Friday, March 6, 2015

A Spontaneous Expression

In 1923, a young girl sat down at her typewriter and began to write a story about flowers, meadows and woodlands. She was nine years old but had been typing since she was four. Home schooled by her mother, and with the support of her editor father, Barbara Newhall Follett finished the first draft of her book The House Without Windows three months later. She then began to revise it with the help of her father, Wilson Follett, and a print-ready draft was completed in October of that year, only to be destroyed in a fire a little while later. Distraught but not discouraged, Barbara began again, trying to remember the words that she had so carefully chosen the first time. However, according to her father:
One day in December, everything was suddenly different. As an experiment of despair, Barbara had stopped trying to remember the shape of sentences, the precise order and phraseology of details, and had begun to let the material come back as it listed.
And it did, but the new book would not be finished for one reason or another until 1926, when Barbara was twelve. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1927. As far as the difference between the first draft and final draft was concerned, Wilson Follett found that...
...as to ordinary literacy, there [was] no perceptible difference…[but] what the reader is here given is an articulate eight- and nine-year-old child's outpouring of her own dreams and longings in a fanciful tale, superficially revised by the hand of a twelve-year old girl.
The book was a success and a year later Barbara wrote The Voyage of the Norman D., an account of a sea journey to Nova Scotia she undertook with her mother. This second book was also critically acclaimed and Barbara was only fourteen when she was heralded as a child prodigy.

Her personal life, however, was marked by many disappointments. Wilson Follett abandoned his wife for a younger woman, leaving the family penniless, and forcing Barbara to work as a secretary in New York. While still in her teens, she married Nickerson Rogers, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1931. Nick was an outdoor enthusiast like herself and by all accounts the marriage was a happy one until 1939, when Nick confirmed Barbara's suspicion that he had met someone else. On December 7, 1939, Barbara left her house after a fight with Nick. She had thirty dollars and a notebook in her pocket and was never seen or heard from again.

Ask for Rare Book PZ7.F735 Ho to read Barbara's first novel.

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