Friday, March 7, 2014

Fishing for a Title

Corey Ford was a prolific writer, humorist, and outdoorsman of the mid-twentieth century who is best remembered, among other things, for his regular contributions to Field & Stream and his naming of Eustace Tilley, the iconic dandy who regularly graces the cover of The New Yorker magazine. Ford, who was a Columbia University non-graduate, fell under New Hampshire's spell and moved to Hanover in 1952 where he became intimately involved with Dartmouth campus life. He was made an honorary member of the class of 1921, enjoyed friendships with Ellis Briggs 21 and other alumni, coached boxing and rugby, and inspired a generation of young men who passed through Dartmouth's hallowed halls.

In addition to his freelance articles for various publications like Vanity Fair and his numerous short stories, Ford also published over thirty books during his lifetime. One of these, Where the Sea Breaks its Back, was recently listed on author Brian Payton's Top Ten Books about Alaska. Here at Rauner, we have a variety of documents related to the creation of this text, including rough drafts, discarded notes and pages from early versions, and correspondence about what Ford should call the book.

Before finally settling upon Where the Sea Breaks its Back, Ford struggled to find a title for his story about the discovery of Alaska, based upon the diaries of a German doctor named Georg Wilhelm Steller. He came up with a short list of possible names himself, as seen here, and also solicited the advice of numerous people associated with Alaska, including his friend and Field & Stream editor Frank Dufresne, Alaskan Senator Ernest Gruening, and Alaskan Historical Museum curator E. L. Keithahn. The latter apparently provides the answer that Ford was searching for: less than a year later he is no longer referring to the text as "the Steller book," but instead by its published title, clearly drawn from Keithahn's reply.


Rauner holds the Corey Ford papers as well as the Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration, which Ford relied upon when drafting Where the Sea Breaks its Back. To see the materials related to the creation of the novel, ask for ML-30, Box 14. To explore the Stefansson collection, visit our Finding Aids search page and use the keyword "Stefansson."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hamlet for Francophiles

We have a lot of versions of Hamlet here: there is the First Folio version, two different 19th-century musical versions, Hamlet in miniature, a giant copy, the Lawrence Olivier movie script and Hamlet executed in woodblocks. It seems people will consume Hamlet in any way they can get it, but we were surprised to find this playbill in the collection. Hamlet performed at the Tremont Theatre in Boston in 1894 by a French touring company... in French by Alexander Dumas and Paul Meurice.

You have to wonder about that theater-going experience. According to one contemporary review from The Illustrated American, the play ran four hours and served primarily as a vehicle for M. Mounet-Sully's highly emotive over-the-top performance. Dumas and Meurice took considerable liberties with the story as well. The Illustrated American said, "The shell of the English play is here, the story is set forth, but its substance, no less than its sublimity, is entirely lost." But, if four hours of an actor crying and screaming through Hamlet in French for a Boston audience isn't sublime, I don't know what is.

See the program (with its advertisements for bicycles, ice cream, and corsets) by asking for Playbill PR-MA/Bos-Tre2/8940507.