, the Austin Symphony celebrates both birthdays when Anton Nel performs Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S. 125 with the Austin Symphony.

Signed photo of Franz Liszt, not dated.
Signed photo of Franz Liszt, not dated.

Liszt is well represented in the Ransom Center’s collections. The musicians collection contains photos of Liszt, one of which Liszt autographed; two collections hold notebooks, manuscripts, and other materials for two Liszt biographies; and the Carlton Lake collection includes a signed manuscript of Liszt’s Gaudeamus igitur and 150 letters between Liszt and his daughters, Blandine and Cosima.

In these letters, spanning from 1850 to 1862, Liszt comes across as a caring but demanding father. It is clear that his daughters’ musical education is a priority. In an 1854 letter addressed to both daughters, Liszt tells Blandine and Cosima to make the most of the approaching winter, when the only teacher around will be their piano teacher:

“How goes it with your piano strumming? Do you practice? Is M. Seghers giving you regular lessons?… Music being the universal language, and even to a certain extent able to dispense with ideas, it is by no means my intention to end your studies with M. Seghers. But try to learn yourselves what even the best teachers cannot convey through lessons; and, until the day when I try to shape your talents to my liking, I kiss you most tenderly.”

Liszt also discusses the difficulty of navigating his relationships with other composers. In an 1858 letter to Blandine, Liszt writes about German composer and conductor Richard Wagner, who later married Cosima and with whom Liszt had a notoriously tumultuous relationship:

“With his immense genius which becomes more and more indisputable through all the foolish disputes he has to embark on, he unfortunately can’t manage to rid himself of the most trying domestic vexations, not to mention all the disappointments of his fantastic expectations. In this way he resembles those lofty mountains, radiant at their peaks, but shrouded in fog up to their shoulders…Tell me something of him in your next letter, for I love him with all my heart and admire him as Germany’s finest génie-artiste.”

While living in Rome in 1862, Liszt tells Blandine that he’s a little annoyed with French composer Charles Gounod:

“You know what sincere esteem and liking I have always had for the talent of Gounod, and how affectionate our personal relations were. Well! Can you believe that he spent more than six weeks in Rome without taking the trouble to come and see me, and that we didn’t once see one another?”

Through these letters, we catch a glimpse of Liszt’s life as a rock-star pianist, at its height in the 1840s. But Liszt’s letters from the 1850s reveal that he cherished solitude and was tiring of public life. On May 4, 1858, Liszt wrote to Blandine about his visit with Cosima in Berlin:

“The wholly public life (less and less to my taste) that I had been obliged to lead these last two months made me feel all the more, by contrast, the charm and intimacy of her affection.”

On July 19, 1862, Liszt sent his last letter to Blandine, who died two months later at the age of 26 following childbirth: “The fact is, I am comfortable only in my own company and in that of the very small number of those I love with whom I feel at one in thought and feeling.”

Selected items related to Liszt will be on display in the Ransom Center lobby from Tuesday, November 15 through Sunday, November 27.

The Art of the Letter: What we can learn from illustrated letters in the collections

Al Hirschfeld's 1954 letter to Edward Weeks.  © Al Hirschfeld. Reproduced by arrangement with Hirschfeld's exclusive representative, the Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., New York. www.alhirschfeld.com.
Al Hirschfeld's 1954 letter to Edward Weeks. © Al Hirschfeld. Reproduced by arrangement with Hirschfeld's exclusive representative, the Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., New York. www.alhirschfeld.com.

John Steinbeck stamped his letters with a winged pig, Muhammad Ali’s letterhead alludes to his catchphrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and Al Hirschfeld signed his letters with a spiral-eyed self-portrait. Read about what we can learn from these and other illustrated letters found across the Ransom Center’s collections.

Medieval and early modern manuscripts collection now accessible online

The Ransom Center has launched an online database for its medieval and early modern manuscripts collection. The database includes more than 7,000 digital images and can be accessed via the Ransom Center’s website.

The medieval and early modern manuscripts collection contains 215 items dating from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. It comprises items from various collections, including those of George Atherton Aitken, W. H. Crain, Carlton Lake, Edward A. Parsons, Sir Thomas Phillipps, Walter Emile Van Wijk, Evelyn Waugh, John Henry Wrenn and others.

The Ransom Center is in the process of digitizing all of the collection items, which will be added to the database as they are completed. At present, digital images are available for 27 of the items for a current total of 7,288 pages.

The database contains item-level descriptions for all 215 items, and the collection is searchable by keyword and any combination of the following categories: name, country of origin, century, language, format (such as charters or diaries), subject, and physical features (such as musical notation or wax seals).

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

"Publishing isn't just about contacts; it's equally a matter of human relationships"

Albert Camus, taken by Alfred Knopf in Stockholm during the week in which Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize, December 1957.
Albert Camus, taken by Alfred Knopf in Stockholm during the week in which Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize, December 1957.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus in a tragic car accident. Yet, as the online review The Daily Beast observes, he remains “the most widely read of all the postwar French writers and [is] hip enough to inspire a comic-book series.”

In addition to the manuscript of his novel The Misunderstanding and other items in the Carlton Lake Collection of French Literature, the Ransom Center holds several fascinating few folders of correspondence between Camus and the publisher Blanche Knopf, to which a couple of additional letters have recently been added.

Few of the firm’s authors were closer to Blanche Knopf than Albert Camus. After Blanche’s death, her husband Alfred recalled that “she became very, very friendly with Camus…They were frequently closeted in our room discussing and working over his book-in-progress. I think she had the right to feel that she was part of his work, and I don’t think she ever got over his death.”

The special nature of this publishing relationship is also apparent in Blanche’s 1960 memoir “Albert Camus in the Sun,” in which she writes, “That he was a writer, I knew. In short, I believed in him from the very beginning.” Blanche Knopf even gave him the trademark tan trench coat that the author wore in his most famous dustjacket photograph by Cartier-Bresson.

Blanche Knopf played a significantly larger role in shaping Camus’s career and promoting his reputation—and not merely in the English-speaking world—than has been recognized. Three weeks after V-E Day, Blanche swept into France (one journalist commented, “I knew the war was over when [she] turned up in Paris”) and almost immediately signed Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Camus. During her first meeting at the Ritz Hotel, she and Camus “talked about his writing, his future, his past, his plans, young writers in France, Pasternak, English writers, American writers, ourselves, everything, in these curious sessions we had together.”

The Stranger, translated by Stuart Gilbert, was published by Knopf on April 11, 1946. Camus was in New York at that time for his first and only trip to the United States, and the Knopfs threw a large party in his honor. The novel initially sold fewer than 10,000 copies and was in the short term only a modest success, although it’s now regarded as a classic of modern literature. He and his publishers had agreed that his second novel, The Plague, would be published in the United States before any of his earlier dramatic or philosophical works were translated. Later, Blanche put in a plea for intensive marketing of the novel, and her faith in The Plague was borne out: the hardback went on to sell 50,000 copies up to 1960. Camus was now able to go out and purchase a motorcycle.

In the middle years of their relationship, Blanche Knopf insisted on publishing translations of his more philosophical works, such as The Rebel, although they generally did not sell well in the United States. She desperately tried to steer the author, who was distracted by his theatrical pursuits, back to novel-writing—in particular The First Man, which was not published until forty years after his death. Near the end of his life, the firm published his short novel The Fall. It was in part due to active promotion by Blanche Knopf that Camus received his Nobel Prize in 1957. Alfred and Blanche Knopf accompanied him on a snowy train ride to see him accept the award and deliver a memorable speech.

As Alfred Knopf said, Blanche could be a “bulldog” when it came to advancing the case of authors she particularly admired. This was certainly the case with Camus, who may have owed much of his international success to her. Research in the Knopf archive shows that publishing isn’t just about contracts and balance sheets; it’s equally a matter of human relationships.

“Existentialism for Beginners”

Franco-Mauritian author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio wrote his first book at the age of eight, published an award-winning first novel at 23, has garnered comparisons to Albert Camus, and won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature. Decades prior, Le Clézio spent time as a scholar in residence at The University of Texas at Austin. Learn more about this lauded author and see his reading list for a 1976 University of Texas seminar on modern French literature in Jesse Cordes Selbin’s article “Existentialism for Beginners.”