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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Write, Revise, Revolutionize

As we near the end of winter term and you find yourself spending more and more time in the library, you may catch yourself wondering- who wrote the first essay? Many scholars credit the earliest modern essay form to Michel de Montaigne, one of the most important and widely-read philosophers of the French Renaissance. In his time, Montaigne’s contemporaries often criticized him for mixing his philosophical arguments with personal anecdotes and honest observations, but today he is widely recognized for inventing a new form of written expression.

Rauner Library owns a rare copy of the definitive, complete collection of Essais published in 1595, shortly after Montaigne’s death. This edition matters because it contains more than 1400 edits that do not appear in earlier texts, a product of Montaigne’s more than two decades of writing, reflection, and revision. At age 38, Montaigne largely abandoned his political career in favor of “drawing his portrait with a pen.” After cloistering himself and 1000 books in a tower on his estate, he produced some of the most influential philosophical writings of the late Renaissance, weaving together candid introspection, academic arguments, bawdy humor, and enlightened skepticism--as well as an religious and cultural tolerance that was well before his time.  Montaigne’s work has directly emphasized writers as intellectually and stylistically diverse as Bacon, Shakespeare, and Emerson.

If you flip through Rauner’s copy of the text, you will find several pages full of handwritten notes. You may wonder who wrote them--especially since it was published posthumously. This handwriting actually belongs to Marie de Gournay, an accomplished writer and philosopher who became Montaigne’s friend and intellectual companion in 1588, when she was only 23 years old; he referred to her as his adopted daughter, and shared much of his work with her. After Montaigne’s death, his widow gave his manuscripts to de Gournay, tasking her with compiling and editing the definitive edition of Essais. She completed the project with the utmost care, adding her own preface and even correcting the printed sheets by hand before binding. de Gournay, like Montaigne, lived a life ahead of her time. She remained an unmarried female writer, and went on to publish some of the first feminist works in existence: her treatises Equality Between Men and Women (1622) and Complaints of the Ladies (1626).

You can read Montaigne’s Essais, translated into English, online. To see Rauner’s original edition, printed in French and Latin with handwritten edits by Marie de Gournay, request Rare Book PQ1641.A1 1595.

Posted for Emily C. Estelle '15