Thursday, May 25, 2017

Archival Rsearch at the Kerlan Collection: Part II

I've now finished three exhilarating and exhausting days of children's literature research at the Kerlan. And when I say "exhausting," I mean that yesterday I returned home to my bed-and-breakfast, put on my nightgown, and got into bed at 5:30. So many hours spent poring over voluminous heaps of paper, number two pencil clenched in my hand (no pens allowed, though laptops are permitted, and I did take lots of pictures of key items on my phone). I already have 25 pages of closely written notes.
I don't think I'm allowed, at this point, to quote directly from the collection (I need to check on what I need to do to secure that permission). But here is a little bit of what I've found.

I've spent most of my time on Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books. The Kerlan has two big cartons of MHL materials, plus another smaller box. Here I discovered:

 The typewritten manuscript of the first story Maud wrote as a precursor to the Betsy-Tacy books: "Betty and Bick [Tacy's real-life name] Visit a Hermit";

Correspondence between Maud and the childhood friends, now grown, who served as the real-life inspiration for her characters, pressing them for the vivid details to make each story come alive;

Dozens of pages of notes on Minnesota birds, trees, flowers, seasonal observations, and local history as background research;

Meticulous documention of article titles, fashion styles, popular actors and songs, from a month-by-month review of Ladies Home Journal for the year corresponding with each book;

And much more!

I have to say that I had no idea Lovelace did so much grueling research for her series, as the books are based so closely on her own childhood and teen years. Wasn't she just relying on memory? No! There is even a letter from the Hayden Planetarium in New York City answering a question about what constellations Betsy might have seen when sailing to Europe on the eve of World War I in Betsy and the Great World. I was humbled by this evidence of how hard she worked to make the early twentieth century feel so real for her readers.

The Eleanor Estes material here at the Kerlan is less juicy than I what I explored last year at the University of Connecticut; there it was a lot of correspondence, but here it's mainly typewritten and copy-edited manuscripts with relatively few changes made on them (but I did pounce on those I found with great interest.) Then I peeked into the six uncatalogued boxes on Elizabeth Enright. Oh, my! Best finds so far: a whole folder titled "Boyfriends 1925-29: with ardent love letters and Western Union telegrams from various swains, and a beautiful fan letter written to Enright by British author Noel Streatfeild (the "Shoes" books), another of my greatest loves.

What will I find today?

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