Joseph Blotner (1923-2012): A Photoessay in the Stacks

It is almost impossible to imagine the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library without William Faulkner. His portrait hangs in the gallery leading to our reading room, and the typewriter he used while at U.Va. sits prominently in our reception area. Dozens of Faulkner-related manuscript collections and several thousand books by and about him fill shelves and ranges in our stacks.

Late last year, we lost one of the people responsible for Faulkner’s presence at the University: former English Department faculty member Joseph Blotner. Dr. Blotner is perhaps best remembered for his monumental 1979 biography of Faulkner and for his Library of America editions of Faulkner’s works; the editions and his popular 1984 condensed version of the biography remain in print today and are standard sources for the study of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. After a long career as a biographer, editor, and academic, Professor Blotner passed away at his home in Oakland, California on November 16, 2012.  His obituary in the New York Times reflects his influence and reputation nationally, while his work here at U.Va. was summarized in a lengthy 2007  appreciation of Blotner’s legacy published on the university’s main news site, “U.Va. Today.”

William Faulkner and Joe Blotner standing near the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, May 1962. (Photograph by Dean Cadle)

Dr. Blotner left both a personal legacy and a paper legacy at the university, the latter in the form of manuscripts and books in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The papers of major biographers and editors are consulted by the scholars who follow in their wake, and there is much here of value for future generations of Faulkner scholarship.

As a relatively new arrival on the library staff, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I took the opportunity recently to go down into the stacks to investigate our holdings related to Dr. Blotner’s work. I brought my camera along and shot some photos of some of my favorite finds. I hope they provide a sense of the richness of our Blotner holdings:

Joseph Blotner’s _Faulkner: A Biography: One-Volume Edition_ (New York: Random House, 1984). The book is seen here in the Faulkner section of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections general stacks. All of the books visible in this picture are by or about William Faulkner, and this captures only a segment of our Faulkner book holdings.

A heavily annotated draft of Blotner’s Faulkner biography. This folder contains a lengthy discussion of Faulkner’s time in New Orleans. (MSS7258-m).


A 1960 draft schedule of Faulkner’s appearances at the University of Virginia, including a meeting with the English Club in Alderman Library, a group of blind visitors, and law professor Marian Kellog’s Uruguayan Seminar. Joe Blotner’s name appears at the top of the page, presumably as organizer of the visits, and the phrase “Chief’s Sched” at the bottom. (MSS 7362. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)

In 1962, Faulkner gave a reading from his new novel, _The Reivers_, for which Joe Blotner sent out tickets to English Departments across the region. A generous stack of letters from the faculties of these departments is held in the collection, and with rare exception, the tickets were all taken and more requested. Here, the chair of the English Department at the all-women Sweet Briar College, located about an hour south of Charlottesville, requests as many tickets as possible for his community. (MSS 7362. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)

The book holdings in Special Collections contain almost seventy works authored by Joe Blotner, including several books, magazine articles, and other materials relating to Faulkner and other writers. Shown here is our earliest Blotner book, a guide to technical writing based on his experience working in the field before he took on his first academic post at the University of Idaho. This copy is inscribed to Atcheson Hench, who joined the faculty of the English Department at U.Va. in 1922. (F22 v.811 no3)

A curator’s favorite sight: lots of boxes, lots of mysteries until they’re opened. These are the papers of Joseph Blotner, which entered the collections in various accessions and are cataloged and available for use. The green slips show our archivists’ working annotations.







On View Now, in Celebration of Martin Luther King Day.

Special Collections faculty member Ervin Jordan has curated an exhibition entitled, “Embracing Equality: Before and Beyond Brown v. Board of Education, 1950-1969: An American Civil Rights Exhibition.”  The exhibit highlights local, state and national Civil Rights events through selected legislation, letters, reports, speeches, and photographs including:

  • the 1950 lawsuit of Gregory Swanson, the University of Virginia’s first African-American student;
  • a printed copy of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education;
  • the 1961 letter of a African-American schoolgirl who complains about desegregation
  • a program and route map for the 1963 March on Washington;
  • a 1964 Martin Luther King letter discussing the Civil Rights Movement’s “non-violent army”
  • UVA administrator William Elwood’s advisory document prepared for a public meeting at a black Charlottesville church on impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 upon public schools

“Embracing Equality” will be on display at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, First Floor Lobby, until March 1, 2013.

March on Washington program and route map, August 28, 1963. (MSS 8003-A, Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Class Notes: Mapping the Globe from Ancient Times to Google Maps

Fresh into the new year, Associate Professor Francesca Fiorani brought her January Term class, Mapping the Globe from Ancient Times to Google Maps, to Special Collections to take advantage of our extensive map collection. This particular course focused on the visual, linguistic, political, and religious rhetoric of maps and map making.

Francesca Fiorani (second from right) and her January Term students examine a map. (Image by Petrina Jackson)

Professor Fiorani’s engaged and intense group of students spent six sessions in Special Collections, examining, thinking about, and challenging themselves and their classmates while studying some of our most exquisite maps.  The class later went to the University of Virginia Library’s Scholars’ Lab to explore Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which captures, analyzes and displays maps electronically.

Map of the world from the Blaeu Atlas, 1662. (A 1662 .B53 v.1, Tracy W. McGregor Library. Image by Petrina Jackson)

To measure the impact of seeing the maps in person, I asked the students, “How would your experience be different if you only saw these maps in digital form?” Here are some of their responses:

“Being able to see these maps in person allows for greater understanding and appreciation for the worksmanship and detail that would perhaps be lost if [they were] seen only in digital form.  Seeing the actual physical size and dimensions of these maps provides greater insight into how these maps would have been used or displayed when [they were] originally published.”

“These maps represent the work of many individuals and being able to see first-hand the mapping activity of the past, through manuscripts and facsimile, gave me a better understanding and appreciation of the objects themselves.”

“Having tangible maps also makes the class seem more authentic.  I like having a hands-on education.”

Detail from the map of Islandia (Iceland) from the Mercator Atlas, 1606. (A 1606 .M47, Tracy W. McGregor Library. Image by Petrina Jackson)

I also asked the students what surprised them about the maps they saw in Special Collections and got a variety of responses.  The following was the most representative:  “I was surprised by the size of some of these maps.  Having seen many on the computer screen, I was floored by the actual sizes, both enormous and small, [in which] these maps have come to us.”

Map of Virginia and Carolina by Giovanni Maria Cassini, 1797. (Area Table 75 1797 Cassini, Tracy W. McGregor Library. Image by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)



This Just In: What’s New in the McGregor Library

1938 was an annus mirabilis for the U.Va. Library and its Special Collections: Alderman Library opened; Special Collections moved into purpose-built quarters on the second floor (today’s McGregor Room); and U.Va. was given the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.  This extraordinary holding of several thousand rare books, maps, and manuscripts, assembled by Detroit philanthropist Tracy W. McGregor (1869-1936), instantly provided U.Va. with a world-class collection of primary sources for American history.  In 2013 the McGregor Library will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a major exhibition opening in October.

Since 1938 the McGregor Library has nearly tripled in size, thanks to substantial ongoing support from the McGregor Fund.  The following sampling from the several dozen acquisitions made in 2012 suggests not only the McGregor Library’s range and depth, but also some of the criteria we use in selecting additions.

Oliver Hart, Dancing exploded. Charlestown, S.C.: David Bruce, 1778. (A 1778 .H27, McGregor Endowment & Associates Endowment Funds, image by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

One of the McGregor Library’s greatest strengths is its coverage of the American South, and this remains a collecting priority.  Particularly desirable are rare Southern imprints such as Oliver Hart’s memorably titled Dancing exploded, published in Charleston, S.C. in 1778.  A Baptist minister, Hart (1723-1795) first preached this sermon condemning dancing and fancy dress balls in 1759.  Nineteen years later, he found it necessary to fix his admonition in print. No sooner had the embers of Charleston’s devastating January 15, 1778 fire cooled than “we had Balls, Assemblies and Dances in every quarter.”  The conflagration, coupled with the ongoing privations of the American Revolution, were for Hart “so many loud calls to repentance, reformation of life, and prayer, that the wrath of God may be turned away from us.”  Hart specifies fourteen evils of dancing, including wasted time, unnecessary expense, vulgar music, and immodesty of conversation and movement. “Thus the heart becomes a sink of uncleanness—a cage of all manner of abominable and filthy lusts.”  Only six copies are recorded of this, the third earliest American work on dance.  (The McGregor Library also holds the earliest, Increase Mather’s An arrow against profane and promiscuous dancing.)

The trial and acquittal of Mary Moriarty. Memphis: Memphis Typographical Association, Morning Bulletin Office, 1856. (A 1856 .T75, McGregor Endowment Fund, image by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

We are especially eager to add unrecorded works to the McGregor Library.  One might think that copies of virtually everything printed a century or two ago would have found their way into libraries by now, but previously unknown works continue to turn up with surprising frequency.  It is our mission to make these new discoveries accessible to scholars.  A case in point is The trial and acquittal of Mary Moriarty: the only known copy surfaced only last year and was quickly snapped up for the McGregor Library.  An Irish immigrant working as a domestic in antebellum Memphis, Mary Moriarty was engaged to wed John Shehan, the father of her child, only to have Shehan back out at the last minute.  In a rage, Mary stabbed him to death in broad daylight.  Attorney Milton Haynes expertly defended her in front of an all-male jury, arguing per the Bible “that he who seduces a maid, upon the most solemn vow of marriage, hath committed a worse crime than that of murder!”  The jury then “retired for a few minutes, and returned a verdict of ‘NOT GUILTY,’ the announcement of which was enthusiastically cheered by the large crowd of people in the Court House.”  Capitalizing on the case’s notoriety, the Memphis Morning Bulletin condensed and repackaged its newspaper coverage in this crudely printed pamphlet.

Historia nova, e complete da America. Lisboa: Officina Litteraria do Arco do Cego, 1800. (A 1800 .H57, McGregor Endowment Fund, image by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

The McGregor Library is especially rich in “European Americana.”  These European imprints provide many of our best primary sources for New World discovery and exploration, as well as alternate perspectives on American history and culture.  Historia nova, e complete da America is the latest addition.  This rare history of the Americas from Columbus’s discovery to 1763 was compiled for a Portuguese audience from a variety of sources.  Printed in 1800 at the newly founded “Arco do Cego” press (still active as Portugal’s Imprensa Nacional), the Historia reflects Portugal’s late 18th-century effort to invigorate its arts and sciences.

William Charles. A wasp taking a frolick, or a sting for Johnny Bull. [Philadelphia]: Wm. Charles, [ca. 1813] (Broadside 1813 .C55, McGregor Endowment Fund, image by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

A little-known strength of the McGregor Library is its collection of early 19th-century American satirical prints, recently augmented by two rare etchings by William Charles. Around 1806 Charles emigrated from Scotland to the United States, where he helped to introduce the thriving British tradition of political caricature.  During the War of 1812 Charles issued a number of prints which vividly and humorously convey American popular opinion.  In A wasp taking a frolick, or a sting for Johnny Bull, Charles references the heroic naval engagements of the U.S.S. Wasp and Hornet during the war’s first months. The Hornet captured several British ships, and the Wasp also “stung” John Bull by capturing two British warships before surrendering to a far larger British vessel.

Lunsford Lane, The narrative of Lunsford Lane. 3rd ed. Boston: [Lunsford Lane], 1845. (A 1845 .L3, McGregor Endowment Fund, image by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

The McGregor Library possesses an enviable collection of antebellum slave narratives, of which The narrative of Lunsford Lane, in its original printed wrappers, is a noteworthy example. Typically these narratives were self-published (as here) and sold for the author’s benefit while traveling the anti-slavery lecture circuit. Lane was born into slavery on a plantation near Raleigh, N.C., but his wife and growing family were owned by a different master.  With his owner’s tacit consent, Lane rented out his own labor so that he could establish a pipe and tobacco shop in Raleigh.  It thrived, in part because Lane was careful to maintain the appearance of being poor and uneducated.  Eventually Lane earned enough to purchase his freedom, open more businesses, and begin to emancipate his wife and children.  By 1840, however, Lane found himself the target of whites fearful that he was spreading abolitionist sentiments. Two years later he fled with his newly freed family to Boston.

Sneak Peek: the exhibition “Drawn From Life” opens January 22

On Tuesday, January 22, visitors to the first floor of Harrison/Small will see a new set of materials on exhibition in the main gallery. We’re cutting mat board, writing labels, and measuring frames for “Drawn From Life: Collecting Cartoons and Caricatures.”  This 40-item exhibition reveals little-known gems–and some quirky treats–from across our collections, alongside a number of items loaned by Charlottesville resident John Francis.

John’s grandfather, Edward William Francis, became acquainted with a number of Britain’s leading commercial artists in the 1910s and 1920s;  he successfully requested cartoons, caricatures, and other small pieces of original art from major figures such as Heath Robinson and Harry Rountree, as well as lesser known artists who are unknown today. John inherited the resulting collection, which features many of the genres, styles, and themes that dominated the era known as the “Golden Age” of cartooning. We’ve selected complementary items from our holdings, including other works by the same artists, periodicals and books in which similar work is to be found, and other original art from the same era.

Come to the exhibition to learn more about how Edward William Francis gathered together his specimens and how Special Collections has built its own holdings in this varied field over the course of many decades. Until then, here are some samples to tempt you:

Unidentified artist, “Rheims,” ca. 1918. (Collection of John Francis.)

A detail from Oscar Cesare’s “Making the World Safe For Autocracy,” ca. 1917-1918. (MSS 4101. Image by Special Collections staff.) White ink shows final edits to this section of the much larger cartoon, revealing that the word “socialist” has been replaced by the world “radical.”

Harry Rountree, “The Horse–the noblest of all animals!,” undated. (Collection of John Francis.)

Detail from Peggy Bacon, “The Country Girl Who Decides to Be an Artist,” undated. (MSS 6442. Image by Special Collections staff.)