Thesis Update: Notes from the Archive

This blog is long overdue for an update—and a #jessewritesathesis update in particular. In brief: I’m chipping away at it! Progress doesn’t accumulate nearly as quickly as I’d like, of course, but I now have several docs that hold quite a bit of writing. Still learning to avert—or rather, manage—the crippling inner editor who insists that every sentence or phrase be “perfect” before moving to the next, but things are slowly improving.

ransom center exteriorThe most important development which specifically warrants an update post, however, is that after many years of hoping and scheming I was finally able to do some actual archival research for this thesis. Two weeks ago I spent three days at the University of Austin’s Harry Ransom Center sifting through their extensive holdings on both Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, and it just couldn’t have been a better experience. I was constantly impressed with how the Ransom Center and their staff were able to balance a (rightful) sense of protection over the remarkable material in their possession and an obvious commitment to access. As someone currently suspended somewhere between the categories of scholar and student, it was heartening to see that alongside the scholars were what seemed to be a constant stream of undergraduate students accessing and perusing material.

[That said, even though the Center is extremely generous in allowing users to take as many photos of the material as they want, one must sign a strict confidentiality agreement that forbids sharing it without written permission. So unfortunately I can’t provide any images to accompany the things I mention below. Just an FYI—I’m not being stingy!]

What did I find? Well, that three days was hardly enough to even pretend that I’d managed to scratch the surface in regards to what’s available for discovery in both of these archives. It’s been very heartening to see both Ford and Tyler receiving increasing scholarly interest over the last year or so—something itself I should do a write-up one of these days—which leads me to assume that eyes are starting to get on this material (indeed, I was told someone had been working with the Ford material the week before I arrived), but it was also IMMEDIATELY clear that this is a “story”—indeed, multiple stories—that needs, is even demanding, to be told. Though I was forced to do a lot of scanning/speed-reading, Ford’s prolific correspondence (of which this is only a partial holding; there also seems to be much held at Yale’s Beinecke Library, to say nothing of holdings in archives of his countless correspondents) offers so much first-person documentation of modernism, American expatriatism, the pre-Stonewall queer experience, and early twentieth century American/European culture in general—in addition offering perspectives that have been generally kept to the peripheries of historical accounts of these eras and communities.

djuna barnes letter

Image of a typical Djuna Barnes letter found online [NOT from the Ransom Center collection]

Perhaps the single most personally satisfying experience was the several hours spent poring over the collection of Djuna Barnes’s letters, most written between 1933 and 1936. Some were typed, but the majority were handwritten—itself a thrill (though it took a little while to acclimate to her distinctive handwriting!). I was able to answer some questions I had regarding Barnes’s involvement with the manuscript and initial publication of The Young and Evil, as well as Ford’s contact with Nightwood. I was also able to get quite a bit of insight into Barnes and Ford’s brief but intense romantic partnership, a chapter not widely known, probably because it complicates the most common narratives regarding both figures (and Barnes’s life and career in particular). A long term goal is to carve out of my thesis a publishable article on this specific topic.

Other highlights: several draft fragments from The Young and Evil that provide insight into Ford and Tyler’s collaborative process, as well as facsimile copies of Ford’s correspondence with Gertrude Stein which helped illuminate her involvement with the text.

And finally, more information which only led to more mystery: one of the central enigmas that has emerged during my research is the figure of Kathleen Tankersley Young, a poet and critic initially associated with the Harlem Renaissance and appeared in a number of the “little magazines” of the period. As well as taking on a kind of mentorship role and co-editor credit for Ford’s literary magazine Blues, she is important to The Young and Evil, not only as the novel’s dedicatee but appearing as the text’s only major female character. From her poetry I had started to suspect that she is actually a more crucial influence on Ford and Tyler than even Barnes and Stein; reading through her letters has only confirmed this.

Yet despite all these fascinating connections (and others—she went on to found a minor but admired publication company before a tragic and mysterious early death) Young currently remains more or less invisible—indeed, the several mentions of her currently out there (mostly in studies and compilations of women connected to the Harlem Renaissance) can only mention that practically nothing is known about her. Indeed, I’ve yet to come across a photograph of her. I was cautiously hoping an image of some kind would emerge somewhere in Ford’s material, but that ended up not being the case (at least in what I was able to go through)—though I sense that a dramatic pencil sketch of a female face on one of her letters might be a portrait of her. I’m  now more curious than ever about this fascinating, unknown figure; if anybody reading this happens to have ANY information on Young, please get in touch with me! (My info is in the “About” section.)

The Ransom Center actually shared on their Instagram account a snippet from one of letters from Young that I was able to look at, making it (I presume) ok to share here. I’ll also include below a few other images taken outside the restricted Reading Room.

It’s taken the two weeks since to simply organize and upload the notes and images (nearly 250 of them!) that I took over the course of the three days. Now it’s time to dive back into the writing—something I’m taking on again with a renewed sense of excitement and engagement. Wish me luck!

kty letter to chf ransom centerransom center jacques cocteauoscar wilde ransom center windowransom center leon bakst ballet russes costume

Top to bottom:

  1. Letter from Kathleen Tankersley Young to Charles Henri Ford (1928), posted on the Ransom Center Instagram account
  2. The eyes of Jean Cocteau from the interior of Ransom Center
  3. “Apparition” of Oscar Wilde on the exterior of the Ransom Center
  4. Original costume designed by Léon Bakst for Narcisse, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe (1911)

 

 

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IotD: Charles Henri Ford Writes Joseph Cornell from Italy

Over the last few days I’ve spent some time digging into the wonderfully expansive online holdings of the Joseph Cornell Papers maintained by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art website. Cornell sustained a lively correspondence with Ford, Parker Tyler, and a number of individuals pertinent to this site, and as the intricate networks formed by the queer modernists is a topic of particular interest to me, I plan to start featuring these visual traces and mementos that offer small, illuminating glimpses into various social connections.

To start off, this lively (and very legible–not always a given!) postcard from Ford to Cornell sent in 1954. Ford’s humorous indication of his “room” in the Italian town of Frascati certainly is in line with his sly, wicked sense of humor:

Charles Henri Ford postcard of Frascati to Joseph Cornell (front)

Charles Henri Ford postcard of Frascati to Joseph Cornell (back)

Deborah Solomon reports in her biography of Cornell that Ford and Cornell “began corresponding in 1939, after Ford wrote to Cornell to propose that they collaborate on a volume of poems and collages.” Cornell was apparently flattered by the suggestion, but “saw little possibility of an artistic partnership” demurring to Ford in a letter due to his “total lack of interest in psychoanalysis and the current preoccupation with sex.” But even if a full collaborative effort never came to fruition, Cornell’s nonetheless provide Ford a whimsical cover for his poetry collection ABC‘spublished in 1940.

The reference to author Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen) in this note is an interesting one, as Solomon’s records that “when Ford gave [Cornell] a copy of Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, he inscribed the book: ‘Joseph, these were written for you.'”

Ford’s indispensable published journal Water from a Bucket indicates that he and Tchelitchew (Pavlik)’s time in Frascati stretched into early 1956. I particularly like this uncharacteristically fanciful musing–the sole entry for November of 1954:

I took a terrace walk and saw the most brilliant falling star–I always make the same wish: Love.

A sentiment that seems, quite honestly, much more in line with Cornell’s romantic sensibility than Ford’s bawdier, unsentimental impulses.

 

Provenance:
General Correspondence: Ford, Charles Henri, 1939-1970
Joseph Cornell Papers, 1804-1986
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Works Cited

Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: A Diary, 1948-1957. New York City: Turtlepoint, 2001.

Solomon, Deborah. Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

upcoming academic conference presentation

pamla logoThought I would break this period of extended radio silence (*sigh*) to mention that I will be presenting some research from my thesis at this year’s annual PAMLA conference. It will be taking place in Portland, OR, from November 6-8, and I present on a panel during the first session on Saturday morning. If anybody reading this is also attending, please stop by and say hello!

Here’s the info and my presentation abstract. Additional information (including abstracts for the full panel), can be found here.

pamla header

Cruising at the Intersection: The Queer Collaborative Authorship of The Young and Evil
Jesse Ataide, San Francisco State University

“What kind of discoveries are made possible when two gay men confront each other?” Christopher Hennessy asks, “with the acknowledgment of a shared sexual desire lurking there?” This paper considers how queer content in Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler’s 1933 novel The Young and Evil reflect a strategy of “cooperative discourse” that compels a reconsideration now only of the concept of authorship, but also how friendship, intimacy, and creative cooperation can function between queer men.”

My paper on Samuel M. Steward’s detective fiction was very well received at PAMLA 2013, and so I’m very much looking forward to presenting again this year!

Re: Charles Henri Ford for His Birthday

Charles Henri Ford by Dimitri Yeros

[Not exactly a birthday cake… but who’s complaining??]

February 10 marked what would have been Charles Henri Ford’s 107th birthday, and to commemorate I thought I’d direct some attention to Indra Tamang’s lovely remembrance of CHF. A photographer and artist who served as a cook and caretaker to first CHF and then to his sister, Ruth, Tamang made headlines over the years as he became the primary inheritor of both of their estates, worth millions of dollars in NYC real estate, artwork, etc. I’ve been following his efforts to on both his blog The Hermitage and the Facebook page The Charles & Ruth Project to promote the sibling’s artistic accomplishments.

I particularly appreciated the closing lines of his remembrance:

Had Charles lived, he would be 107 years old today. At the end of his life his mind was sharp and clear, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded living to be 107. I don’t think either Charles or Ruth ever thought for a minute that they wouldn’t just live forever, at least that’s the impression I always had. Ruth was always thinking she’d be getting ‘better’ soon, even though there was nothing wrong with her but age.

Thankfully, Charles never seemed the least bit frightened at the end of his life. When it came to living, he always said, “Just play it as it lays,” and that’s what he did. And he enjoyed every birthday, and every other day too, to the fullest.

Also worth taking a look at is an overview of CHF’s life put together by Elisa over at her Reviews & Ramblings, especially for the collection of images she pulled together.

So cheers to CHF on a lived long and fully!

Provenance

Charles Henri Ford (2000s)
Dimitris Yeros
Website

 

IotD: The Many Faces of Charles Henri Ford

I’ve gushed about Deviates, Inc. before, and I can’t help but repost a mini-collection that was posted there yesterday, which contains multiple sketches of young Charles Henri Ford drawn by Pavel Tchelitchew. My guess is that all date from the 1930’s, in the period just after Ford and Tchelitchew met in Paris and embarked on their decades-spanning romantic relationship.

From Ford’s diary, July 1953:

“Twenty years ago tomorrow was the beginning of what has resulted in a twenty-year relationship, constant association, with Pavlik. I wrote Parker [Tyler] then: ‘I’ve found a genius.'”

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 1

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 3

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 2

See the original post at Deviates, Inc here.

WORK CITED

Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: A Diary, 1948-1957. New York City: Turtlepoint, 2001.

 

IotD: Pavel Tchelitchew by Cecil Beaton

tchelitchew by beaton

Russian neo-romantic painter Pavel Tchelitchew photographed with characteristic elegance by Cecil Beaton. The superimposed elements over the portrait not only makes for a lovely visual effect, but also cleverly evokes the neo-romantic impulse to synthesize realist and surrealist modes of artistic representation.

Tchelitchew was the partner of Charles Henri Ford, and as such I have inevitably been learning quite a bit about him through my thesis research process. Their partnership spanned from the early 1930’s until the Russian painter’s death in 1957.

I have been unable to get a pinpoint an exact date or provenance of this portrait, but judging from other photographs I have seen of Tchelitchew, I’d guess this was taken sometime during the 1930’s. If I find more information I will update this post.