The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars.
There are some delightful author-related nuggets. Here’s Don DeLillo:
The painstaking nature of DeLillo’s method can be seen in his drafts for “Underworld” (2001), which began as a novella, “Pafko at the Wall,” composed in 1991. He goes through a dozen pages to settle on the language of the opening two paragraphs, in which a Harlem teen-ager named Cotter Martin gets ready to jump the turnstile at the Polo Grounds to see the famous 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff game. The first page in the folder already captures the agitated mentality of a hurrying city: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. The longing to be here, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, is too hard to resist—this metropolis.” DeLillo breaks off and starts again: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom, the box of forty blank faces.” He pauses, then alters the image to “the box of forty mismatched heads.” He returns to his original riff: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom and it’s not a matter of midweek blues.” Then he drops “midweek blues,” but introduces the idea of melancholy in a lovely pair of sentences: “Most longings go unfulfilled. This is the word’s wistful implication.” He transforms these two sentences into one: “Longing on a large scale is what makes history.”
Five years later, DeLillo turns to these words again, for the prologue to “Underworld.” He wants a new first paragraph to precede the earlier one. “Look at the kid with the empty pockets” becomes “Look at the kid with the lively eyes”; he then changes “lively eyes” to “glimmerglass eyes.” (Glimmerglass eyes? He amends it in pencil: “shine in his eyes.”) A few pages later, he returns to the image: “He speaks in your voice, American, and has a shine in his eyes that’s half hope, half fear.” DeLillo replaces the end of the sentence with the smoother “halfway hopeful.” After a few more tweaks, he has merged Bellow with Gershwin: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful. It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it’s hard to blame him—this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each. Longing on a large scale is what makes history.”
Red the full story here.