The threshold

This fragment from Mansfield's diaries, close to the end of her life, hits a little too close to home.
Above all else, I do still lack application. It's not right. There is so much to do, and I do so little. Look at the stories that wait and wait, just at the threshold. Why don't I let them in? (The Dove's Nest xvi; from her Diary, July 1921)
Indeed. Why didn't she? Why don't we? And then:
My deepest desire is to be a writer, to have 'a body of work' done--and there the work is, there the stories wait for me, grow tired, wilt, fade, because I will not come. When first they knock, how eager and fresh they are! And I hear and I acknowledge them, and till I go on sitting at the window, playing with the ball of wool. What is to be done?
Such a mystery of creativity and work.
Back to Mrs. Dalloway I go.

NYPL Exhibit A Century of Art: 1926 “What London Wears,” Attributed to Mabel Thérèse Bonney

Thérèse Bonney during WWII, via Library of Congress

On Saturday, I participated in a the first of two panel discussions in support of the wonderful new exhibit at the NYPL, A Century of Art. Part of the larger centenary of the Schwarzman building on 42nd and 5th, this exhibit displays one print or photograph from the collection for each year, from 1911 to 2011. As a scholar affiliated with the Wertheim Study, I was invited to speak on one image and I chose an amazing fashion photograph from 1926. I don’t have permission to show you the picture, but I thought you might be interested in my description of it and of what it signifies. The second panel, in which five additional scholars speak for ten minutes each on five other prints or photographs will be on Friday, December 9, 2011, 2 - 3:30 p.m. It’s a lovely, friendly format, so do you’re your calendars and go!

When Jay Barksdale sent around the list of images to be included in this exhibit, I knew immediately that, if I were to speak, it would be on this image, although I didn’t see it until last week. After all, it’s an image made by a woman, about fashion, from 1926, and my current project is a textual edition of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, a novel about an upper class London woman who goes shopping and throws a party. But when I saw the image, I gasped with shocked delight. Not having known her work before, how could I have guessed that Thérèse Bonney had created an image that captures at once a very specific moment in women’s fashion and, at the same time, would be at home in a window at Sak’s today?

My expertise is not photography or fashion, but literature and history, and, in the brief time I have today, I want to talk about the caption, the photo, and a little bit about the photographer itself. I should say here that, as the prints department is not even 100% sure of the artist, I do not know the source or author of the caption, nor where, if anywhere, this image originally appeared. The full caption is an amazing bit of 1920s fashion writing:
What London wears—The continental way of being economical—Rubbers for legs—fold into a dainty little package and easily left in escort’s coat pocket. Ingenious way of keeping silk stockings clean.
For copywriters in the 1920s, as today, London prides itself on being glamorous, signaled here by the word “continental,” and practical. What London wears is, in fact, not from London at all, but an import from Europe. However, cautious Londoners need not fear—these rubber stocking covers are economical as well. As high fashion as the photograph is, the caption itself brings us squarely into the world of advertising. The rest of the caption flirts with sexuality. “Rubber” as slang for a condom goes back to 1913 but it has been chiefly North American slang. Still, the idea of sex, of the ways in which we clothe our bodies to conceal and reveal possibilities of intimacy, hovers throughout this silly little bit of prose. The caption contains within it the narrative of a date: these removable little stocking covers slip off and into a pocket, but not your pocket, your date’s. The image of a young woman, balancing on one leg, her hand, perhaps, on her escort’s shoulder for balance, as she unclasps the three hooks on each rubber, folds them into their “dainty little package,” and hands them to him for safekeeping would have been impossible before the war. And then, the next line, “ingenious way of keeping silk stockings clean,” implies that the same daring woman who would wear these rubbers is also one who worries about her laundry. This is a modern woman, sexy, confident, and living on her own. She is like T. S. Eliot’s typist, home at teatime, her drying combinations strewn about her flat. She is not like the protagonist of Dorothy Richardson’s 1915 novel Pilgrimage, a young boarding school teacher who worries, in a panic, about how to do her hair, for it’s still wet from having been forced to shampoo it just before dinner.
The idea of galoshes as dangerously contintental, as a French letter for the feet, shows up in a wonderful scene from James Joyce’s 1914 story, “The Dead”:
"O, but you'll never guess what he makes me wear now! … Galoshes!" said Mrs. Conroy. "That's the latest. Whenever it's wet underfoot I must put on my galoshes. Tonight even, he wanted me to put them on, but I wouldn't. The next thing he'll buy me will be a diving suit."Gabriel laughed nervously and patted his tie reassuringly, while Aunt Kate nearly doubled herself, so heartily did she enjoy the joke. The smile soon faded from Aunt Julia's face and her mirthless eyes were directed towards her nephew's face. After a pause she asked:"And what are goloshes, Gabriel?""Goloshes, Julia!" exclaimed her sister "Goodness me, don't you know what goloshes are? You wear them over your... over your boots, Gretta, isn't it?""Yes," said Mrs. Conroy. "Guttapercha things. We both have a pair now. Gabriel says everyone wears them on the Continent."
Gretta Conroy’s last remark—that everyone wears them on the Continent—is the beginning of an end for her husband Gabriel who, over the course of the evening, will be exposed for preferring Europe to Ireland, for being in danger of being left behind, both by his wife’s memories of a boy from the West and by his female colleague’s commitment to the Irish language and the Irish Free state. The rubbers of 1914 are not the same as the ones shown here.

Galoshes do not figure in Mrs. Dalloway, but another kind of tube for the extremities does: gloves. The original first line of Mrs. Dalloway was not “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” but “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the gloves herself.” And the 1923 short story “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” which began Woolf’s serious return to Clarissa Dalloway as a possible protagonist (She had been a minor character in an earlier work) contains an extended meditation on the decline of gloves since the war. In that story, Clarissa’s preoccupation with gloves is part of the sharper satire on her—she’s a much less sympathetic figure in the story than in the novel—so, she thinks “It would be intolerable if dowdy women came to her party!” and then wonders “Would one have liked Keats if he had worn red socks?” Woolf uses Keats, a great poet revered across England, as a crucial barometer: the notion that one’s opinion of a poet might alter if his socks were not quite so is as shallow to Woolf’s ears as to ours. So when, in the next paragraph, Clarissa forges a connection with the shop girl over the old gloves, “With pearl buttons… perfectly simple—how French!,” we are reminded of how a certain kind of woman still judges others’ value by the correctness of her accessories. 

For Joyce, galoshes are a way that a middle-aged husband protects his wife from a chill. For Woolf, gloves are a sign of a middle-aged wife’s continuing care for propriety. The rubbers that London wears in this 1926 photograph are something else entirely. And to turn from the ways in which Joyce and Woolf ironize the bourgeois preoccupations of the prior generation to Bonney’s photograph is to suddenly feel a breath of fresh air, to feel the breathing room that modernity opened up for women.

If the caption flirts cloyingly, the photograph itself is less shy. It is also art. We see a pair of long, slim legs, crossed just above the ankle, in medium-heeled Mary Janes, with a button strap. The strap and the opening of the shiny black shoes are piped with a thin strip of leather in a paler shade. The spat-like galoshes hook under the heel and fasten three times in the front, leaving large gaps up the shin between buttons. The rubbers hardly look like a practical solution to walking in rainy streets. Surely the splash of a mud puddle is as likely to hit the front of a leg as the back. In Woolf’s short story, Mrs. Dalloway remembers how “old Uncle William used to say” that “A lady is known by her gloves and her stockings” (26). That old saw, still current today, about the telling signs of a woman’s accessories, applies here in ways that might shock Clarissa, for the story that these rubbers tell is not about class or breeding but about modern glamour.

One of the most important facts about these rubbers is how they remind us that this London woman is no longer wearing dresses down to her ankles. Her skirts would have come down just below her knees and her legs are now on display. But the display itself participates in a distinctively twenties aesthetic. The overall effect is glamorous rather than practical. Both sexy and abstract, the rubbers create three additional pale ovals up the white leg, echoing the oval created by the strap itself. If you go to the gallery upstairs, you’ll see that next to this photograph, the Delaunay print, representing 1924, and the Man Ray photograph representing 1925 both feature studies of circles and curved forms. The designer of these rubbers, the model, and Thérèse Bonney have collaborated to create in three dimensions, on a woman’s leg, a design that echoes the clean lines and pure shapes of avant garde art of the period.

In her recent book Glamour in Six Dimensions Judith Brown argues that the world of glamour and of high modernism are not so far apart. We should not, she insists, see a divide between consumerism and art, but notice instead a shared aesthetic delight in abstract forms and clean lines. The Bonney photograph absolutely participates in the phenomenon that Brown describes and it’s an exciting reminder of how fast the world was changing in 1926: just the year before, Woolf published a novel in which Clarissa laments that her daughter doesn’t care about gloves, but now, that lament is tinged with a kind of pride. At the party, one of Clarissa’s elderly guests notes to herself how the young girls’ gowns are short, tight, and straight, a look she finds unflattering. And the very next year time, in Paris, designers are making rubbers to market to the modern Londoner so she can protect her stockings and show off her legs.

The photographer is presumed to be Mabel Thérèse Bonney (limited access link, sorry) and, as I have learned in the past few days, she is very much worth more of our attention. Bonney was born in Syracuse in 1894. Educated at the University of California, and Harvard, she earned a doctorate at the Sorbonne. During the 1920s, she and her sister published a series of books about French cooking and fashion for American and English readers and this photograph looks to be part of that phase of her career as a photographer: gorgeous editorial fashion work.

She returned to New York in 1935 to become director of the new Maison Française, a gallery in Rockefeller Center dedicated to fostering better cultural understanding between France and the United States. That work sent her back to Europe and, while in Finland in November 1939 to photograph preparations for the 1940 Olympic Games, she instead became the only photojournalist at the scene of the Russian invasion of Finland. Her war photography was exhibited at the Library of Congress and published in books as War Comes to the People (1940) and Europe’s Children (1943). Her concept for a film about children displaced by war became the Academy Award- winning movie, The Search (1948). She died in France in 1978. 

In Praise of Libraries

It's been a long time. There have been highs and lows. But that's for another day. For now, some Wyndham Lewis. This quotation, about a curmudgeon's private library, comes courtesy of John Whittier-Ferguson's paper at MSA12 (the Modernist Studies Association Conference) in Victoria, B.C.:
This was 1939, the last year, or as good as, in which such a life as this one was to be lived. Parkinson was the last of a species. Here he was in a large room, which was a private, a functional library. Such a literary workshop belonged to the ages of individualism. Its three or four thousand volumes were all book-plated Parkinson. It was really a fragment of paradise where one of our species lived embedded in books, decently fed, moderately taxed, snug and unmolested.--Self Condemned (79)
Wonderful. I love the Lewisian misanthropic soupcon of paranoia added on to the praise of the library: the library in 1939 as a tiny little paradise, under siege from all sides. Wonderful.

Keri and Sylvia around the web

All week, we’re celebrating Sylvia Beach. Please drop by for a new post—or two--on Beach every day. And then head to your local independent bookstore and buy a copy of The Letters of Sylvia Beach.

To wrap up, in case you’re still hungry for more, you can find reviews and interviews all around the web:
Enjoy. I hope you agree that there is little more diverting than spending a summer week thinking about Paris in the 1920s.

Conversation With Keri Walsh, Part Three: Editing the Modernists

In honor of the publication of her edition of Sylvia Beach’s letters, I wanted to do something special here at Fernham. As part of Sylvia Beach Week, Keri Walsh and I “interviewed” each other over email. We continued the conversation we began at her reading at Bluestockings books in May, touching on the challenges of editing, on women modernists, on bookstores, archives, and common readers. We could barely stop talking, so the conversation is in four parts. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it!

Keri: As I mentioned to you after the Bluestockings reading, I would find the task of editing Mrs. Dalloway intimidating because of the venerable editors who have come before.  Can you say a little bit about your relationship to past editions of the novel, and perhaps tell me about one or two interesting decisions you’ve had to make that depart from decisions made by past editors?  Or can you say something more generally about how these earlier editors appear in your mind as you work—as friends, supporters, rivals, buddies?

Anne: After four years of working on this project (off and on, often in the margins), I have finally reached the stage where my excitement about it is slightly greater than my intimidation. It’s been really hard.

There are three important editions of Mrs. Dalloway that come before me. I was really grateful that the Cambridge general editors made it their policy that we don’t pick fights with prior editions or go out of our way to mention their errors. I don’t know G. Patton Wright at all, but his edition has a really strong sense of the novel’s textual history. That has been a big help. I have a longstanding and friendly email correspondence with Murray Beja and his very funny essay on coming to love textual editing after being skeptical was immensely reassuring to me when I was most bored and intimidated by the tedium of collating editions. He is like a kind uncle to me and I’m deeply grateful for that. David Bradshaw worked off Wright’s edition in preparing a paperback student edition for Oxford. When I finally realized I could just use his historical research as a source in itself, I stopped feeling even the least bit rivalrous. Besides, I know David and like him immensely. He’s editing another of Woolf’s novels for Cambridge and I think it’s a stroke of luck that I get to follow along after him. That is not to say that these three are among the readers whose opinions I most dread.

One of the changes that editors often make regards Elizabeth Dalloway’s dress at the party: it’s referred to three times as pink and once as red. Editors often see that red as a mistake and it’s true that Woolf could be careless at the proof stage. But the person who perceives the dress as red is Sally. Of course, if a dress could flicker between pink and red, Sally Seton would be the one who would see it as red. I’m sticking with it as written, I’ll flag it for the readers, and let them write their own interpretations. I don’t think that’s a mistake.

Keri: When I was working on Beach’s letters, whenever I was in doubt about an editorial decision, I turned to Bonnie Kime Scott’s edition of Rebecca West’s letters.  They were my model.  Do you find inspiration in any particularly exemplary volumes?  What editions of modernist novel do you admire?

Anne: I love Bonnie and she edited Dalloway for Harcourt, but that’s not a model edition for me—it’s too friendly and too close. It’s great for students, but it’s not the work I’m doing here. The edition that I admire most is my friend Jeri Johnson’s Oxford edition of Ulysses. It created all kinds of textual controversies—as such things always do—and that’s not going to be an issue for any book but Ulysses. The inspiration for me is how Jeri is equally interested in chasing down historical and literary allusions and that’s one of my chief aims: to have footnotes about the demolition of Devonshire House (which Clarissa remembers going to parties at and which was torn down between when Woolf submitted the proofs and the novel’s publication date) and footnotes about allusions to the Bible.

The CUP general editors, Jane Goldman and Susan Sellers, have been incredibly generous, sending us all computer files of their notes and apparatus along the way. They are each working on a novel, too (To the Lighthouse and The Waves, respectively) and I’m really lucky that the wonderful Woolf scholar Mark Hussey is doing Between the Acts for CUP, lives in New York, and is a friend. When I get really desperate, I ask him to have lunch with me. He always cheers me up and spurs me on.

Conversation with Keri Walsh, Part Two: Beach & Joyce & Paris & Woolf

In honor of the publication of her edition of Sylvia Beach’s letters, I wanted to do something special here at Fernham. As part of Sylvia Beach Week, Keri Walsh and I “interviewed” each other over email. We continued the conversation we began at her reading at Bluestockings books in May, touching on the challenges of editing, on women modernists, on bookstores, archives, and common readers. We could barely stop talking, so the conversation is in four parts. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it!

Anne: You’ve said that Beach’s willingness to work with and for Joyce (a notoriously difficult character) is the central mystery to her life.  I find myself hoping that you’re secretly at work on the script for that drama.  Are you?  More immediately, you must have some hypotheses to the mystery.  Can you share any of them here?

Keri: Beach shared Joyce’s love for language, and she took pleasure in playing around with words.  Her earliest letters show her punning with advertisements, just as Joyce would do in the Aeolus section of Ulysses.  And they both liked to kid around with Shakespeare.  Ulysses includes some funny burlesques of Hamlet, and Stephen Dedalus is a bit of a comic Hamlet.  The first thing that bonded them when they met at a Paris party was Joyce’s amusement at the name of her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.  He took out a pen to write down the name of the shop, and he came by to visit the next day. 

In addition to their shared comic sensibility and her tremendous admiration for his writing, Beach did understand that there were professional advantages in being associated with Joyce: “Ulysses is going to make my place famous,” she predicted in a letter, and it did.  The daily presence of Joyce at Shakespeare and Company created an aura around the shop, and that aura drew other writers and creative people.  His faith in Beach consolidated her status as a taste-maker and champion of the avant-garde. 

So there were some idealistic and some practical reasons why Beach went out of her way for Joyce: her earnest desire to help an artist she believed in, one who was having difficulty getting his work to print, and the status he conferred on her business.  But ultimately, it’s still difficult to explain just why she handed over her life to Joyce for ten years, putting herself in constant financial risk and exacerbating her migraines with all the demands attendant upon publishing Ulysses: the huge, constantly-changing manuscript; the fact that to fund the book she needed to get subscribers in advance; the lack of copyright protection in England and America which meant that she also had to fight against the piracy of the book; Joyce’s poor health; the needs of his family.  She never put herself on the line for any other writer in this way.  Many biographers and memoirists have mentioned Joyce’s personal charisma—his manner of speaking, his beautiful eyes, his good manners and his slightly antique formality (they always called each other “Mr. Joyce” and “Miss Beach”) and the reputation that preceded him as the author of Dubliners and Portrait—and so maybe, at a certain point, we have to appeal to that “Joyce Effect.”  Sylvia Beach wasn’t the only person to go out of her way for him.  He inspired loyalty and love, in spite of his many trying qualities. 

Anne: I know that in high school I grew enamored of Paris in the 1920s because it seemed to offer all kinds of things that Seattle in the 1980s could not.  We read Hemingway and Fitzgerald in high school, and, through them, I learned for the first time about this idea of a literary circle, a literary city.  What drew you to this place and time?

Keri: How funny, because Seattle was about to explode as a creative capital in its own right, with a musical scene that could rival 1920s Paris. It just goes to show that Paris has no special privilege in the arts, but it does have a lot of creative history accumulated over the centuries, so it’s easy to see why it’s still magnetic.  I grew up in the city that Leonard Cohen (with his usual hint of irony, I’m sure), called “the Paris of the Prairies.”  But there’s something to his assessment.  After all, Joni Mitchell got her start in Saskatoon.  I spent most of my childhood in a dance studio, and I especially loved tap and musical theatre.  So it was imitating Josephine Baker and Fred Astaire that pulled me into the ex-pat period of the 20s.  I remember once shocking my dance teacher, when I was about fourteen and we were rehearsing a can-can, and kicking our legs madly in the air from all angles, by announcing that originally the can-can was done in Paris without underwear.  I fell for Paris through MGM musicals, especially Gigi and An American in Paris.  I loved the blend of romantic idealism and world-weariness in Gene Kelly’s character Gerry Mulligan in An American in Paris.  He was an ex-G.I., and the film was set after the Second World War, in a new wave of ex-pats.  Richard Wright was in Paris then, soaking up Sartre, and Julia Child was studying at the Cordon Bleu.  Here’s the slightly mixed-up answer Gerry Mulligan gave about why he came to Paris, and it works for me too:

“…for a painter, the Mecca of the world for study, for inspiration, and for living is here on this star called Paris. Just look at it. No wonder so many artists have come here and called it home. Brother, if you can't paint in Paris, you'd better give up and marry the boss's daughter. Back home everyone said I didn't have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here, but it sounds better in French.”

Keri:  I read Mrs. Dalloway for the first time when I was 23.  It was recommended to me by the friend who was my own Sally Seton, who in those days was exactly the kind of person who would pawn a brooch to come and see you.  I discovered the book through her eyes, and I wasn’t the least bit interested in Richard Dalloway or Peter Walsh: to me, it was Sally and Clarissa’s book.  Do you remember your first reading of the novel, and what it meant to you? 

Anne: It’s funny, I don’t remember my first reading of the novel at all, though Woolf had a profound effect on me from the moment I first read her. At my women’s college, all the English professors were allergic to Woolf, having overdosed on her in the 1970s, so I arrived at graduate school barely knowing who she was. I took Harriet Chessman’s seminar on Woolf and Stein and fell in love with the first word.

This was awkward for a couple reasons. Harriet admired French feminism, which, for all my continuing love of Harriet, is an intellectual taste I cannot acquire. In her class and in that atmosphere—a kind of rogue feminist space amidst the overwhelming phallic patriarchy of Yale—meant that Stein kept winning the day. She had paired Woolf and Stein week by week and each time I would prefer Woolf only to go to class and find that the coolest grad students found Stein more theoretically rigorous: a better lesbian—an admitted lesbian, a richer experimenter, expressing a deeper sexuality. I marked myself as a hopelessly bourgeois girl in continually plumping for Woolf. But there it was. You cannot choose your loves.

I was one of five grad students who declared they were going to write their dissertations on Woolf. Two of the women dropped out of grad school altogether; the two men included chapters on Woolf in their longer projects; I am the only one who wrote on Woolf alone. I just held on the longest. I was stubborn.

But I fell in love with Woolf for words and phrases not for story, so what moved me were the words—the match in the crocus, the green dress in a square, the fire as burns only once in a lifetime—I was greedy for little nuggets of intensity and Woolf fed me.

I started a Happy Hour at a local bar in New Haven that same year. It was unheard of, in that competitive and hierarchical atmosphere, to suggest a gathering without purpose. I just wanted to make friends. Someone said to me “you really are a Mrs. Dalloway, aren’t you?” I still have mixed feelings about that judgment.

Conversation with Keri Walsh, Part One: Who Was Sylvia Beach and How Did you Find Her?

In honor of the publication of her edition of Sylvia Beach’s letters, I wanted to do something special here at Fernham. As part of Sylvia Beach Week, Keri Walsh and I “interviewed” each other over email. We continued the conversation we began at her reading at Bluestockings books in May, touching on the challenges of editing, on women modernists, on bookstores, archives, and common readers. We could barely stop talking, so the conversation is in four parts. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it!
Anne: For people who don’t know her, tell me a little about Sylvia Beach.  And for all of us, what draws you to her story?

Keri: In introducing Sylvia Beach, I’ll start by naming the two achievements that made her proudest: “publishing Ulysses, and steering a little bookshop for 22 years between the wars.”  Her bookshop was Shakespeare and Company, and it would become legendary as the spiritual homeroom of expatriate Paris.  Writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.D., and James Joyce wiled away the hours there and Beach provided them with books, a mailing address, places to live, introductions, French tutors, advice on publishing, and anything else they might need in Paris.   With the help of the French printer Darantière and a committed bunch of typists, she brought out Ulysses in 1922 when it was banned in England and America. 

Beach was born in 1887 and she grew up in Princeton, New Jersey where her father was minister at the local Presbyterian church.  She was taken to France as a child and she adored it.  She returned during the First World War and spent time doing agricultural work near Tours, and then working for the American Red Cross forces in Belgrade.  When she returned to Paris at the war’s end, she fell in love with Adrienne Monnier, the owner of a French-language bookstore called La Maison des Amies des Livres.  It would become an inspiration for Sylvia’s own shop.  With Monnier’s help and a gift of $3000 from her mother, she opened Shakespeare and Company in 1919.  Little did she know that American writers would soon start flocking to Paris to take advantage of the exchange rate and the reprieve from Prohibition at home.  She was the right person in the right place at the right time, and for any American writer abroad, her bookstore felt like home.  Beach is described affectionately in so many memoirs—most famously, in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.   Hemingway was moved by the trust she showed him on his first visit:  he couldn’t pay the lending library fee, but Beach let him walk off with a bunch of books and a promise that he’d come back to pay the bill someday.  In a time before English books were readily available in Paris, he and his wife Hadley were so excited by the prospect of all the reading they could do thanks to Shakespeare and Company.  Hemingway describes coming home to Hadley with the good news, telling her, “we’re going to have all the books in the world to read and when we go on trips we can take them.”  Hadley was delighted and amazed by Beach’s unusual business practices:
“Would that be honest?”
“Does she have Henry James too?”
“My,” she said, “We’re lucky that you found the place.”  (38)

Anne: How did you come to discover her letters?  And how did you come to see that they could be a book?

Keri: Maria DiBattista, one of my professors at Princeton, was the first to show me what a rich deposit of Sylvia Beach’s letters and belongings we were lucky to have at Firestone library.   While I was reading Ulysses in Maria’s class, she asked me to come with her to give a presentation on Sylvia Beach to a group called The Friends of the Princeton University Library.  She asked me to pick out one of Beach’s letters to present to the group, and I chose one that is still among my favorites— a letter that Beach wrote to Adrienne Monnier in 1940.  It was written in French, and it provided a lovely sketch of her relationship with her customers in the bookshop, and then a list of some of her latest recommendations. 

Then, again through Maria’s mentorship, I helped to curate an exhibition at the Princeton University Library.  It was called “Portraits of the Lost Generation,” and it featured Man Ray’s photographs and other Surrealist materials mostly drawn from the Sylvia Beach Papers

I loved all the time I spent in Sylvia Beach’s company.  Her letters were significant for modernist literary history, to be sure, but they were also so charming in their own right.  And they told the story one American woman’s life in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.  In all my reading about women’s role in the First World War, I had never read such a detailed first-person account of what it was like to work in Serbia with the Red Cross.  And it was even more fascinating to learn that though she was expected to get married and live a conventional life, Beach was wearing pants and swooning over women.  With a sense of humor and a kind heart and a romantic spirit, she had managed to carve out a life that worked for her in Paris, to live in accordance with her own desires while also serving others. 

I couldn’t help but marvel over the fact that her letters had never been published.  Many scholars had looked through the collection while writing biographies of Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein, H.D., but the only person who had made thorough use of the archive with an interest in Sylvia Beach herself was Noel Riley Fitch, Beach’s biographer (Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, Norton).  It was really my enjoyment of Beach’s letters that made me think they would be a good book.  I thought that others might like to spend time with her too.

Anne: I have an obsession with the particularities of working in archives: it’s, for me, tedious work, always punctuated by elation and discovery.  I love and hate all the rules and the various ways in which each archive has a distinct personality.  Do you have any favorite anecdotes from your work in the Beach archive?

Keri: Archivists and researchers have curious, often endearing relationships.  Ideally, they both love the archive and feel protective towards it.  Your question calls to mind two very different archival experiences I’ve had, one with a well-known resource, another with a found treasure.

For my Sylvia Beach project I was lucky to work with amazing research librarians at Princeton.  They knew the archive better than anyone, certainly better than I did.  I depended on them daily, and learned how to accommodate myself to the rhythms of the archive.  You can’t just barge in ten minutes before the library closes and ask for a bunch of manuscripts.  You need to build goodwill.  There’s a Jane Goodall effect: if you are simply physically present in an archive long enough, and follow its regulations, you end up becoming a familiar and trusted presence.  That’s when you get to go backstage and bend the rules a bit.  This process works best when you get to inhabit a particular archive over a long period of time.  I was fortunately able to work on Sylvia Beach’s letters during my time as a graduate student at Princeton, meaning I had daily access to her papers over the course of four years.  I spent many summer days hanging out in the Rare Books and Special Collections room, often bringing along research assistants or friends I had roped into helping me. 

Since the Sylvia Beach project, I’ve been working mainly in theatre archives, and that’s even more exciting because they are so much less well-trodden than literary archives: there’s more potential for making big discoveries: you don’t have to satisfy yourself with finding an overlooked comma – it’s more like an overlooked box of letters. At the New York Public Library’s Billy Rose Theatre Collection, I was able to look at programs, scripts, photographs, and notes from a 1946 Broadway production of Antigone that wasn’t even catalogued by the library or listed in the Finding Aid.  No one had seen this material since 1946, and bibliographically speaking, it didn’t exist.  To get access to those papers took a lot of coaxing, some cajoling, and some begging. But the high of making contact with that archive, and discovering the missing pieces of a story I was trying to tell, were well worth it. 

Sylvia Beach to F. Scott Fitzgerald, June 23, 1928

All week, we’re celebrating Sylvia Beach. Please drop by for a new post—or two--on Beach every day. And then head to your local independent bookstore and buy a copy of The Letters of Sylvia Beach.

Letter #97
Dear Scott Fitzgerald,
Don’t forget that you and Mrs Fitzgerald are coming to dine with us next Wednesday at 8, (to meet Mr and Mrs Joyce) and we are counting on you. Adrienne and I live at 18 re de l’Odéon on the 4th floor no lift.
Yours very sincerely,
Sylvia Beach

Happy Bloomsday!

I spent Bloomsday Eve, somewhat perversely, in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, reading Woolf’s notes on Ulysses from 1919, when the opening seven episodes were published serially. I was on the hunt for Dalloway footnotes, so reading with a particular purpose, and, though it’s always thrilling to read Woolf’s handwriting, I didn’t find anything that changed the prevailing—and accurate—sense that Woolf knew his work, but it wasn’t really for her.

Though I love and admire Ulysses, it struck me as funny to wake up on Bloomsday and realize how I’d spent the previous night.

For a treat, however, I direct you over to Lauren Elkin’s blog where you can read an interview with my friend, the effervescent Keri Walsh, who’s just edited Sylvia Beach’s letters. Beach was, of course, the owner of Shakespeare & Co. books in Paris and the first publisher of Joyce’s masterpiece. Keri’s book is at the top of my pile & I plan to invite her to contribute here, too. So, click on over for a foretaste of Beach wisdom.

Gertrude Stein’s Honey Cakes

I’m reading Stein for the first time in ages. I still am not sure that I love it, but she has her moments. I’m also back on WeightWatchers and a little bit hungry. (You have to be a little bit hungry, alas, otherwise, you’re not, ahem!, losing the weight.) I’m sure that my hunger and the mental image of the wonderfully upholstered Stein made this even better, so get into your hungriest frame of mind for this, from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which made me laugh out loud:
They told Vollard that they wanted to buy a Cezanne portrait. In those days practically no big Cezanne portraits had been sold. Vollard owned almost all of them. … There were about eight to choose from and the decision was difficult. They had often to go and refresh themselves with honey cakes at Fouquet’s.
Fantastic, isn’t it? The language of need in the realm of wonderful luxury. Oh, so hard is the decision of which Cezanne to buy! Oh, so badly do I need more cake! Shall we buy the one of the man? I’m not sure, Leo, let’s go get another piece of honey cake…

Even More on Jessie Fauset

Ethelene Whitmire, a professor at U-Wisconsin, Madison, popped into the comments to note that Fauset’s fourth and last novel is being reissued by Rutgers this fall. Thank you! It sounds like a darker—more realistic?--version of There is Confusion, edited by Cherene Sherrard-Johnson (also of UW):
Comedy: American Style, Jessie Redmon Fauset’s fourth and final novel, recounts the tragic tale of a family’s destruction—the story of a mother who denies her clan its heritage. Originally published in 1933, this intense narrative stands the test of time and continues to raise compelling, disturbing, and still contemporary themes of color prejudice and racial self-hatred. Several of today’s bestselling novelists echo subject matter first visited in Fauset’s commanding work, which overflows with rich, vivid, and complex characters who explore questions of color, passing, and black identity.

Cherene Sherrard-Johnson’s introduction places this literary classic in both the new
modernist and transatlantic contexts and will be embraced by those interested in earlytwentieth-century women writers, novels about passing, the Harlem Renaissance, the black/white divide, and diaspora studies. Selected essays and poems penned by Fauset are also included, among them “Yarrow Revisited” and “Oriflamme,” which help highlight the full canon of her extraordinary contribution to literature and provide contextual background to the novel.
I can’t wait to read it.

Stevie Smith & Betty Miller

I’m reading Frances Spalding’s biography of Stevie Smith and every chapter brings me a little gasp of excitement. Her Novel on Yellow Paper is a favorite book of mine.

Yesterday’s find was the strong speculation that the woman Orwell bragged about having sex with in a public park was likely Smith.

Here is today’s: Smith was a libelously autobiographical writer. Novel on Yellow Paper begins “Good-bye to all my friends, my beautiful and lovely friends” and she did, indeed lose many friendships over her thinly veiled accounts of marital spats and her confusing frankness (and anti-Semitism) toward her Jewish friends. One such friendship sundered was that with Betty Miller, author of Farewell Leicester Square (another of my discoveries this summer). Smith spent the weekend with the Millers and then commemorated it in a short story portraying the Millers as burdened by the sense of English anti-Semitism, Miller herself as a suppressed wife, and Miller’s son Jonathan (the Jonathan Miller) as a brat.

Betty was not pleased.

I don’t doubt it.

More on Jessie Fauset

If Jessie Redmon Fauset is remembered at all, it is as the author of Plum Bun, which, I suspect, many know vaguely as that other novel about passing that is not Nella Larsen’s Passing. But Fauset (1882-1961) wrote several novels and served as the literary editor of Crisis magazine from 1919 to 1926: the heart of the Harlem Renaissance. Alain Locke may have edited The New Negro (1925), but Fauset must have played a huge role in publishing and promoting the talent of all those writers we know from that anthology.

Though you may not have noticed it, I did: I was unfair to Fauset last week by leading with my criticism of her energetic and ambitious first novel.

Actually, and in spite of its many flaws, I was very moved by the book and I think it’s an amazing novel to revive during the age of Obama.

The plot is unwieldy but full of wonderfully cinematic scenes. If you are a screenwriter in search of material, I recommend mining There is Confusion.

The Marshall family, the four children of Joel Marshall, are the book’s heart. Joel Marshall is a very successful caterer, a self-made man, living in a large prosperous house in Manhattan—at first, in the 50s and, later, in Harlem. Rich as he is, he regrets that his success came in mere catering and hopes for more—for greatness, for ambition, for real intellectual and political achievement, for his children.

Of his four children, only Joanna shares those ambitions and both she and her father are somewhat surprised to find that her talent lies in singing and dancing: once again, the family’s dreams of a new Frederick Douglass or Sojourner Truth are checked by both their talents and the lack of opportunity.

Joanna is one of three young people whose maturation the book details. Her story contrasts with those of Maggie Ellersley, the daughter of a laundress who hopes that marriage to a rich man will raise her from poverty and Peter Bye, the scion of freedmen from Philadelphia, who must overcome his father’s anger and laziness to become the man—and the physician--Joanna deserves to marry.

Part of the book’s failure is also what makes it so continually interesting: Fauset spends a lot of time explaining her world. She has her earnest young people engage in long, DuBois-ian conversations about talent and how best to spend it. They walk the streets of New York, experiencing both freedom and discrimination. Fauset explains the differences between the social mobility of New York—both within the black community and in a tentatively integrating bohemia—and the intense social hierarchies of elite black Philadelphia, where the daughters of freedmen work hard not to aim too high, but simply to remain eligible brides for the appropriate sons.

I had hoped to find a new novel of the Harlem Renaissance to teach this fall, tiring as I have of Larsen. I am really excited about this one, about which I cannot stop thinking

Farewell Leicester Square

Betty Miller’s novel about being Jewish in London in the 1930s is far, far better than I expected. I set out to read a book of considerable historical interest, a worthy book. I found, instead, a really expert novel, written by a very young Betty Miller (in her mid-twenties) centering on Alec Berman, a Jewish man from Brighton who longs to work in film, becomes a celebrated director and marries the daughter of his mentor.

Throughout, the novel offers astute glimpses of all kinds of casual moments of wounding anti-Semitism: the wife’s friend, also a schiksa, comments that the son’s name, David, is inevitable, combining, as it does, Jewishness with fashion; Alec and his old friend Lew Solomon walk through Trafalgar Square to hear a newsboy touting the only “non-Jewish controlled paper” in the city; Alec’s brother-in-law, refined and repressed, withdraws from his sister’s life when she marries a Jew; there is even an offstage playground fight. These scenes, scattered across this 300-page novel, offer a kind of taxonomy of what it might have been like to live as a successful Jew in London during the years of Hitler’s rise to power. (Hitler himself is in the background throughout, his voice on the radio.)

This was Miller’s third novel but Victor Gollancz, the usually wonderful progressive English Jewish publisher refused to publish it in 1935; it eventually was printed in 1941: at that point, sadly, Miller’s exposition of the effects of casual, domestic anti-Semitism and the strains of a “mixed” marriage had been eclipsed by the events of WWII. I put “mixed” in quotations because one of the novel’s strengths is that both Alec and his wife are self-consciously rueful about the oddity of that term; Catharine muses that al marriages are “mixed,” that any marriage brings together strangers. Still, it’s not hard to see why, in 1935, a Jewish publisher would have hesitated to publish such an honest account of how far most non-Jewish English people had to come to overcome their prejudices.

Then, there is all the interest of the film industry itself. There is verisimilitude in the possibility of a Jew’s rise to power, respect and prominence in British film: many English Jews did work in film. The opening scene, of Alec and his lover, Hetty, a movie star, riding in a car through traffic to a premier is wonderfully done. And the second chapter, flashing back to his boyhood ache to get out of Brighton and work in film is fantastically right about adolescent desire and the ways that the movies attract (or used to attract) that kind of longing for something glamorous, something apart from the claustrophobia of home.

Miller’s writing is wonderful and she is at home with all kinds of scenes: she gets the mood of a boy smoking and staring off to sea right and then, pages later, she gets right the feeling of a new mother getting up from a dinner party to nurse her baby. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that moved among classes, cultures, genders with such grace.

As I guess you can hear, I’m a little gobsmacked by this book: so much better than I had any reason to guess.

Transatlantic Women Modernists

Since I wrote such a massive list of all the writers who might make it in my class, I’ve been feeling bad about the writers who made the cut but whose work didn’t come up to the River. Is that crazy? They’re all dead. They can’t care. But I care.

So, here is what I know, so far. There are fourteen classes, but one needs to be an introduction. We meet for two hours each week. At the moment, I know I’ll be teaching the following:
  1. Woolf (some have already requested The Waves, but I’m not sure which I’ll teach),
  2. Gertrude Stein 1
  3. Stein 2: I’m giving her two weeks because I think she’s out of favor, challenging, amazing and worth more attention
  4. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes and More
  5. another Harlem Renaissance woman--perhaps not Nella Larsen—that’s the slot that Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Jessie Fauset are “competing” for (I mean that with heavy irony—see below)
  6. Marianne Moore
  7. Jean Rhys, not Wide Sargasso Sea, probably not Good Morning, Midnight (since my colleague often teaches it)
  8. Katherine Mansfield, a generous selection of stories
  9. Elizabeth Bowen
  10. Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper & poetry
  11. Djuna Barnes, Nightwood & more
  12. a Persephone book (perhaps Betty Miller's Farewell Leicester Square)
  13. and then, I think I need another avant garde woman.
That leaves Rebecca West off the syllabus, I see, though that could change.

When you see how little room there is in a syllabus, you see literary turf wars in a different light. You see, in the end, how very little room there is for a “new” writer to make it onto the list. I write that Fauset and Dunbar-Nelson are up against each other with a bitter irony: I know almost nothing about either; both seem worthy, important writers; both could make it onto the syllabus in the end. They are just one example of a whole range of such mini-competitions between less well-known writers as I shape the course. It’s a class on American and British women, poetry and prose; I want a balance of styles and political outlooks, urban and rural themes, gay and straight writers … and so I keep looking at the list and asking myself if it’s fair. But fair to whom?

Here are some other ways of thinking about the list:

Moore and Smith are poets. Stein is nearly one: that’s just 4 weeks on poetry and poetic prose (excepting Woolf)—and we’ll likely focus more on Smith’s novel than her poems.

Because my specialty is modern British, I tend to favor that side of the Atlantic, but the list so far has only 6 weeks of Brits: Woolf, Rhys, Mansfield, Bowen, Smith, and Miller. I’m pleased that the list is as cosmopolitan as the first half of the 20th century in England can be: Miller (who is Jonathan Miller’s mother) was Jewish (among many other things) and Rhys (who was probably of mixed race) and Mansfield are both colonial.

Among Americans, I’ll do Stein, Hurston, Moore, and Barnes for sure.

I watch contemporary writers bicker and battle over prizes and reputations knowing that part of what is at stake is a legacy they will never see. That there will come a day when some future professor sits staring at her bookshelves, asking herself if she’s really going to ask a dozen young people to read a mostly-forgotten novel about the career and romantic struggles of a young black woman or a selection of short stories by a New Zealander who died young or a lesbian novel full of antiquated ideas about homosexuality or something else entirely.


Once again, we are up at the River for the month of July, in the very same house we rented last year. My books and papers are unpacked. I have to return to the long-neglected edition of Mrs. Dalloway, cast to the side in the fall when I had to take over a colleague’s course, and again in spring because of the Woolf Conference. I also want to do some reading around in lesser-known modernist women writers for a graduate course in the spring. When I left New Jersey, I was still a-jangle, still exhausted from the conference and jet-lagged from a whirlwind week in Seattle visiting my family with my daughters.

It made packing hard, so I just threw everything in.

I see now that I have brought fifty books with me.

5-0. 50.

Half of them are books for work on the Dalloway edition:
  1. The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume 3 (1919-1924)
  2. The Letters of VW, vol. 1,
  3. vol. 2,
  4. vol. 3. It was the letters that undid me last summer: so much more sad (so many deaths, in such quick succession, and then pretending for weeks that her brother Thoby was not dead so as not to upset her friend Violet until Violet herself had recovered) and show-offy (just the worst of Woolf: brittle, “brilliant,” too clever, snobby) than the diaries which I find deeply moving. Still, I need to read through them and make my notes.
  5. The Diary, vol. 3 (1925-1930): I don’t need to read much of that.
  6. the Modern Library edition of Mrs. Dalloway
  7. the Uniform Hogarth edition of Mrs. Dalloway
  8. the Oxford paperback edition of Mrs. Dalloway
  9. the newly annotated Harcourt edition of Mrs. Dalloway not mentioning my electronic copy of the first English and American editions, that’s a lot of copies of one book, though I’m mad at myself for forgetting the Penguin…
  10. Mrs. Dalloway’s Party, the only short story sequence associated with a novel in Woolf’s whole oeuvre
  11. Night and Day Woolf’s second novel, which I don’t know well, but to write the footnotes for Dalloway, I need to know any prior appearances of characters, placenames, even metaphors, just to be able to refer readers back
  12. Woolf Studies Annual volume 8 for David Bradshaw’s essay on Septimus and the war
  13. The Years
  14. A Room of One’s Own
  15. The Oxford Book of English Verse, the edition that Woolf herself read so that I can refamiliarize myself with the poetry she loved best in case that helps me catch an allusion
  16. The Metamorphoses because Jane DeGay had an intriguing argument about Ovidian metaphors in Woolf that I’d like to follow up on, though it’s a challenge for me
  17. Palgrave Advances in Virginia Woolf Studies
  18. The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf because I promised, over a year ago, to review these books
  19. Clarissa Dalloway Harold Bloom’s collection of the classic essays on her: I’m still amazed at how little I know given how much I know…
  20. Virginia Woolf’s Novels and the Literary Past Jane deGay’s monograph on Woolf’s allusions
  21. Continuing Presences almost a reference book of all the literature Woolf alluded to
  22. Virginia Woolf and London an older monograph by Susan Squier which I’ll return to with new interest after my crash course in urban theory surrounding the Woolf Conference, hoping to catch a footnote or two to the placenames in Dalloway
  23. Virginia Woolf’s Reading Notebooks, Brenda Silver’s transcription of Woolf’s notebooks provides clues to what Woolf was reading when and thus, clues to where to look for possible allusions
  24. Then, there are the books that I’m considering for my fall grad class on Transatlantic Modern Women Farewell Leicester Square Betty Miller’s novel of a Jewish film director in London in the twenties, which I began last night and am already sure I’ll teach
  25. The Desert and the Sown about the explorer Gertrude Bell: I wonder about including one of these non-fiction explorers on the syllabus and this one is about Iraq, so it’s of special interest
  26. Jean Rhys: the Complete Novels: I hate The Wide Sargasso Sea and a colleague often teaches Good Morning, Midnight, so I’m wondering if there is another Rhys to teach—and I’ve downloaded Maud’s Granta conversation with Alexander Chee to teach me more about the Rhys/Ford affair
  27. The Montana Stories by the great and neglected Katherine Mansfield: these masters of the short story so often get short shrift, but I will be giving Mansfield a week without doubt and am excited to dip into her again
  28. The Well of Loneliness: Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian classic, as yet unread by me. The Unlit Lamp, also by Hall, shook me to my core as a girl
  29. Seven for a Secret because my friend Jane Garrity is interested in Mary Webb and other neglected rural and/or conservative women of the period
  30. and then a trio of novels to read (or re-read) by my beloved Elizabeth Bowen to see if I want to do The Death of the Heart again—I love it but never teach it well—or something else: The Hotel
  31. The House in Paris
  32. The Last September
  33. Tayari suggested Alice Dunbar-Nelson, so I brought along The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson , vol. 2, because that volume (of 3) had the most exciting-sounding titles in it
  34. Not sure if I’m up to Mina Loy’s The Lost Lunar Baedeker, but I’ll give it an hour or two and see
  35. Testament of Youth because I’ve never read Vera Brittain
  36. Complete Poems by Marianne Moore, who has already made the cut
  37. We’ll do two weeks on Stein, whom I love but have mostly forgotten so I’m refreshing my memory with The Yale Gertrude Stein
  38. and Ida
  39. sad to say, I’ve also never read Sylvia Townend Warner. My friend Jay raves about Summer Will Show, a lesbian historical novel about the 1848 revolutions (hard to wrap my mind around that), but the NYRB reissue isn’t quite out, so I’ve brought alone a collection of stories called One Thing Leading to Another
  40. I am tired of Nella Larsen and the theme of passing, but Jessie Fauset’s first novel sounds interestingly Jamesian, about an educated, ambitious black woman: There is Confusion
  41. tons of people have told me over the years that I’ll love Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer: I’ll let you know
  42. I will certainly teach my beloved Stevie Smith, but I know less about her than I’d like, so I’ve brought along Frances Spalding’s biography, Stevie Smith
  43. Even the reading for pleasure this summer is work-like: Manhattan Transfer
  44. in the afterglow of the Woolf Conference, Vanessa & Virginia came along
  45. as did Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows
  46. I read and loved my former professor’s memoir Meatless Days and had so much to say about it that my mom urged me to write an essay—we’ll see if that happens
  47. and Lizzie brought over an advanced copy of her new book, Shelf Discovery, before she left, which is like dessert, so I dip in and out in the margins
  48. Gwen Raverat’s memoir of growing up in Cambridge as Darwin’s granddaughter,Period Piece, is meant to be fantastic and has lots of Bloomsbury resonances
  49. my grandmother went to high school in Shanghai, so I was already excited about Lisa See’s new novel Shanghai Girls before I read praise for it in the NYT. When I admired my mom’s copy, she gave it to me (thanks, mom!) and I’m already enjoying the atmosphere. Besides, it’s all about sisters!
  50. With fifty books, I’ll have to read one a day to merit the lugging, but I’ve already read one: What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell’s NBA winner—I’ll blog about that soon, no doubt.
And this doesn’t include On the Banks of Plum Creek which I’m almost done reading aloud the big girl and By the Shore of Silver Lake because I couldn’t stand to leave Mary blind for the whole summer, not to mention a handful of board books for the toddler (no longer a babe at 3, and full of mangled Mother Goose, recited inaccurately but with great enthusiasm), story books, chapter books for the big girl to read on her own (Junie B. Jones, Roald Dahl’s the BFG, etc.)

A Happy Story from Publishing 100 Years Ago

I’m attending bits and pieces of the Society for Textual Scholarship Conference at NYU this week (and giving a paper there tomorrow). Today’s plenary panel was terrific. Bob Scholes gave an engaging paper on advertising in modernist magazines. He compared Pound's injunctions for writing imagist poetry with advice for admen written at the same time: it would be hard to tell them apart. Full of lovely irony. My old friend Cliff Wulfman gave a really smart paper about all the technological challenges of digitizing literature.

But, in light of the dire news about publishing that’s been floating around these past months, I thought you might be especially interested in George Bornstein’s “The Colors of Modernism: Publishing Blacks, Jews, and Irish.” (Shouldn’t it be “the Irish?”) He offered a history of New York publishing houses in the early 20th century.

While we think of Viking and Knopf as powerhouses of publishing, these houses were founded by Jews who’d hit the glass ceiling in WASP-dominated Boston. These editors, according to Bornstein, moved to New York, but couldn’t afford to acquire the established texts. So, while Houghton Mifflin up in Boston was publishing new multi-volume sets of Longfellow and Emerson (this made me laugh out loud, but I was the only one), Ginsburg and Oppenheimer of Viking and the Knopfs set out to find avant-garde texts, texts by other Jews, by immigrants, and by African-Americans. Harcourt Brace was the only Gentile-run house to join this trend. They did so because they hired Joel Spingarn, a Jew, an early supporter of the NAACP and colleague there of DuBois, and a former professor of comp lit at Columbia. Professor Spingarn had been dismissed from his job at Columbia for defending a colleague’s dismissal (ah! academic freedom!) so, his former students hired him at Harcourt, eventually making him a full editorial partner.

First among these was B. W. Huebsch, the first American publisher of James Joyce. Bornstein showed us Huebsch’s device, a seven-branched menorah (it looked like a fancy Georgian candlestick to me, but I trust him), on the title page of Joyce's Exiles.

This paper was a really lovely cultural history. A rich celebration of how a group of artists, exiled from the mainstream, became the mainstream by banding together.

Harcourt’s big moneymaker was Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace and it’s through Keynes that they got their entrée to Bloomsbury. Harcourt remains Woolf’s American publisher to this day.

Bornstein’s story emerges, I think, out of a desire to counter a narrative, common in the 1990s, of high modernism as politically right wing, elitist, and narrow.

But it’s too easy to turn the cosmopolitan story into a dream sequence that overlooks the broader truths of anti-Semitism, race riots, lynchings, and anti-immigration legislation of the time. Or the facts of rifts within even the cosmopolitan circles of artists. I would like to have heard more nuance there, but it mostly flickered behind the paper. He told us that Harcourt is to be commended for publishing Sandburg’s essay on the Chicago race riots without pausing long enough over the fact of that unrest. He saluted Knopf’s courage in publishing Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven without pausing long enough (though pause he did) over the opportunism of that white promoter of Harlem.

He ended with T. S. Eliot, whose politics I don't admire (duh!) but whose "The Waste Land" I adore. Boni and Liveright, the house that made their name with Toomer's Cane were Eliot's American publishers. And, Bornstein argues, that Eliot's appearance on the Boni and Liveright list emphasizes the polyglot nature of the poem: something that was supported by the list itself. That is, every title on their list was jazz-influenced, so the jazz and pop elements of the poem, the parts of the poem that celebrate immigration and cosmpolitanism, and cultural hybridity, are all familiar to anyone who's familiar with that house. This, he argues, helps account for Ralph Ellison's somewhat surprising over-praise of Eliot. There is a lot more to say about that: about Eliot's racism, about whether or not people know books in the context of their publisher, about Ellison's snobbery, and about the greatness of both Ellison and Eliot.

I do think this is, in the main, a really really good story for us to know. As we think about Kindle and digital rights management (DRM to you) and the death of the newspaper, it’s really thrilling, I think, to remember, too, that 100 years ago, there were people in New York who loved great writing and didn’t pause over creed or race or ethnicity to publish it and, in so doing, were able to serve both art and commerce. So, though I have my questions about the emphasis of this paper, I mostly found it very, very interesting and inspiring. And though I've ignored the women here, Bornstein did not: he continually referenced Lilian Hellman, Nella Larsen, and more as crucial players in this story.

As we sit here, trying to earn a living with our tweets and our blogs, shaking our heads at the ginormous advances offered to another idiotic memoir by a celebrity, it’s moving and encouraging, I think, to imagine Knopf, Huebsch, Ginsburg & Oppenheimer, Boni & Liveright, gutting it out, making money, and bringing us great, great art.

Bornstein’s paper is part of a forthcoming book from Yale University Press. A chapter of it appeared in the September 2005 issue of Modernism/modernity (which may be behind a firewall for you). He has a very sweet pro-Obama op-ed here.