A Curator’s Wunderkammer: A Decade of Collecting for UVA

On the occasion of his retirement—after a decade of curatorial work at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library—David R. Whitesell departs the University of Virginia Library having made significant contributions to the collection.

Upon his arrival in 2012, David brought with him deep expertise and experience in acquisitions, bibliography, cataloging, and curation from prestigious institutions, as well as essential knowledge of the rare book and manuscript trade. The Library has benefited from David’s work and has grown in extraordinary ways, all to the betterment of teaching and research. 

Our current exhibition, A Curator’s Wunderkammer: A Decade of Collecting for the University of Virginia (on view in the First Floor Gallery of Harrison/Small through July 9, 2022) celebrates and chronicles the stories behind David’s selected acquisitions, opening the door to an insider’s perspective on the work of a curator—where curiosity is always a key to success.

Celebrating a decade’s worth of acquisitions by Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library curator David R. Whitesell on the eve of his retirement: a Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities that illuminates UVA’s current collecting policy, the ins and outs of the unpredictable and highly competitive acquisitions process, and how curators add value to the collection, one acquisition at a time.

Since 2012 I have shared with curatorial colleagues the privilege of augmenting UVA’s truly remarkable rare book and manuscript holdings. My remit has been primarily pre-1900 materials in all formats. As I prepare to hand this responsibility to a new curator, it seems an opportune time to reflect on a decade’s worth of acquisitions. In this exhibition I offer a small selection with comments intended to illuminate UVA’s current collecting policy, the ins and outs of the unpredictable and highly competitive acquisitions process, and how curators add value to the collection, one acquisition at a time.

Even with a healthy budget, UVA curators can acquire only a tiny fraction of the material appropriate for UVA’s diverse research and teaching needs. No precise count is possible, but my purchases for UVA total approximately 15,000 items; the gifts I have helped bring in may exceed 100,000 items. This constitutes less than 2% of a collection that has been abuilding for two centuries. Still, I hope to show that the value I have added is more than negligible, even if ultimately unquantifiable.

Were my acquisitions arrayed in one massive display, they would likely perplex the beholder by their apparent randomness—more akin to a Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, than a considered, curated selection—until placed within the larger context of UVA’s collection. This is inevitable given the capricious process by which we acquire rare, often unique, materials—a process dependent not only on funding, but especially on knowledge, considered selection, hard work, timing (from lightning response to extreme patience), relationships, market savvy, and luck.

The small sampling on display in the exhibition has been ruthlessly pared by omitting gifts and items representing many areas in which I have collected. Despite having some topical and linear arrangement, it remains more a Wunderkammer than a coherent whole. I encourage you, then, to explore this exhibition in your own way, engaging with those curiosities which attract your gaze and, I hope, some that do not. If I have done the job well, these disparate objects will generate serendipitous connections, insights, and meanings for you, for whom we assemble our collections.

View the full exhibition catalog online here

Every day—now through mid-June—we’ll highlight one object from A Curator’s Wunderkammer on our social media channels. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram!

The exhibition will be on view through July 9, 2022 in the First Floor Gallery of Harrison/Small.


On View Now: What Lies Beneath (Visit if you dare…)

Curated by the Small Library’s Reference Team, What Lies Beneath: The Macabre and Spooktacular of Special Collections, takes a deeper dive into the catacombs of UVA’s archival netherworld. Leaving no page unturned nor manuscript box unopened, curators Anne Causey, Regina Rush, and Penny White have ferreted out the frightening and ghoulish side of Special Collections. The resulting exhibition is designed to whet the appetite of ghoul seekers young and old.

Ever want to see our stacks in person? Our exhibition poster might change your mind. Or you might want to pick one up to take back to your dorm–weirdo!

Would you believce that’s a real spider on the wall? Ok, ok, we admit, it’s a facsimile of a spider.

Located just a stone’s throw away from West Range #13—the purported room of the University of Virginia’s masterful matriculate of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe—lies a subterranean treasure trove of historical and literary scholarship.

Poe’s raven gets top billing, of course.

Yes, that’s a real raccoon coat and tail (More Cooning With Cooners, SK341 .C6 K83 2011-Marion DuPont Scott Sporting Collection); a leather book edged with shark teeth by fine binder Gabby Cooksby (Fantasy & Nonsense: Poems, PS2702 .T77 2001-Clifton Waller Barrett Library, James Whitcomb Riley Collection); and a miniature book bound in black calf suede and leather with colored leader onlays and shaped into the head of a hound by fine bookbinder Jarmila Sobata (The Hound of the Baskervilles: Conclusion & Retrospection, McGehee 05222 -McGehee Miniature Book Collection).

Did you know there are more than 3,000 species of spiders roaming around North America? We even have a few right here in the stacks, including The Spider written by Luide Woelflein and illustrated by Tomo Narashima (PZ92 .F6 D52 1992e) from the Brenda Forman Collection of Pop-up and Moveable Books.

No Halloween exhibition at this university would be complete without paying homage to the former Hoo and reigning Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. Books, including miniatures (The Tell-Tale Heart, 2015, on loan from private collection and Poe, Master of Macabre, McGehee 01687 -McGehee Miniature Book Collection) and pop-ups (The Raven: A Spectacular Pop-Up Presentation of Poe’s Haunting Masterpiece, PS2609 .A1 2016b -Robert & Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund) are but a small sampling of Poe-influenced holdings. The broken windowpane on view in the exhibition—rumored to be from Poe’s Room 13 on the West Range—has the following verse etched into its glass: “O Thou timid one, let not thy/ Form rest in slumber within these/ Unhallowed walls,/ For herein lies/ The ghost of an awful crime.”

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the short-lived Commonwealth of England following the defeat of King Charles, died of natural causes in 1658. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1661, Cromwell’s body was exhumed and subjected to a posthumous execution: he was hanged, beheaded, and his body thrown into a pit. His head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685. This plaster cast is a copy from one of several death masks created(by pouring plaster or wax over the deceased’s face shortly after death)following Cromwell’s death in 1658, prior to his grim exhumation. (MSS 5368-a-Gift of Charles C. Abbott).


Come meet James Steele, the Revolutionary War soldier who lost his head and lived to tell about it. Have a Dance with Death…or, perhaps, you may want to sample an embalming recipe that’s simply to die for. As you explore this exhibition, we hope you will go, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe,“deep into that darkness peering…wondering, fearing, doubting,dreaming dreams no mortal dared to dream before.”Come and See…If You Dare!

What Lies Beneath is on view in the First Floor Gallery of Harrison/Small through December 21, 2019.


New Exhibition: Jefferson’s Unbuilt Plan for a University Botanical Garden

Our library neighbors—Alderman Library and Clemons Library—were built into the side of a hill sloping down to a sunken grassy area known as Nameless Field. When not too swampy to traverse, Nameless Field is home to the occasional soccer game or Quidditch match, and the recently added beach volleyball courts are popular with U.Va. students. But apart from the small portion now occupied by Alderman and Clemons Libraries, and a service road, U.Va. has yet to designate the site for permanent development.

Actually, that’s not fully accurate. In April 1826, U.Va.’s first Rector, Thomas Jefferson, selected the site as the location for a university botanical garden. Jefferson then tasked U.Va.’s first professor of natural history, John Patten Emmet, with its construction. But neither funds nor laborers could be spared just then from other U.Va. priorities, such as completing the Rotunda and patching its leaky dome. Following Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826, interest in the botanical garden soon waned. Despite occasional attempts to revive the project—most recently in the early 20th century—it remains unbuilt.

Jefferson had long contemplated a botanical garden for U.Va., and he sought advice from his friend (and frequent Monticello visitor), the Portuguese botanist and diplomat José Francisco Correia da Serra (1750-1823). At Jefferson’s request, probably in July 1820, Correia da Serra drafted a “Plan for a Botanic garden for a public school on the most useful, and less expensive plan.” It was this plan that Jefferson turned to in April 1826 when drafting the specifications for Emmet to follow.

First page of the “Plan for a Botanic garden for a public school,” drafted at Thomas Jefferson’s request by Jose Francisco Correia da Serra ca. 1820. The gift of Joel B. Gardner (Col ’70, Law ’74) (2019-0024)

Jefferson envisioned a four-acre botanical garden—trapezoidal in shape per the site’s awkward boundaries—surrounded by a serpentine brick wall. Inside would be planted approximately 1,500 botanical specimens, carefully selected to serve a range of instructional purposes. Two acres of the sloping hillside above would be turned into a grove planted with specimens of non-native trees.

Conjectural perspective view from within the botanical garden, looking east towards the Rotunda and Anatomical Theater, ca. 1830. Plan by Jenny Jones. From Lily Fox-Bruguiere, “An Uncultivated Legacy: Jefferson’s Botanical Garden at the University of Virginia,” U.Va. Master’s Thesis, 2010 (Masters Arch. Hist. 2010 .F69) (reproduced with permission)

Last October, the original holograph manuscript of Correia da Serra’s plan was generously given by Joel B. Gardner (Col ’70, Law ’74) to the Albert and Shirley small Special Collections Library. In honor of Mr. Gardner’s splendid gift, we have mounted a special exhibition, Jefferson’s Unbuilt Plan for a University Botanical Garden.  On view in our First Floor Gallery through June 29, the exhibition traces through rare books and manuscripts Correia da Serra’s life and botanical activities, his friendship with Jefferson, and Jefferson’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts in his final months to create a botanical garden for U.Va.

On View Now: UVA Health System: 200 Years of Learning, Research, and Care

Over the next five months, the Harrison/Small main gallery is home to the exhibition “UVA Health System: 200 Years of Learning, Research, and Care.” This exhibition explores how trends in U.S. history and the history of the health sciences have shaped the development of the UVA Health System, while examining some of the events and personalities that make UVA’s story unique.

Visitors will view collection highlights from the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Among the many items featured are an iron lung used in the UVA Hospital during the mid-20th century. There are bloodletting instruments from the 19th century and a nursing student’s uniform from the 1950s. Visitors can view a digital model of Thomas Jefferson’s Anatomical Theatre and a short film of a surgery being performed at the hospital in 1927.

These and other items help to tell the story of how the Health System grew from a school with a single professor into a world-class academic medical center and regional health-care network. The exhibition also takes a closer look at some specific topics in this 200-year history including medical and nursing education, patient care, biomedical research, wartime service, and racial inequality.

“UVA Health System: 200 Years of Learning, Research, and Care” will be on display in the Main Gallery of Harrison/Small from July 26, 2018 to January 4, 2019. For more information about the exhibition and related programs contact Dan Cavanaugh, Alvin V. and Nancy Baird Curator of Historical Collections at dmc7be@virginia.edu. Learn more, view images, and book class and group tours on the exhibition website.

This exhibition was produced with the support of the University of Virginia Bicentennial with funding provided by the Alumni Board of Trustees.


Now on View: “Eminent Miniatures”

If you come by Special Collections this summer, you are in for a bibliographical and visual feast! Our new exhibition, “Eminent Miniatures: from the McGehee Miniature Book Collection” features tiny books and huge photographs.

The exhibition is in the First Floor Gallery of Harrison/Small, just outside the Special Collections reading room.

Collector Caroline Brandt has spent most of her life building a collection of 15,000 miniature books, which now resides in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. From these, she has chosen volumes that reveal the little-known forays of prominent book producers into the realm of the miniature. In this exhibition, you will see that when great printers, binders, and publishers decide to make miniature books, the results are stunning. These are works of exquisite craft, structural diversity, and outsized beauty. The exhibition has been mounted in conjunction with the upcoming Grand Conclave of the Miniature Book Society, which will be held in Charlottesville in August. The exhibition runs through August 26. Don’t miss it!

The exhibition opens with some of our greatest miniature treasures from early presses such as Plantin and Jannon.

In this section dedicated to Publishers, large images of landmark nineteenth-century Italian miniatures loom over a selection of Oxford University Press publications, including religious volumes and children’s books.

The exhibition features the miniature output of a number of small presses, some of which are on view in this case.

Miniature books require that fine binders exercise their skills in new ways to ensure that small volumes open and close smoothly. Despite the additional challenges, some art binders have embraced the miniature.

Miniature books come in a dazzling array of structures. In many cases, the diminutive size and light weight of the books means that it is possible to display accordions and other formats open.

Oversized images are near the books they represent, allowing visitors to view and appreciate their artistry with rare immediacy.

Overview of the first half of the exhibition.

Overview of the second half of the exhibition.

Thanks to the talented Shane Lin for his elegant photographs of miniature books, which form the backdrop of the exhibition cases shown here.

Please share!



On View Now: “John Burroughs: In Letters & Art”

We are pleased to announce our latest First Floor Gallery exhibition, “John Burroughs: In Letters & Art.” It runs through December 28, 2017.

Inspired by the recent conservation treatment of a portrait of Burroughs painted by Orlando Rouland, this exhibition brings an important American naturalist back to light. The painting serves as the focal point of the exhibition, tying together writer, artist, collector, and library. The exhibition showcases books, manuscripts, and other materials from the Burroughs collection. John Burroughs’ (1837-1921) essays on nature were widely read by both scholars and the reading public during his lifetime. He counted among his friends prominent men including Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, John Muir, and Thomas Edison.The Burroughs collection is part of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature at the University of Virginia.

Here are a few tastes of the exhibition in photographs:

The portrait around which the exhibition was planned. Nearby are some of the tools used in its conservation treatment.


Part of the exhibition celebrates Clifton Waller Barrett’s work building the Burroughs collection.


We look forward to seeing you in the gallery!


On View Now: Fact, Fiction, Forgery: Thomas Chatterton and Literary Invention

We are pleased to announce the opening of our latest First Floor Gallery exhibition, “Fact, Fiction, Forgery: Thomas Chatterton and Literary Invention,” which will remain on view through September 1, 2017. This exhibition, curated by David Whitesell, traces Chatterton’s career and enduring influence through books and manuscripts from U.Va.’s distinguished holdings of 18th-century British literature, in particular an important collection of works concerning Chatterton recently acquired on the Martin C. and Ruthe R. Battestin Library Fund, the Battestin Fund for 18th Century British Literature, the W. Braden and Kathryn K. Kerchof Library Fund, and the Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund.

Ever since his untimely death at 17, Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) has been one of England’s most fascinating literary figures. The “Rowley Poems”—pseudo-medieval verses presented by their “discoverer” Chatterton as the work of the 15th-century priest Thomas Rowley—are among the most famous of literary hoaxes. Their posthumous publication in 1777 initiated the Rowley Controversy: a vigorous public debate over the poems’ authenticity and the extent of Chatterton’s involvement. Finding themselves ill equipped to weigh the physical and documentary evidence, England’s leading men of letters were driven to make important advances in literary, philological, and textual analysis that stimulated the field of textual scholarship. Yet underpinning Chatterton’s forgery was prodigious literary talent, tragically silenced by his presumed suicide (more likely an accidental overdose) in the face of poverty and an indifferent world. Such credentials made Chatterton irresistible to the Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites, who mythologized him in their own poetry. Chatterton continues to inspire authors intrigued by issues of literary authenticity and invention.

Born in Bristol, England in 1752, Chatterton was apprenticed as a legal scrivener in 1767. The next year he began to publish a torrent of anonymous and pseudonymous poems and essays in newspapers and periodicals. In April 1770 Chatterton moved to London where, despite his prodigious talent and industry, literary fame proved elusive. On August 25, 1770, not yet 18, he was found dead, ruled a suicide from arsenic and opium poisoning.

Chatterton’s most ambitious literary project—the Rowley Poems—remained unpublished at his death. He presented these mock-medieval English verses—some written on old parchment, most being manuscripts in Chatterton’s hand—as long-lost works by the fictional 15th-century Bristol priest Thomas Rowley. Until their publication in 1777, the Rowley Poems circulated privately in manuscript among England’s literati—embraced as genuine by many, suspected as forgeries by some.

From 1777 to 1782 the Rowley Poems’ authenticity was vigorously debated in print. Their literary merit was undisputed. But could the poems, written in stilted “Rowleian dialect” in a diversity of styles, be genuine 15th-century works? If forgeries, could they truly be creations of a teenage apprentice? Stoking the debate were the tragic circumstances of Chatterton’s death, personal rivalries, the differing perspectives of antiquaries and scholars, and the inability of existing scholarly methods to settle the matter. The controversy prompted significant advances in textual scholarship.

Ever since Chatterton’s death, his life and literary works have provided inspiration to poets, novelists, dramatists, biographers, artists, and composers. For the Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites, Chatterton was a seminal figure: a precocious and original literary talent, and—though not factually true—the very model of the “neglected genius” who, rather than compromise his art, plunges destitute and despairing into suicide. Others have honored Chatterton’s powers of literary invention by invoking their own in reimaginings of his life and legacy.

Faulkner in the RAF

William Faulkner adopted various personae throughout his life—poet, father, Mississippi gentleman, Nobel Prize winner— but the persona that required his ability to invent and create the most was William Faulkner, Englishman. Most of Faulkner’s childhood was spent making flying contraptions with his brothers and taking turns being the flight-test dummy. He never gave up on his dream of flying. Years later, when World War I broke out, Faulkner saw his opportunity to get into a plane and to get into the air. Worried about his size, Faulkner stuffed himself full of bananas and water before going to Air Force recruiting station. Despite his preparations, he was rejected for being under regulation height and weight. After this rejection, Faulkner went with his childhood friend and mentor, Phil Stone, to Yale for several weeks. While at Yale, Faulkner was persuaded by some of Stone’s friends to try the Canadian RAF rather than wait for the draft. To join the RAF, however, they had to be British subjects.

Faulkner and Stone went to work. They practiced English pronunciation. They forged documents. They invented a fictional vicar, the Reverend Mr. Edward Twimberly-Thorndyke, and wrote letters of reference from him on their behalf. They even enlisted the sister of Phil Stone’s British tutor at Yale as a “mail drop.” When he presented himself at the RAF recruiting station, his name was William Faulkner—not Falkner— and he claimed that he was born in Finchley, UK, and that his mother had emigrated to Oxford, Mississippi years before. Despite his height—five foot five and half inches— and his weight, he was accepted as an applicant for pilot training.

Though Faulkner’s time in the RAF was limited to 179 days in Canada, (and it is debatable whether he even flew a plane during his training), Faulkner dressed as a conquering war hero when he returned to Oxford after the war. He purchased an officer’s uniform right before his discharge, which he wore, and posed for photographs in, all over town even though it was against regulation to wear a uniform after being discharged. (He was belatedly promoted to Honorary Second Lieutenant in March 1920). Since he was already dressed for the part, he invented tall tales about flying and seeing combat too.

Here Faulkner poses in his uniform with a cigarette.

Here Faulkner poses in his uniform with a cigarette (MSS 6271).

His most often-told tale was that he crashed a plane during training, which resulted in either a fictitious silver plate in his head, or a fictitious leg injury that made him walk with a limp. Faulkner told this tale for decades. Even some of his own family members believed his story of the plane crash, though they knew he had not seen combat. It was not until 1950 that Faulkner admitted in a letter to Dayton Kohler that he had not seen combat and had not been injured in a plane crash.

Faulkner eventually did learn how to fly, however, and did so recreationally for the rest of his life, even after the death of his brother, Dean, in a plane crash in 1935. In addition to the tall tales he made up, his own experiences in the air inspired a number of Faulkner’s works. His first published short story, “Landing in Luck” and his novels, Soldier’s Pay and Pylon, are a testament to his love of flight.


Our exhbition case dedicated to Faulkner’s RAF experience and love of flight.


For a chance to see Faulkner’s RAF uniform and the letter correcting his tall tales in person, come see “Faulkner: Life & Works,” on view at the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library from February 6, 2017 to July 7, 2017.

What is the efficacy of the Faulkner prize?: Faulkner and Venezuela, Part 2

This week, we are pleased to feature a second guest post by Ethan King, one-time Special Collections graduate student assistant, who is now pursuing his Ph.D. in English at Boston University. Ethan takes a strong interest in Faulkner, and has generously written for us about Faulkner’s fascinating later-life work as a cultural ambassador, a subject featured in our current exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works.

In my previous post, I examined the divergent geopolitical visions of William Faulkner and the U.S. State Department as manifested in their practices and attitudes before, during, and after Faulkner’s trip as a cultural ambassador to Venezuela in the spring of 1961. Impressed by those he met in Venezuela, and his sympathy elicited by stories about the difficulties for Latin Americans of publishing fiction in and outside of Latin America, Faulkner proposed the Ibero-American Novel Project, a competition administered by the Faulkner Foundation through which Latin American books could seek translation into English and publication in the United States. The plan was to identify the best novel written in each Latin American country since the end of World War II and not yet translated in English and reward those winners with a Certificate of Merit from the William Faulkner Foundation, with the overall winner receiving a plaque. The Foundation’s statement regarding the project is as follows:

Many novels of the highest literary quality written by Latin-American authors in their native languages are failing to reach appreciative readers in English-speaking North America; and accordingly the William Faulkner Foundation, at the suggestion of William Faulkner himself, is undertaking a modest corrective program in the hope of contributing to a better cultural exchange between the two Americas, with an attendant improvement in human relations and understanding (MSS 10677).

However, as Faulkner died soon into the Project’s infancy, the Project ran into a host of challenges and difficulties created by the market forces of the United States. Without the ability to offer a cash prize to the winners from each of the represented regions of Latin America, Project officials had hoped Faulkner’s prestige would be enough for publishers to take on Latin American novels to be translated and published in the US, but unfortunately, publishers often refused, citing lack of commercial interest.

Before his death, Faulkner chose Arnold del Greco, an associate professor of Romance Languages at the University of Virginia, to direct the Project. In del Greco’s own words in a 1974 letter to Martha Murray, a teaching assistant at Southern Methodist University, his role as Project director “entailed all aspects of [the] project: preparing program and announcements, appointing judges in each country (usually after receiving wide recommendations from critics, etc.), reviewing decisions through the home board, seeking publishes for the American editions, etc” (MSS 10677). Under del Greco’s tutelage, the Project sought to compose panels of three judges from each country, none of whom, the Foundation’s statement reveals, was “to be older than twenty-five years of age on the grounds that youngsters are best able to evaluate the work of their contemporaries.” Each panel of judges was to read all submitted novels from their nation and identify the best “on the basis of literary distinction and achievement” (MSS 10677). Although this part of the competition was supposed to be completed by the end of 1961, it was not until February of 1963—half a year after Faulkner’s death—that the prizewinners were announced.

List of prizewinners (MSS 10677).

After broadcasting these winners throughout the US and Latin America on the “Voice of America,” the Project moved into the next phase—the selection of the best overall novel. Based at the University of Virginia and composed of six doctoral students and two assistant professors, as well as del Greco himself, the final panel of judges selected Díaz Sánchez’s Cumboto to be the most outstanding novel. Despite its meritorious achievement, Cumboto followed an agonizing trajectory in its quest for translation and publication. In her essay on Faulkner’s Ibero-American project that appeared in The Southern Quarterly (Winter 2004), Deborah Cohn characterizes Cumboto as being a novel about “a rural black community and the problems of race relations and mestizaje in Venezuela” (12). Shortly after receiving the Project’s highest honor, the novel was initially considered for publication by the University of Virginia Press and Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. However, both rejected it outright. Over the next few years, del Greco offered the manuscript to over twenty different publishing companies, all of whom denied publication for the novel based on their readers’ active dislike of the novel as well as on the difficulties of finding a market for it in the U.S. For example, Frank Wardlaw, Director of the University of Texas Press, rejected del Greco’s request for them to consider the novel because the “principal advisors on our Latin American translation program […] are emphatic in their recommendation that we do not publish it. Quite frankly, they do not have a very high opinion of the novel” (MSS 10677). Another example from Eric Swenson, Vice President and Executive Editor at W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: “I am afraid [Cumboto] would elicit very little response from a broadly-based North American audience, which I suppose is another way of saying it does not seem to us to be important enough to be worth the time and effort of translation and publication” (MSS 10677). Though none of the editors indicated precisely why the novel would not be of interest to readers in the U.S., Cohn surmises that it had to do with the novel’s intense regionalism: that because of its “emphasis on local color, […] it was even less likely to be of interest to a US audience” (13). Or in other words, while Faulkner’s regional focus on the US South was critically lauded, regionalism employed by writers from Latin American countries struggled to reach a US audience.

Certificate of Merit for a Notable Novel (MSS 10677)

In a letter written to José Antonio Cordido-Freytes—a member of the Faulkner Foundation—Díaz Sánchez scathingly and articulately expressed his frustrations with the competition’s outcome, pointing out the very hierarchic geopolitical climate that the Project sought to break down:

The resistance of North American publishers to publish Latin American literary works is well known to me, which is more than sufficiently explained by the contempt with which the people of North America look down on our Southern countries, on their institutions, their history and their language. I had thought that the prize for a novel granted by the William Faulkner Foundation was actually aiming to help break down this barrier of contempt and inexorable utilitariarism [sic] which the North Americans have created between the two racial zones of the New World and to lend a bit of ethical and aesthetical dignity to the relationship between the greatest power of modern history and our small and under-developed nations. […] The only satisfaction and the only positive value that such a tournament could give us, the writers of Latin America, would be the publication in the U.S. of the books produced in our countries and which carry a message of good faith, because besides this there is nothing very attractive about the giving away of a metal disk not any more important or honoring than those distributed for propaganda purposes for international industrial products. By this I don’t intend to say that I consider the Faulkner Prize to be a mere artifice invented for advertising of one of these products, but the truth is that up to this moment, it looks quite a bit like it. […] Considering these circumstances, please tell me frankly: What is the efficacy of the Faulkner prize? (MSS 10677)

Charged by this letter to up the ante in seeking Cumboto’s publication in the US, the Foundation finally authorized a $2,000 allotment to bankroll its English publication, but this money didn’t help until two years later, when Wardlaw inexplicably agreed to review the novel again. Likely incentivized only by this money, Wardlaw commissioned its translation and publication in 1968. Heartbreakingly, however, Díaz Sánchez died a few months before its publication, never seeing his translated work circulating in the United States, nor his nomination for the National Book Award that year.

Iber0-American Novel Plaque (MSS 10677).

While the Ibero-American Project set out to “contribut[e] to a better cultural exchange between the two Americas,” it is hard to see anything but its unfulfilled potential from the sad tales of its outcome. Although Coronación and El señor presidente, as well as novels not entered into the competition by Mallea and Marqués, were published in English, Cohn points out that “no work by any of the other prizewinning authors has ever been published in English” (11). One wonders, then, as Díaz Sánchez did, “What is the efficacy of the Faulkner prize?” Perhaps if Faulkner himself had lived past the Project’s infancy, he could have wielded his tremendous literary weight among US publishing to better effect in achieving its goals.

The blog goes bilingual!: Borges, libros y bibliografía

This week we are pleased to feature a post from Nora Benedict, who will receive a Ph.D. in Spanish this Saturday. Nora’s research for her dissertation, “The Fashioning of Jorge Luis Borges: Magazines, Books, and Print Culture in Argentina (1930-1951),” serves as the inspiration for her exhibition in our First Floor Gallery,  open through July 7, 2017.

Nora has been a constant presence here in Special Collections for many years as a researcher, a Bibliographical Society Fellow, a Rare Book School staff member tasked with working in our stacks to prepare materials for classes, and as a graduate assistant to staff member Heather Riser.  Thanks, Nora, for all you’ve done for the library–and for providing us with your blog entry in two languages! (To read Nora’s post in English, scroll to the end of the Spanish version.)

Borges, libros y bibliografía

Casi tres cuartos de siglo después de la primera publicación de sus laberintos vertiginosos y bibliotecas sin límites en Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges y sus libros siguen despertando el interés de ambos investigadores y aficionados. Como la mayoría de las personas que pasan por la Universidad de Virginia, descubrí su Borges Collection por casualidad. Aparte de la experiencia inverosímil de tocar e hojear los manuscritos y cartas escritos por Borges mismo, lo que más me llamó la atención de la colección en sí es el nivel de completitud. Desde un punto de vista bibliográfico, todo lo que hay en la colección sirve, de manera ideal, para cualquier tipo de investigación textual. Además de los manuscritos valiosos y periódicos raros, hay por lo menos una copia de cada edición de cada libro que Borges publicó durante su vida (¡en algunos casos hay más de una copia de ciertas obras que son aún más raras que los manuscritos!). En cierto sentido, es el lugar perfecto para estudiar la evolución de su proceso de escribir desde los manuscritos hasta las primeras y posteriores ediciones.

Dado que he pasado la mayor parte de cinco años estudiando todo el contenido de la colección, siempre me encanta hablar de los tesoros maravillosos que se pueden encontrar aquí, lo cual generalmente lleva a varias personas a preguntarme cómo estas cosas llegaron a la Universidad de Virginia. Me pregunté eso también cuando vi, por primera vez, los manuscritos originales de Fervor de Buenos Aires, copias prístinas de la revista mural Prisma y dibujos impresionantes en la mano distinta de Borges. Dicho eso, de pronto aprendí que la presencia de esta colección en la Universidad de Virginia tiene sentido por varias razones. En primer lugar es su vínculo con la fortaleza sobresaliente de las colecciones especiales de la universidad: la historia y literatura americana. Sin lugar a dudas, no se debe restringir esta categoría a las obras norteamericanas, sino hay que extenderla lógicamente a la producción cultural de todas las Américas. Junto a esta conexión bien clara, también veo la historia de la bibliografía en la Universidad de Virginia y el estudio del libro como objeto como elementos esenciales para entender la decisión de incluir a estos materiales en las colecciones de Virginia a causa de que se puede seguir e identificar cualquier cambio textual dentro de una obra (ya sea verbal o la presentación física de un texto).

“Las Kenningar” se publicó por primera vez en una revista literaria. Borges lo imprimió de nuevo unos años más tarde con Francisco A. Colombo, un impresor de lujo. (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

Mi exhibición, “‘Armar páginas, corregir pruebas’: Jorge Luis Borges as Author, Editor, and Promulgator,” recurre a las investigaciones para mi tesis doctoral sobre Borges y sus roles diversos dentro de la industria editorial en Buenos Aires. También hace hincapié en los tesoros menos conocidos de la colección en la universidad y las posibilidades para investigaciones futuras. Además de escribir prosa y poesía espléndida, a Borges le interesan los aspectos técnicos de la producción de libros, periódicos y revistas literarias. Desde un momento muy temprano en su carrera literaria estaba muy involucrado en corregir pruebas y aún armar páginas para las varias obras que escribió o editó.

Para mí lo más difícil de ser curadora de esta exhibición fue seleccionar un número limitado de cosas y crear una narrativa lógica que interesaría a expertos en Borges y, a la vez, a estudiantes que no sepan nada de él. Finalmente visualicé tres categorías vinculadas que ilustrarían cómo Borges navegó elegantemente las formas públicas y privadas de la escritura: Autor, Editor, Promulgador. Más específicamente, cada una de las cajas explora un rol distinto que Borges tenía en la industria editorial porteña durante los años 1930 y 1940 con el fin de enfatizar su impacto en los cánones literarios y los estándares educacionales. “Autor” presenta una selección de las colecciones de ficción y no ficción de Borges como Ficciones, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan y Historia universal de la infamia.

“Editor” demuestra las conexiones arraigadas que Borges tenía con la forma física del libro a través de unos ejemplos de las obras publicadas con sus dos editoriales (ficticias), la Editorial Destiempo y la Editorial Oportet & Haereses.

“Un modelo para la muerte,” una parodia desconcertante del género detectivesco, se publicó bajo un seudónimo de Borges y Adolfo Bioy Casares, B. Suárez Lynch, con su editorial ficticia, la Editorial Oportet & Haereses.(PQ .B635 M56 1946)

 También incluí dos manuscritos originales de Borges que hacen hincapié en sus vínculos bien fuertes con otras editoriales y su trabajo frecuente de escribir prólogos para las obras de otros autores.

“Promulgador” destaca su trabajo editorial, a veces bajo cuerda, en traducir, editar y prologar para varias editoriales argentinas.

Borges empieza a introducir obras extranjeras al público argentino a través de sus reseñas literarias en el periódico “El Hogar.” (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

Borges empieza a introducir obras extranjeras al público argentino a través de sus reseñas literarias en el periódico El Hogar.

A pesar de que esta exhibición presenta un número limitado de materiales que hay dentro de la colección más grande, mi deseo es proveer un bosquejo provocativo de uno de los muchos caminos de investigación inexplorados dentro de su jardín de senderos que se bifurcan.

“Borges, Books, and Bibliography”

Nearly three-quarters of a century after the first appearance of his dizzying labyrinths and limitless libraries in Ficciones, Borges and (his) books continue to pique the interest of scholars and aficionados. Like most, I first encountered the University of Virginia’s Borges Collection by happy accident. Aside from the incredible experience of leafing through manuscripts and letters written by Borges himself, what struck me most about the collection was its extreme level of completeness. From a bibliographical standpoint, the holdings are ideal for any type of textual investigation. In addition to the rich manuscripts and rare periodicals, there is also at least one copy of each and every edition that Borges ever published throughout his lifetime (in some cases there are multiple copies of works almost as rare as the manuscripts!). In a sense, it is the perfect place to study the evolution of his writing process from manuscript to first edition to subsequent editions.

Having spent the better part of five years “under grounds” with the collection’s holdings, I’m always eager to talk about the unique treasures that one might find here, which, more often than not, leads others to ask, time and time again, how these items ended up at UVA. I, too, wondered this when I first laid eyes on original manuscripts from Fervor de Buenos Aires, pristine copies of the rare Prisma mural magazine, and incredible drawings in Borges’s distinctive hand. That said, I soon discovered that the presence of this collection at UVA makes perfect sense for a number of reasons. First is its link to the university’s largest collection strength, American history and literature, which should not be restricted to North America, but must logically extend to all of the Americas. Alongside this clear connection, I also see the university’s rich history of bibliography and the study of the book as object as crucial to understanding the decision to make UVA the home for these materials since they easily allow scholars to trace and identify any changes in a work (whether it be in wording or in the physical presentation of the text).

“Las Kenningar” was first published in a literary magazine before Borges had it printed separately by Francisco A. Colombo, a fine press printer. (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

My exhibition, “‘Armar páginas, corregir pruebas’: Jorge Luis Borges as Author, Editor, and Promulgator,” draws heavily on my dissertation research surrounding Borges and his various roles within the Argentine publishing industry, and it also speaks to the lesser-known strengths of the UVA collection and the potentials for future investigations. In addition to crafting superb prose and poetry, Borges was interested in the technical production of books, magazines, and literary journals. From early in his career he was deeply involved with correcting proofs and even setting type.

For me the hardest challenge of curating this exhibit was selecting a limited number of items and creating a logical narrative that would speak to Borges experts as well as students that have never heard of him. I eventually landed on three linked categories that would seamlessly illustrate his graceful navigation of private and public forms of writing: Author, Editor, Promulgator. More specifically, each of these three cases explores a different role that Borges held in the Argentine publishing industry during the 1930s and 1940s, in an effort to emphasize his impact on literary canons and educational standards.

“Author” presents a sampling of Borges’s collections of fiction and non-fiction such as Ficciones, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan and Historia universal de la infamia.

“Editor” explores Borges’s deep-seated engagement with the physical form of the book with samplings from his two unique (fictitious) publishing houses, the Editorial Destiempo and the Editorial Oportet & Haereses.

“Un modelo para la muerte” a perplexing parody of the genre of detective fiction, was published under Borges’s and Bioy Casares’s joint pseudonym, B. Suárez Lynch, by their fictitious publishing firm, the Editorial Oportet & Haerese. (PQ .B635 M56 1946)

I’ve also included two original manuscripts that speak to his connections to other publishing houses and his writing of prologues for other authors’ works.

“Promulgator” highlights Borges’s behind-the-scenes editorial work in translating, editing, and prefacing works for various Argentine publishing firms.

Borges slowly began to introduce foreign works to Argentine readers through initial reviews in the magazine “El Hogar.” (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

While this exhibit features just a small number of items from the larger Borges collection, my hope is that it provides a thought-provoking snapshot of one of the many avenues of unexplored investigation into this writer’s garden of forking paths.