Image: Duck of Vaucanson, Wiki Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Duck_of_Vaucanson.jpg
Today is Pynchon in Public Day, or at least has been declared to be so by the internet. It is the reclusive author's birthday (and we note there is another novel due out this year). In honour of this event, it looks like the lovelorn Mechanical Duck, inspired by de Vaucanson's Digesting Duck, has chased off the pigeons that sometimes like to hover around the @_Americas twitter account, and has somehow taken the reins. The creature is now working his way through our collections.
Normal service, we hope, will be restored at some point.[M.S.]
My reading list is all a bit dark and Gothic at the moment, something that has only a little to do with having moved near to Strawberry Hill House. As well as being a change from my normal tastes, it has also nudged me to remember a lengthy conversation I had about a housemate’s lecture, back in my student days, concerning the Caribbean and Gothic literature.
Not long after Horace Walpole, author of ‘The Castle of Otranto,' advocated attempts to “blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern,” [p. 9, 1765 edition, Shelfmark: C.40.c.24] authors of Gothic fiction frequently looked to the spaces of Britain’s colonies for frightening and surreal inspiration. In the Caribbean this could be found in the horrors and social conflicts that were an ever-present part of slavery and the plantation system; race, landscape, social order and sexual desire, overt concerns of many British and Caribbean colonials, were used as narrative drivers. The Library holds a significant collection of works which use Caribbean locations or people to create the above effect, including, Charlotte Smith’s, ‘The Story of Henrietta’ [in ‘The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer…,' 1800, Shelfmark: RB.23.a.31619], Cynric Williams’ ‘Hamel, the Obeah Man’ [1827, Shelfmark: N.470] and many others.
The relationship between Gothic literature and the Caribbean is not one-note, however. The Caribbean was used to highlight metropolitan anxieties but Gothic styles were also used to illustrate the horrors of the plantation economy. For example, ‘The History of Mary Prince' [Shelfmark: 8157.bbb.30] uses Gothic stylistic conventions to expose the horrors of slavery; although it is noted by critics that the essence of Gothic writing can mean that the power of such writing is also reduced and sanitised through the use of these conventions.
This work (James Mursell Phillippo, Jamaica, its past and present state, 1843) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [Shelfmark: 1304.h.4.]
The dynamic between place and literature also changes over time, with postcolonial novels such as ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ [Shelfmark: X.908/15430] not only commenting on the postcolonial Caribbean but reinterpreting works which used the Caribbean to drive part of their narrative [in this case ‘Jane Eyre’, Shelfmark: 12619.g.10]. Such work is not restricted to the Anglophone Caribbean, however - Francophone and Hispanic authors have also attempted to grapple with postcolonial realities through Gothicised abstractions, with works such as ‘La cathédrale du mois d’août’ [1980, Shelfmark: X.958/8996; trans. 1987, Shelfmark: Nov.1988/249] and ‘Del rojo de su sombra’ [1992, Shelfmark: YF.2008.a.11557; trans. 2001, Shelfmark: H.2003.3535] tackling aspects of politics, religion and culture in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
This is a taster of a large collection and area of study, with much left unmentioned – including, since you’re probably thinking of it, Zombies. I can recommend digging around on Explore the British Library, and reading Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert’s contribution to ‘The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction’ [2002, Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.14753] if you want to know more.
It won’t be too long before Jim ‘Keeper of the scroll’ returns to roll up On the Road and take it back home to Indiana. I’ve no idea how many visitors have come to see it while it’s been on display at the Library but it’s A LOT. And it’s been a real pleasure to see so many people, of all ages, carefully scrutinising the scroll.
When he was over in October, Jim told me that the scroll had recently been scanned -once he had managed to source a big enough scanner! This was an important step for the future preservation of the manuscript and is a demonstration of the careful stewardship of its owner. But scanning had also enabled Jim to locate particular passages more easily and to generally become even more familiar with the scroll, whilst also reducing wear and tear at the same time.
Digitisation is, of course, great – I love the way that we’re starting to open up our collections and make them more accessible, particularly to those who will never get the chance to come here to use them. But, to state the obvious, digitisation doesn’t make the original redundant. It can make something more accessible (both in terms of audience and also in revealing ‘hidden’ content); it can help preserve a frail or incredibly valuable original; and we’re only really just beginning to get our heads round the potential of digitisation for new modes of scholarship and research. But never underestimate the power of the object.
When Jim started to unroll the scroll in its specially built case, I was surprised at the wave of emotion that hit me. It’s a really amazing textual object, and for a moment I felt like I was in that apartment in Chelsea, standing at the shoulder of Kerouac and watching him pound the keys of his typewriter in that manic burst of creativity.
For someone who really only cared about being considered as a writer but who was destined to be forever burdened with the tag of King of the Beats during his short life, Kerouac couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams that thousands of people would take the time to come to look at his manuscript, - not only here, but in numerous exhibitions across the U.S. and Europe (and by the way, let’s hear it for the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, also owner of the scroll, who has allowed it to travel and not kept it locked in a private vault). So, whatever the wonders that digitisation can bring us, would getting up close to a digital version of the scroll bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye? I doubt it. You only have until 27 December to come and see it for yourself.
Ernest Hemingway relaxing in Cuba in the 1940s, sans Martha. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/JFK Library, Boston.
I wonder whether Ernest Hemingway, as he chewed his meal of moose after marriage to Martha Gellhorn in November 1940, hadn’t quite understood his new wife's taste for war. He may also not have fully understood how his third wife's taste for combat probably far surpassed her taste for him. Such a thought might have made the wedding moose all the chewier.
Both Ernest and Martha had been war correspondents during the Spanish Civil War from 1937-39. In honeyed wartime, they seemed happy: Martha discovered the joys of war-reportage; Ernest, the joys of playing away from his second wife, Pauline.
Martha’s return to peaceful Cuba appeared a difficult transition. Surrounded by a fat crop of alligator pears and creeping bougainvillea, her desire to return to war strafes the page like a machinegun: ‘Only a fool would prefer to be actively achingly dangerously unhappy, rather than bored,’ she wrote, concluding: ‘I am that class of fool.’ Cuba, she complained, was drowning her in ‘flowers and martinis.’
As Ernest kept up the home front, and Martha finally found a job reporting on the European theatre of war from London, the marriage foundered. When Ernest cabled ARE YOU A WAR CORRESPONDENT OR A WIFE IN MY BED? one doesn’t need much imagination to know which of these identities Martha had already chosen. When Ernest finally did arrive in London, a fellow correspondent, Mary Welsh, caught his eye. She was to become his fourth wife a year later in 1946.
Though for a time Martha was heartsick about the separation from Hemingway, what is remarkable in her letters is war’s totally energizing effect on her. ‘Maybe the reason one is so very gay in a war is that the mind, convulsed with horror, simply shuts out the war and is fiercely concentrated on every good thing left in the world. A doorway, a flower stall, the sun, someone to laugh with, and the wonderful fact of being alive.’
Ernest wondered, after their divorce, whether Martha wasn’t a little ‘war-crazy’. But Martha’s war reportage, it seemed, just made her sane.
Naomi Wood is one of the 2012 Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library. Her second book, Mrs Hemingway, is a historical novel that explores Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages to Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Excerpts from the letters are from The Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (ed. Caroline Moorehead). Martha’s war-reportage can be found in The Face of War.
In Matt’s last blog Film and On the Road, he referenced Truman Capote’s quote (often misquoted),'That's not writing. That's typewriting.' At the time, a dim memory surfaced in my foggy brain, only to disappear again almost immediately. But it reappeared at the weekend, when a friend and I were browsing in the wonderful bookshop at the Whitechapel Gallery. My friend suddenly waved in front of me a copy of Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing: managing language in the digital age. And then I remembered – Goldsmith includes a piece in the book entitled ‘Retyping On the Road.’ He talks of meeting some students who had been given assignments to write a piece in the style of their favourite author. One had chosen Kerouac and complained at how meaningless the exercise had seemed. Goldsmith thought she would have been better off going on her own road trip, - but then came to a another conclusion. He recalled often seeing art students engaged in copying old masters – and wondered if such ‘copying’ could be applied to literature, quoting from Walter Benjamin’s Reflections ‘the power of the text is different when it is read from when it is copied out.’ Perhaps the student could retype some (or even better, all) of On the Road, and she might thereby succeed in getting ‘inside the text.'
The British artist Simon Morris came across Goldsmith’s suggestion and decided to carry it out. Using the scroll edition of On the Road, he began to retype one page a day from the book on his blog Getting Inside Jack Kerouac's Head. He began on May 31, 2008 with that first sentence ‘I first met Neal not long after my father died,’ (of course, I immediately wondered why he had omitted the second met – it should be 'I first met met Neal'), and continued to the end of the page (ending in mid sentence), then continued the next day with the next page and so on. Every day he would spend c.20 minutes typing a page, finally completing his task in March 2009. Morris says that he would proofread each page, checking for mistakes (so how did he miss that met met?). Having never read the book before, he describes it as ‘the most thrilling read/ride of my life,’ and talks of the insights he gained into Kerouac’s writing. Goldsmith picks up on the fact that Morris found himself accidentally adding his own words – as Kerouac’s ‘shorthand’ allows the reader to complete sentences in their heads. Morris would then delete his own additions in the checking process, but acknowledges that he might have missed some. Goldsmith suggests that Morris’s appropriation of the text ‘need not be a mere passing along of information,’ but something more creative which could lead to ‘producing different versions and additions – remixes even- of an existing text.’ Appropriation and re-purposing are of course recurring themes in Goldsmith’s writing – often controversial but always challenging and thought-provoking (see for example, his piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education).
The web was the perfect conduit for Morris’s performative project – predigital it would have been an altogether different proposition. So the rather surprising culmination to the project was the publication – in print – of Morris’s Getting Inside of Jack Kerouac’s Head. The book mimics almost exactly the design and typography of the Penguin edition of On the Road (google it), and includes Morris's blog, but commences with the last blog and works backwards. As Goldsmith comments, ‘it was jarring to see a blog-driven project reborn as print.’ For me, it's a step too far - the blog I get, but not the book.
So has the project been a success for Morris? ‘One would hope for some truly profound response but really there is none. I don’t feel anything at all. A bit like Jack Kerouac’s own journey on the road and into himself in search of something he never really finds…… all I can really say with any certainty is I’ve never spent such a long time with a book or thought about any book as much.'
For those of you wishing to engage with Kerouac's own typing, the On the Road scroll is on display at the Library until December 27.
The new edition of A Farewell to Arms published this October 2012 by William Heinemann with the original cover from 1929.
I have been
luxuriating this week in a handsome new edition of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The book comes replete with cut
chapters, new endings and a handful of frankly awful possible titles under Hemingway's heading ‘Shitty Titles’ – ‘Carnal Education’ being one of the bluer offerings.
The real pleasure in reading all of these new endings, all forty seven of them, is that
it shows the author gradually whittling his writing down to the essential
material. He submerges these drafts in the final publication so that the reader can only see the ‘top’ of the story. It’s his iceberg principle at work.
drafts, for example, the author plots Henry’s solitary walk home; the sorrowful
night-light still on from the start of Catherine's contractions a day ago; the difficulty
of burial in a foreign country. In the final version, however, Hemingway lops
off the lament and cuts to the final sentence: ‘After a while I went out
and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.’ The
reader is left on the brink of Henry’s loss. For me, the experience is all the
richer because our imagination fills in what Hemingway has left out.
who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his
writing', Hemingway wrote in Death in the Afternoon. The ending
of A Farewell to Arms is so far from being a hollow spot precisely
because of these early drafts: Hemingway knew exactly where Henry was going
that night. Underneath the declarative style is the roiling undercurrent of
that we think of Hemingway as a master of the minimalist tradition, he was a
consummate editor of his own work. He often read all of his material back first
and then picked up where he left off the day before. The extra material shows
how hard he worked to get at his precise style.
In writing A
Farewell to Arms, 'he worked like hell and through it' - so said Dorothy
Parker - even changing the ending from what had been serialized in Scribners'
magazine to the first edition of the book proper. (Although some critics
suggest he did this so that customers would buy both magazine and book –
characteristic Hemingway canniness when it came to increasing his bottom line.)
posthumous work, where scholars still argue about self-interested editing
(his fourth wife edited A Moveable Feast) and savage cuts (almost two
thirds was left out from The Garden of Eden in its final
publication), we know Hemingway did eventually settle on the designated ending
back in 1929.
alternative endings in A Farewell to Arms give readers an opportunity to see the work evolve, without really threatening the final text. One can
happily read The Sun Also Rises without knowing the original beginning
that Fitzgerald recommended cutting, just as one can happily read A Farewell
to Arms without knowing Hemingway, at one time, considered keeping the baby
alive. In not one of the drafts does Catherine live. Regardless of how much he
changed his plots, it seems that she was always intended for the chop.
Naomi Wood is one of the Eccles Centre Writers in Residence. She is currently working on her second novel, Mrs Hemingway which will be published by Picador in 2014.
So did Kerouac really write the scroll in 3 weeks? Well, the answer is both yes - and no. And that’s not a cop out – it’s really quite complicated!
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the scroll was indeed typed over 3 weeks in April 1951. But did Kerouac just sit down at the typewriter and the story suddenly came to him? No, definitely not. He’d had the idea for a road novel for a long time – years, from his own first solitary road trip in July 1947 in fact. In a journal entry from August 1948 he wrote, “I have another novel in mind – ‘On the Road’ – which I keep thinking about: - about two guys hitch-hiking to California in search of something they don’t really find, and losing themselves on the road, and coming all the way back hopeful of something else. Also, I’m finding a new principle of writing.” The last sentence is particularly significant, referring to Kerouac’s desire to find his ‘own voice,’ to get away from the standard prose of his first novel The Town and the City, and to find a new, more immediate and authentic way of expressing experience – the style that was to become known as ‘spontaneous prose.’
As early as autumn 1948 Kerouac had completed the first draft of a road novel he later referred to as ‘Ray Smith,’ (a name he subsequently gave to the narrator of Dharma Bums, - a character based on himself). And this is just one of numerous road drafts of varying lengths that can be found in Kerouac’s archive at the New York Public Library. Elements of some of those drafts would eventually become part of On the Road, whilst others ended up in other novels (e.g. Pic).
Kerouac’s journals covering 1949/50 document his later road trip with Neal Cassady, Luanne Henderson and Al Hinkle, and demonstrate how he was constantly writing about what he was seeing and feeling. In fact, one of the things that struck me when I started reading about Kerouac is that anyone who knew him would inevitably say at some point that he was always writing, - always scribbling in notebooks and journals (if you check out some of the images of him in the exhibition, you will spot notebooks poking out of his pockets). Not only was he a very disciplined writer, but he was also very methodical – the perfect self archivist in fact. And the writing of drafts and notes was clearly an essential part of the creative process for Kerouac – his way of exploring both himself and his friends.
Something else that also always pops up when you read about Kerouac is that everyone remarks on the fact that he had a phenomenal memory. And that’s the final point to add before going back to that Chelsea apartment in April 1951. So, various drafts, chapter outlines, ‘cast of characters’ already exist, Kerouac is sitting at the typewriter with his coffee (and ok, maybe Benzhedrine too), and, in a truly extraordinary burst of creativity, everything comes exploding out of his head on to that scroll over the next 3 weeks.
Many more drafts were to follow of course, and the title of the novel would also go through many variations, including, for example, The Beat Generation (in 1955/56), but it would return to On the Road at the insistence of Viking’s editor, Matthew Cowley.
And that’s the short version. If you want to read more on the complex story of all the pre and post scroll drafts, I would recommend Isaac Gewirtz’s excellent (and beautifully written) Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac On the Road, which was published to accompany the exhibition of the same title at New York Public library in 2007.
“Here is the expert skier, soldier, here is a naturalist, a
navigator, an authority on bullfighting and on boxing. Here is a man who sought
the most dangerous conditions the world could offer…” So says the newscaster
from this 1950s clip. Hemingway was often portrayed like this by the media: an all
round Übermensch who displayed grace under pressure and had a wicked way with
his pen to boot.
When we think of Ernest Hemingway we might think of him as
all these things – as well as war correspondent, deep-sea fisherman, and of
course, as writer – but we tend not to think of him immediately as husband
material. A womanizer, yes, but not the type of husband who might call his wife
Wicky Poo, Lovebug, Kitty Kat, Small Friend or Picklepot, nor the kind of
husband who would permit his own nickname ‘Little Wax Puppy’.
But his letters (which were ‘not for posterity but for the
day and the hour’) pulse with an excess of sentiment. Not for Hemingway-the-letter-writer
the cool economy of Hemingway-the-novelist. In contrast to his fiction his
letters could be ‘as loose, devil-may-care, recklessly copious and repetitive
as he chose… he wrote letters to warm up his brain… or to “cool out” after he
had laid aside the current story or chapter’ writes Carlos Baker in his
introduction to the Selected Letters.
Letter-writing was the equivalent to the therapist’s couch, or the pillow wherefrom
sweet nothings were whispered in the lover's ear.
The pet-names and pillow-talk begin with his first wife
Hadley. In a long list of grousing complaints about his posting to Lausanne in
1922, he concludes that ‘they all talk French and the Russians are miles out of
the way and I’m only a little tiny wax puppy. Poor dear little Wicky Poo’, the
letter over-runneth, ‘I love you dearest Wicky – you write the very best
letters.’ This spillage of emotions continues when he writes to his first
mistress (and second wife) Pauline Pfeiifer in 1926: ‘oh Pfife I love you love
you love you so, and I’m yours all shot to hell.’ While studiously avoiding cliché
and hyperbole in his fiction, in his letters he sinks joyfully into
sentiment, like a penned pig released to the mud.
As I looked through the Selected
Letters, I expected to see a change of tone or language in the way he
treated each of his four wives. Though his letters to his third wife, Martha
Gellhorn, were not included, her own letters tantalizingly reveal half the
conversation. One might infer that the language used was in common currency by
them both. ‘I love you Bug,’ writes Martha to Ernest in 1943, ‘Kiss all
catsies. Take care of yourself for me. / Mook.’
What is striking is how gloriously constant and yet inventive is his langue d'amour throughout each of his marriages. ‘I am just
happy and purring like an old jungle beast because I love you and you love me….’
he writes to his fourth wife, Mary, in 1944. ‘Please love me very much and
always and take care of me Small Friend the way Small Friends take care of Big
Friends – high in the sky and shining and beautiful.’ Not so far from a syrupy
Disney romance, but all the sweeter for it coming from Ernest Hemingway; media
What is extraordinary is how direct the artery is from the
heart to the page throughout Hemingway’s four marriages and many affairs. They
always give me great delight to know that this Man Of All Things (skier,
soldier, naturalist ad infinitum) also indulged in much baby-talk and mush. The
letters pulse with love. It almost makes you forgive him for all the
Naomi Wood is one of the
Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library. Her second book, Mrs
Hemingway, is a historical novel that explores Ernest’s four
marriages to Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Excerpts from the letters are
Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (ed Caroline Moorehead) and The Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway (ed Carlos Baker).