Wrote this out a couple of weeks ago, before hitting the road…
I have a few Boston litblogging notes and goals I want to get into. Part of this is an attempt to clarify the elements and sequence of my intentions for myself, as this effort began with some typical vague notions last month, but by now I’ve had a lot of time to putter and ruminate and put things together. So here goes.
The first might come as a bit of a surprise: I plan to head over to the Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library. Not too long ago, I wouldn’t have known it was there. This is work-related in a great and exciting way, but I won’t get into the specifics just yet, and work itself is busy. The post I wrote about Hemingway and Woody Allen in the wake of Midnight in Paris, which I’m rereading now, is very close to the bone. I can throw out a hearty morsel about what I’m after in the short run: A Moveable Feast was conceived at the end of 1956, when Hemingway was reminded that he had stored two small trunks in the basement of the Ritz Hotel in 1928. The trunks contained notebooks that EH used in writing his memoir. A recent new edition of the text focuses on the manuscripts for the posthumously published book, but I’m more interested in those original notebooks at the moment. Lots of Hemingway stuff going on for me, and it turns out that Boston is probably the best place to get started. Who knew? The timing of the violent deaths of Kennedy and Hemingway is an odd coincidence that led to placing the primary Hemingway archive in the landmark library. I’ve never been to a presidential library before, even though a couple of them are fairly close by at home I guess, and visiting the JFK library would have trouble making my basic list of destinations. But now I’m excited about going, and I expect to do some posts and a fair amount of writing on Hemingway in the coming months.
The second front is the surprising and more obscure topic of my last post, about John P. Marquand and Newburyport. I don’t know that my interest and effort will be extensive, but I want to read more Marquand, and I’m going to go and check out his stomping grounds. I need to find or order my next Marquand novel, and I want to make stops at a couple of bookstores and the UCLA library, but I already had one successful bookstore run. I picked up a clean paperback of Appointment at Samarra, along with a tidy volume of O’Hara’s collected stories, edited by Frank MacShane. Ironically enough, I sent out a thick unopened volume of O’Hara’s Gibbsville stories in a book purge last year. Oh well. But my happiest find was a copy of Millicent Bell’s 1980 biography of Marquand, a book that looks vaguely familar from years of staring at used bookstore shelves. Bell’s biography, nominated and winner of prizes, might supersede Marquand’s own works aside from Apley, but I’ll know more about that as I go along. It says something that the bookstore, an excellent one, had a copy of it but no books by Marquand. Bell is a noteworthy scholar and Bostonian, who wrote on Nathaniel Hawthorne before working on Marquand. This biography might be comparable to Blake Bailey’s work on Richard Yates, published 20 years later (I haven’t read Bailey’s Cheever biography.) When I was first glancing at Marquand’s wiki bio, I passed over Bell it seems and noticed that Stephen Birmingham, chronicler of old money and privilege–Our Crowd was a big, popular, interesting book when I was young–had written a Marquand book. This Bell volume must be much better, I expect, and it’s pulling me in, even though I’d like to read at least another Marquand novel, and preferably two, before diving down to its depths, but we’ll see.
The third item is the oldest and the original, and maybe the best, but it could be hard to muster the effort with these other distractions. When this summer’s trip to Boston first began taking shape I was excited about the prospect of returning to the Massachusetts Historical Society and reading much more deeply in Annie Fields’ diary there. Now that I have other projects this enterprise feels a little vague and sprawling. Maybe I’ll start by trying to gather Fields’ later published works, which aren’t at the library. These were culled from her diary to a great extent, I believe. But I’m still curious about the diary itself, and it’s slightly odd that it was never published back in the heyday of monumental academic literary projects, when stately volumes of letters and diaries were marching out regularly from university presses in the last half of the 20th century. But Fields was too marginal, and a woman, and there hasn’t been much work done on her. The question is whether the good bits of the diary were used up by Fields herself as she composed literary biographical essays towards the end of her life, and large chunks are presumably found in Memories of a Hostess: A Chronicle of Eminent Friendships, drawn chiefly from the diaries of Mrs. James T. Fields, by Mrs. A. DeWolfe Howe–so, probably, the answer is yes. Still, the Annie Fields story, married young to the Maxwell Perkins of 19th Century American Literature (just reading Bell on Perkins and Marquand–fascinating!) and then spending the second half of her life “married” to a crucial and classic feminist author, Sarah Orne Jewett, is pretty great, and could be examined and told in some sort of engaging way. Plus, she was hot, as we like to say these days (and maybe looking for images is a place to start), so maybe there’s a movie/tv/documentary person with literary tastes who could figure out how to bring her tale to a broader audience.