The manuscripts of Emily Dickinson have long been scattered across multiple archives, meaning scholars had to knock on numerous doors to see all the handwritten drafts of a poet whose work went almost entirely unpublished in her lifetime.
The online Emily Dickinson Archive, to be inaugurated on Wednesday, promises to change all that by bringing together on a single open-access Web site thousands of manuscripts held by Harvard University, Amherst College, the Boston Public Library and five other institutions. Now, scholars and lay readers alike will be able to browse easily through handwritten versions of favorite poems, puzzle over lines that snake along the edges of used envelopes and other scraps of paper, or zoom in on one of Dickinson’s famous dashes until it almost fills the screen.
To say Emily Dickinson has an association with Amherst College is a bit of an understatement. Her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, was one of the founders of the college and her father, Edward Dickinson, was treasurer of the school for over 35 years. In 1956, Millicent Todd Bingham gave Amherst College the Dickinson poems and Dickinson family papers she inherited from her mother, Mabel Todd Bingham. Many of these wonderful materials were digitized for this fine collation, and lovers of poetry and American literature will find this entire collection to be a real delight. Visitors to the site will find 850 documents here, including drafts of poems like “Further in summer than the birds” and “On that Specific Pillow.” Visitors can search the collection by genre, contributor, subject, or date range. After selecting a particular item, visitors can also zoom in and out as they see fit to get a sense of Dickinson’s handwriting and creative process.
From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013. https://www.scout.wisc.edu/
Kevin Smokler is the author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School. Here he describes how, in rereading these 10 high school classics, he “found that useful thing I missed the first time around”:
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- The Stranger by Albert Camus
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
- the poems of Emily Dickinson
- The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
Smokler also provides the list in the next item.
While definitely asserting his guyness, Kevin Smokler (see above) explains why he has learned a lot from these novels of friendship between women:
- Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
- Sula by Toni Morrison
- the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares
- How To Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto
- Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch
In all of American letters there is no tale sadder than the biography of Truman Capote. A true prodigy, Capote was publishing stories in national magazines by his early twenties, and published his first novel at age 24. After dabbling in writing for the theater and the movies, he returned to prose, first with the classic 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and then eight years later, his masterpiece, the “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood, about the senseless killing of a Kansas farming family.
And then…nothing, or very near to it.
Michael Bourne writes an appreciation of the quixotic Truman Capote. About why Capote doesn’t get the critical respect he deserves, Bourne writes:
Ultimately, though, the damage to Capote’s literary reputation is mostly self-inflicted. True, he wrote two genre-defining works, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, along with some truly great stories, including the heartbreaking “A Christmas Memory.” But he could have done so much more. Capote is hardly alone in coming to a sad end. Ernest Hemingway shot himself in despair; Tennessee Williams, a contemporary and close friend of Capote’s, choked on a bottle cap after more than twenty years of creative failure. But they got their major work done. Capote didn’t. Yet for all this, he remains worth reading because unlike most self-deceiving people he was also a genius, and part of that genius was a capacity to look honestly at his own deceptions, even if in life he couldn’t help being misled by them.
“Writers like watching movies about themselves,” writer Roger Rosenblatt announces. But:
What we are not shown doing in movies is writing. Composers are shown composing because we can listen to their flights of fancy on the soundtrack. Painters are shown painting, because one can actually see art in progress. Kirk Douglas did some very good van Gogh impressions. Ed Harris went so hog wild in “Pollock,” one was tempted to go out and buy an original Harris. But writers are rarely shown laboring at the craft unless you count Nicholson’s “all work and no play.” I suppose there’s nothing visually dramatic in what we do, though we can get quite worked up about crumpling little balls of paper, tossing them on the floor, then turning our heads this way and sometimes that.
Nonetheless, Rosenblatt discusses several films about writers before choosing these three winners:
- The Third Man (1949)
- Starting Out in the Evening (2007)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:
From the pen of Otto Penzler:
It is an inarguable fact that virtually everything of interest and significance in the history of detective fiction has been written in the English language, mainly by American and English authors.
This is not chauvinistic, racist, insular, or opinionated; it is merely reportage.
From Laura Miller at Salon.
Amherst College Archives and Special Collections has a copy of a 19th Century daguerreotype that could be the second photograph in existence of Emily Dickinson as an adult.
The movies have been stealing from novels ever since movies began, and for just as long the debate has raged: What books make for the best thefts? Well, the question is tired by now and maybe wrong too, but let’s quickly answer it: easy comic books these days, along with anything scribbled by J.K. Rowling and her ilk – successful commercial writing lends itself to successful commercial pix, since both dance to the same populist beat. That’s simple to figure. Far harder is the enduring, almost touching, efforts of the cinema to adapt accomplished literary fiction, clinging to the faith that a good novel can always be wrangled, not mangled, into a good film.
Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece by Michael Gorra – review
Henry James’s great, humane masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), the story of a young, spirited American woman “affronting her destiny”, is many readers’ favourite of his books. All his critics and biographers put it at the centre of his life and work. It is his turning-point. From being a popular and promising author specialising in Americans in Europe (Daisy Miller, The Europeans, The American), he became an important, renowned figure, acknowledged as a “master” of consciousness, cultural perceptions, humour, subtlety and depth. But Portrait can also be seen as a point of no return. After that came the harsh, unpopular novels of social analysis (The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima), the ill-fated involvement with the theatre, the awkward, darkly complex novels of the 1890s (What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age), the epic, inward-looking subtleties of the mighty late works, and the financial catastrophe of the New York edition. Isabel Archer starts out full of hope, independence and ambition, and becomes “ground in the mill”, entrapped and disillusioned. James’s life-story could also be read as an ebullient comedy which turns to tragic sadness.
Kalamazoo’s Rachel Swearingen is one of six winners of the prestigious Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award.
From Stanford University comes the latest news in literary neuroscience:
Researchers observe the brain patterns of literary PhD candidates while they’re reading a Jane Austen novel. The fMRI images suggest that literary reading provides “a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.”