‘Such Friends’: John Quinn, Librarians and Me

Last year, I decided to get serious about my research into John Quinn, and actually start on the biography that I want to write about his intriguing early 20th century life.

During my tax-deductible trip to the States, as you know if you have been following this blog, my wonderful brother drove me around Ohio where Quinn grew up.

But before Ohio I squeezed in one full day in Manhattan to spend at the New York Public Library [NYPL], where all of Quinn’s papers are carefully kept.

I have a Ph.D., but my research has been almost all secondary—books, articles, more recently, the internet. However, I stress to my students the importance of primary research—not all of life is on line! I have made a point of visiting many of the places where my ‘Such Friends’ writers hung out [Dublin, London, Paris, New York—life’s a bitch], and interviewed the president of Scribner’s, Charles Scribner IV, when researching editor Maxwell Perkins.

But archives? Original letters, papers, documents?! Ha. Never touched ‘em.

My first step in preparation for my day in the NYPL was to contact my academic researcher friend Kath who teaches art history at St. Andrews. I know–St. Andrews! Can’t get more academic than that. She spends many of her days locked away with medieval manuscripts. Any tips, Kath?

‘The librarian is your new best friend.’

So I made sure to contact the librarians at the NYPL who handle the Quinn archive, and they were indeed quite helpful right from the start.

I also called on Carol, our faculty librarian at my university, who has always been helpful in teaching my students how to do market research on line. Sure enough, she came through with a bunch of articles about Quinn that I hadn’t found. This lead me to Kerrie, an American art historian who had written a glowing piece about him in New Criterion. Thanks to Google and email I was able to make a lunch date with her to break up my day in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Back in the 1970s I worked on Revealing Romances magazine [I have stories–buy me a beer] right in midtown Manhattan. On my lunch hour I used to sit in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th or walk up the steps on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street between the two big lions to wander the New York Public Library. Little did I dream I’d be back to both forty years later as a researcher.

NY Public Library

One of the lions guarding the New York Public Library

Pat, my librarian email pal, had laid down the rules and prepared me for the security I would have to go through. From their website, I was able to figure out which boxes of Quinn detritus I wanted to see most.

As an offering to Pat and her fellow librarians, I brought signed copies of my book, Manager as Muse: Maxwell Perkins’ Work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe [available on Amazon.com, #shamelessselfpromotion] and small boxes of Cadbury roses. She seemed pleased, but not overly surprised. I guess most academics have figured out the advantages of bribery.

The day went quickly, and I was glad for the lunch break with Kerrie. She was very encouraging about my planned biography. Reading her article, I was concerned she might be planning one herself, but phew…A good contact, not a threat.

Yummy, yummy. A whole day to go through boxes. I made notes on my laptop and took pictures of documents. In addition to letters and diaries of Quinn and his traveling companion [and more!] Mrs. Foster, there were bills for the large quantities of books that he bought, from publishers all over the world.

What a treat! Invoices from Three Mountains Press, which must have handed billing for Robert McAlmon’s Contact Press, publisher of Hemingway’s first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems. Quinn paid $1.50. Can only imagine what it goes for at auction now.

An invoice from Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press for five copies of T. S. Eliot’s Poems but only one of Virginia’s Kew Gardens. Could that be Leonard’s handwriting?!

A letter from W B Yeats on stationery from New York’s National Arts Club—definitely his handwriting.

Search the web all you want, there is nothing better than touching the pieces of paper that your heroes from the past have handled.

This year, I decided that I need to learn more about how to do archival research, and find a tax-deductible way to get back to New York. Are there workshops? Could I hire a Ph.D. student to tutor me? Please don’t tell me to look for a tutorial on YouTube.

Searching through the site for my university’s English Department, I discovered that we hold the archives for the British publisher John Lane. He’s another character who popped up all the time in my research. A Hogarth Press competitor, he published Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, and many others who orbit Quinn’s circle. And right under my nose in the library I used to pass by every day. ­

John_Lane_(Publisher) 1896 Catalogue.jpg

The cover of John Lane’s 1896 catalogue

So my new BFF is Fran, who showed me all the boxes of the Lane files, explained the more obscure abbreviations, and pointed me in the right direction to get started.

‘Do I get to wear white gloves?!’ I asked enthusiastically. ‘No. There’s some question whether it helps to be fiddling with this old paper when you’re wearing gloves.’ So much for Who Do You Think You Are?

I’ve made a start, but now have to do more preparation to be ready to dig in again when Fran comes back from holiday in September. Any tips from you academic researchers out there?!

Oh—Quinn’s relationship with Charles Foster’s daughter Annie. Next time. Promise.

PS Some names in the above have been changed. But you know who you are.

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). Read more about him on the link to your right: ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man.’

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’: Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe

Visiting my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, this summer, I made a point of seeing the new film Genius, starring Colin Firth as Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, and Jude Law as one of his most unruly writers, Thomas Wolfe. The Look Homeward, Angel Wolfe. Not the other one.

I have been waiting about 30 years for this movie—ever since I did my MBA thesis on Perkins and his work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Wolfe. My major source was the excellent biography that the film is based on, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg. Who has also been waiting 30 years for this movie.

As a big fan of all involved, I wasn’t disappointed. When an alert reader first informed me that this movie was being planned a few years ago, Sean Penn was to play Perkins. Good choice.

But Englishman Colin Firth was an even better choice to play this quintessential American. Firth’s accent is not bad, but it is his understatement and even resignation which captures the Perkins I have come to know through my research.

Firth’s fellow Englishman Jude Law exudes the breadth of Wolfe, larger than life and ‘all over the shop,’ as the Irish would say. The best description I’ve read of the North Carolina-born writer was that he was the size of a door. I met the photographer who took a famous photo of Wolfe changing a light bulb without using a step ladder. Law might not be that physically imposing in real life, but he manages to look it here—Acting!

Wolfe with ms crate

Wolfe with the crates of his manuscripts

Genius also captures the time period, although the browns and greys and khakis are a bit underwhelming after a while. My friend who accompanied me also liked the film, but said that it was ‘depressing.’ Of course, all of it takes place during the Depression, so, not surprising.

The women in this ‘literary bromance,’ as it has been described, include Laura Linney [the only American in a major role] who does a good job as the long-suffering Louise Perkins, the editor’s wife. Australian Nicole Kidman plays Wolfe’s mistress, the short, stout, Jewish Mrs. Aline Bernstein. As few people except Wolfe addicts know much about her, Kidman’s portrayal fits well with the film, providing contrast and conflict.

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, most of the story takes place in Manhattan and suburban Connecticut. So it was filmed in London and Manchester, England.

Genius is not going to be in theatres for long, although I hope it comes to the UK—especially the Electric Cinema in Birmingham. The cast may pick up some acting nominations, but without any car chases or explosions, it’s won’t be the breakout hit of the summer.

There is one particular scene, where Perkins is reading the first draft of Wolfe’s book on his commuter train home, as the editor often did, and a very small, sweet, barely noticeable smile forms across Firth’s lips. He recognizes talent.

So if your superheroes are editors and writers—which is probably why you read my blog—I would recommend Genius.

And if you want to know more about Max, Tom, Scott and Ernie, order my book, Manager as Muse from Amazon, and/or have me come speak to your book club.

­­Here is a preview of the film: Genius trailer

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

Next month, more about my work on the biography of John Quinn.

On this date, 20th September, in 1884, on the corner of Second Avenue and Fourteenth Street in Manhattan…

…Maxwell Evarts Perkins was born. Descendant of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, he was always described as more New England Yankee than New Yorker.

After graduating from Harvard with a degree in Economics, Perkins worked for a bit as a reporter at the New York Times, then joined the well-respected publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1910 in the advertising department.

Within a few years he was moved to the editorial side, and began his long tenure as a legendary spotter of talent. Because of Perkins, Scribner’s published those Paris ‘such friends’ F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, as well as Thomas Wolfe and other distinguished novelists from the beginnings of their careers.

What can we learn today from the way Perkins worked with these outstandingly creative people? That’s the question I asked when working on my MBA thesis at Duquesne University. The result is Manager as Muse: Maxwell Perkins’ Work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, which I have recently slimmed down and published on Amazon, in both print and Kindle versions.

Manager as Muse by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly

Manager as Muse by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly

What a perfect way to celebrate Max’s birthday! I’ll even be happy to sign a print copy the next time I see you…

 

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’