Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries, edited by J. Matthew Huculak (2017)
Guest edited by J. Matthew Huculak, Digital Scholarship Librarian at the University of Victoria Libraries, Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at UVic Libraries (2016) features a wealth of contributions by University of Victoria faculty members and librarians that tell the stories of the twentieth-century holdings in the the University of Victoria Special Collections. In over 140 visually stunning pages, the essays in this publication celebrate the diversity of the Libraries’ twentieth-century holdings by tracing the histories of their acquisitions and their importance to twentieth-century studies.
Read Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries here.
In his introduction, Huculak writes that "the seed for the idea of what we now call Special Collections was first planted in 1966 when members of the Department of English and the University Library came together to establish a 'research laboratory' for students studying Modern English Literature. The rapid growth of the collections speaks to an increasing collaboration among librarians, archivists, professors, and students," including Roger Bishop, a librarian and the Chair of the Department of English from 1945-1967; Dean W. Halliwell, the first university librarian; and Ann Saddlemyer, professor in the Department of English.
"The title of this book," Huculak writes, "speaks to many different collections that make up 20th-century literary production. Modernism - an aesthetic movement that is generally associated with difficult and highbrow literature in the first half of the twentieth century - was born in the many 'little magazines' that appeared around 1910," such as BLAST, The Dial, and The Little Review. Some of the major works of modernism first appeared in these magazines, and this publication tries "to recreate the feel of the little magazine" by providing "a sampling of the many special works we have in our collections."
The title of the publication also refers to the broad geographical distribution of the materials in the collections, "the different lines and threads of modernism as it appeared around the world" (XVII), and the publication is thus organized in sections that highlight materials from Canada, Ireland, France, Egypt, England, and America. Finally, the title evokes "the wartime horrors of the 20th century. The World Wars affected millions of people, interrupted global trade networks, and destroyed entire cultures" (XVII), and both the content and the materiality of the items in the collections attest to this devastation. When University of Victoria professors and librarians were gathering books, magazines, letters, and ephemera for the Libraries, then, they were building collections "that tell the multifaceted story of modernism and modernity" (XVII). Similarly, the essays in this publication tell varied stories that that attest to this multifaceted nature, focusing on materials from authors including Djuna Barnes, John Betjeman, Robert Bringhurst, Audrey Alexandra Brown, Lawrence Durrell, T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gisèle Freund, Douglas Goldring, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Sir Herbert Read, Richard Wright, W. B. Yeats, Jan Zwicky, and presses such as Gray's Publishing, Fireweed Press, Cuala Press, and Dolmen Press.
Below are excerpts from essays by Huculak, as well Dr. Nicholas Bradley and Dr. Stephen Ross, professors in the Department of English at the University of Victoria (watch Bradley's and Ross's Faces of UVic Research videos), and Christine Walde, Grants and Awards Librarian at the University of Victoria Libraries. These excerpts are a sampling of the fascinating insights this volume offers on our twentieth-century collections.
From "The Woods Are Lovely, Dark & Deep: Bringhurst & Zwicky" by Nicholas Bradley
"[Hidden documents] serve as reminders that much is unknown or dimly perceived about even recent literary history. Rediscovered poems, like rare books and manuscripts, letters, and other personal papers, give occasion to redraw creased maps of the literary past. [Robert] Bringhurst was in the early 1970s an unknown American writer. He is now an eminent Canadian man of letters: a poet, essayist, and translator of tremendous accomplishment; an authority on the theory and practice of typography; an Officer of the Order of Canada. The Special Collections holdings of the University of Victoria Libraries contain an outstanding selection of his published works, and his place in the literary culture of British Columbia may be glimpsed in his correspondence with authors of regional significance whose papers are housed in the library, among them Robin Skelton.
The artifacts include Bringhurst's first books, The Shipwright's Log (1972) and Cadastre (1973), which are notable for their relative scarcity and as evidence of the poet's development. . . . One of the most striking books in the collection is Stopping By (2012)," seen below, "a handsome folio edition, produced by the Hirundo Press of Hamburg, of Bringhurst's eponymous poem. Only forty copies were made. The poem's three parts are accompanied, as a pianist accompanies a singer, by the arboreal etchings of Caroline Saltzwedel. The text in the Hirundo edition spans nine pages, three for each section. . . . If magazines encourage browsing, Stopping By invites readers to linger, to watch, as it were, the woods fill up with snow."
From "The Bibliographic Code: Periodical Scholarship at UVic" by J. Matthew Huculak
"Thanks to the archival resources in our Special Collections - which hold Yeats' magazine publications thanks to the stewardship of scholars, librarians, and archivists, who, against popular opinion, preserved the
fragile magazines of Yeats' past - we can piece together the history of Yeats' publishing enterprises, beginning with his first published poems in The Dublin University Review, and to his own magazines, Beltaine, Samhain, and The Arrow. By returning to these original sites of publication, we gain a better
understanding about how Yeats' poetry was produced and received.
Let's take Yeats' beautiful poem 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree,' which has been reproduced countless times, not only in anthologies but also as individually painted broadsides. The poem begins
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
Yeats' narrator lures his reader to Lake Innisfree, and invites us to mentally build a place of quiet refuge where we hear the humming of bees and the lapping of water. This is in stark contrast to the final stanza of the poem:
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore,
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Yeats' narrator is actually living in the city paved over with grey cement rattled by the bustle of roadways. The peace he invites us to share with him is a private, soothing memory that he visits 'night and day.' But why would the original context of this poem be important? The poem was first published in The National Observer newspaper on December 13, 1890, not as a singular well-wrought urn; rather, it was crammed into a column of a busy national paper.
The first readers of this poem experienced it around a busy breakfast table, or on a tram or bus on their way to work in a city paved with grey - they were, in fact, just like his narrator - people living in the heart of the city who may yearn for the quiet of the countryside. This contextual publication information gives us an idea of who Yeats imagined his audience to be. The poem tells the story of a country with a strong agricultural history that is juxtaposed to the realities of the modern city. Like many other poems in Yeats' oeuvre that represent the Celtic Twilight, we are invited to imagine a place of peace in the magical countryside of Ireland, outside of the logical world of the British Empire to which Dublin belonged."
From "La Lentille Intime: The Photography of Gisèle Freund" by J. Matthew Huculak
"Our collections go far beyond the shores of Ireland and England. In 1967, the University of Victoria Libraries acquired Gisèle Freund's personal collection pertaining to her book, James Joyce in Paris: His Final Years. The collection is a treasure trove of photographs, personal letters, and notes related to modernist authors who lived in Paris before the Second World War.
. . .
Freund had an uncanny ability to capture the human essence in her subjects. She wrote, 'The most important quality of [a photo journalist] is the ability to love people.' It was perhaps this ethos that allowed her to capture some of the most striking images of 20th-century artists ever produced," including pictures of Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, and Henry Miller. "Her photos of Virginia Woolf still haunt us today. . . . These photographs, including Woolf's, are now housed at the University of Victoria Libraries' Special Collections."
From "'The difference that makes a difference': Djuna Barnes' Nightwood" by Stephen Ross
"Modernist compositional and publication practices virtually guaranteed that every work left in its wake a series of alterations, deviations, and transformations. Writers such as Joseph Conrad routinely worked with multiple typescripts of their works for multiple venues in the UK and the USA simultaneously, correcting proofs without the benefit of a stable reference text, and making changes on the fly.
The scholars involved in the Modernist Versions Project (MVP) are deeply curious about these variations, and focus closely on the differences among a work's multiple iterations, asking how the manuscript differs from the typescript, and how both of these differ from the first edition, subsequent editions, readers' editions, collected editions, and so forth. In Gregory Bateson's resonant phrase, the MVP has concerned itself with 'the difference that makes a difference.'
There is scarcely a better place to begin such an engagement than with Nightwood, a novel primarily concerned with difference: difference from prevailing social norms, difference from previous historical conditions, difference from other novels, difference from the everyday experience of 'normal' people - at least as they are represented in 'normal' novels. It remains in print, and recognized as a landmark of modernism, not only because it is a splendid artistic achievement, but also because it was written by a queer woman and openly represents homosexuality and trans experience. . . .
Special Collections' acquisition of one of the few extant first English editions from 1936 has been essential to the MVP's research ambitions. This edition is important because it allows us to trace how Barnes and her editors changed the novel for its American debut. Further, it lets us formulate conclusions about how the decision to reprint the American edition rather than the English edition has shaped the reception of the novel and indeed shaped our understanding of modernism itself."
From "Talking Back to The(ir) Archive: File SC060, or the Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath Collection at UVic Libraries" by Christine Walde
"The finding aid for File SC060 states the physical description of the Hughes and Plath collection in Special Collections at UVic Libraries as being only '1 cm of textual records.' At first glance, this amount of material could easily be seen as insignificant. But File SC060 should be encountered neither by its quality or quantity, but by its aurality, and how it corresponds to the larger archives of its creators held in other libraries and archives.
One of the most important features of the Hughes and Plath collection - and evident in their other archives - is that each poet appears on the verso of each other's writings: Hughes scrawls on the back of Plath's typed manuscripts pages while Plath punctuates Hughes' drafts with lines of verse, doodles and various calculations," as seen in the image below, which shows Plath's reviews and doodles on the verso of a draft page of Hughes' poem 'New Moon.'
"This feature signifies a deeper question of provenance with these archives, since it [is] largely undocumented as to who wrote on whose papers, and at what time, or when, and where, and in what order they were later accumulated and assembled - or sold. . . . These papers illustrate a full life of co-mingled letters, as well as a deep creative partnership with mutual prolificacy and influence."