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Biographies and editing letters

Letters
Leon Edel offers useful guidelines in his preface to the Letters of Henry James.
"Among scholars the discussion is interminable: how should letters be edited? Some seem to believe that modern letters should be reproduced almost as if they were photographs of the original. Is this valid in an age of photography? It seems to me when letters are translated from handwriting to print, they should be edited to be read as one reads books: with an avoidance of brackets and an economy of footnotes.  The & should certainly read "and," and all abbreviations and shortcuts of hasty writing deserved to be spelled out. Simon Nowell Smith, in a charming lecture on "Authors, Editors and Publishers," raised his voice rightly think against the bracketed sic when used immoderately, or the reproduction of obvious spelling mistakes anyone might make when writing in a hurry.  Modern scholarship has perhaps been rigid in believing that what applied to ancient manuscripts may be applied to the modern.  I have made silent corrections when they were obviously called for; but where there has been a significant slip of the pen I have indicated it in footnotes or kept it in the text...  As for the footnotes, I have preferred to be simply informative, with a strong feeling that if one carried footnotes to the extreme one could end up writing a history of all civilization.  I see no need to give full names and dates for every name in the letters.  ...Such footnotes as I have included are bibliographical or historical; identifications are made when they involved persons we meet repeatedly. I have tried to offer an answer wherever a reader might ask a questions. "

My first job out of college was as a fact checker and picture researcher (at the Franklin Mint, outside Philadelphia PA).  I hadn't known such jobs existed, and I'd never read so much from American Heritage.  I eventually went to library school knowing I wanted to work in some sort of specialized library or research setting.  The following books and websites have been sources of inspiration and information as I've learned more about the 19th century and EJ Phillips' world.  

Hershey Felder, George Gershwin Alone, Production Diary, Hershey Felder  http://www.georgegershwinalone.com/diary/frame-diary.html
I never expected to find descriptions of someone doing research at the Library of Congress sound so glamorous -- and a wonderful performer as well..  

Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper: The Craft of Autobiography and Biography Writing, Counterpoint Press, 2002

Richard Holmes, Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer , Viking Penguin 1985  
I learned from this book from a Jean Strouse interview on the web  and love Holmes' story of bouncing a cheque -- because he dated it 1776 instead of 1976.  

Keith Newlin, Editing Hamlin Garland, Keith Newlin http://people.uncw.edu/newlink/garland/editing.htm

Catherine Osborne, director of Burnt Over by Dorothy Fortenberry, New York, March 2005 http://www.keyfitz.org/journeyman/shows/burnedover/synopsis.html
A play with a plot revolving around 1840's family letters.   

Linda Osborne and Casey King, Oh, Freedom, Kids talk about the civil rights movement with the people who made it happen  Knopf, 1997

Jean Strouse, Alice James: A Biography Harvard University Press, 1999.  I heard Jean Strouse speak at a New England PEN meeting in Cambridge.  She told of visiting Alice James grave in the Cambridge Cemetery family plot and finding herself feeling terribly sorry for Alice -- and realized she was duplicating James family experiences. 

Jean Strouse on JP Morgan , 2003 http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-strouse-jean.asp

AJA Symonds, The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on her diary 1785-1812, Knopf, 1990

Ragan, Robert, Deciphering old handwriting  http://www.amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/oldhand.html from a course taught by Sabina Murray

Last updated April 3, 2005

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