Fiction: Make-Believe or Something More?

Special note: This blog post was written by Edward Reges, M.A. ‘16, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection.

“Robert Penn Warren.” Stuart Wright Collection – Robert Penn Warren Papers (1169-014) East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Few could hope to have such an accomplished life as Robert Penn Warren. Three time Pulitzer Prize winner and the first Poet Laureate of the US, Warren’s prolific and versatile career includes ten novels, a collection of short stories, and numerous poems, dramas, and literary criticisms. He is also one of the most influential of the New Critics, a group that evaluated literary work by close reading and valued highly polished, difficult works characteristic of the Modernist period. Warren was taught by fellow Stuart Wright Collection author John Crowe Ransom.

Among several typescripts, manuscripts, and personal correspondence, the Stuart Wright Collection boasts more than 40 poems and over 60 pieces of literary criticism by Warren, many of which are unpublished or include revisions to original text in the poet’s own hand. This work of literary criticism preserves Warren’s remarkable views on literature. One such essay, titled “Fiction: Why Do We Read It?” shows the passion and importance he invested in fiction. On page 5, Warren quotes Freud’s assertion that the “’meagre satisfactions’ that man ‘can extract from reality leave him starving.’” What then can slate our hunger? According to Warren, it is fiction. On the same page, Warren asserts that:

In it we find, in imagination, not only the pleasure of recognizing our past, but the pleasure of experimenting with experiences which we deeply, and perhaps unwittingly, crave but which the limitations of life, the fear of consequences, or the severity of our principles forbid to us.

Thus, it is Warren’s belief that the act of reading fiction is not an escape from reality, but rather an escape to fiction (p2).

This is not the only role of fiction, however. Throughout “Fiction, Why Do We Read It?” Warren compares fiction to a daydream accessible to multiple individuals. It is this accessibility that makes fiction a social experiment of sorts. Warren explicates this concept on page 7:

To enter the publicly available day dream you have to surrender something of your own identity, have to let it be absorbed. You must identify yourself with somebody else, and accept his fate. You must take a role.

A reader may wonder at this point what value there is in surrendering a piece of their identity. After all, it is a piece of us, it is us in a sense. To sacrifice any bit of identity seems to compromise our sense of self. Warren doesn’t think so, however; in fact, he believes the opposite:

Play, when we are children, and fiction, when we are grownup, lead us, through role-taking, to a knowledge of others. But role-taking leads us, by the same token, to a knowledge of ourselves, really to the creation of the self. (9)

What Warren is saying is that to understand ourselves, we must have something to compare ourselves to, much like the relationship between light and darkness or hot and cold. Our concept of self, however, stems from within, not from perceptive senses like sight or touch. In order to make a comparison of who we are and who others are, we must take the role of someone else. At this point we can start to make statements such as “I’m not as brave as Aragorn” or “I could never fall in love with a vampire.” Comparisons such as these allow us to understand what we are and what we are not as individuals.

One would think, with the importance Warren grants fiction, that he would be an enthusiast of education in fiction writing.. In fact, Warren was adamant that fiction should not be taught in a university. On the second page of a literary essay titled “Courses in Writing,” Warren states:

It [the university] should realize that writing, except as a craft [technical and trade writing], is not to be taught – that the ideal is to create some semblance, however modest, of the natural community in which writing is learned by process of trial and error, of self-exploration of form.

Warren believes that fiction comes about from experimentation and peer review, not instruction. To instruct someone on how to compose fiction is to deny fiction its intrinsic value, supplementing it with popular styles and format in an effort to make a piece successful. To the new critics, nothing could be more villainous.

For more information on the New Critics, try the summary given here. For more insight into the mind of poet, author, and ersatz philosopher Robert Penn Warren, request one of his boxes from the Stuart Wright Collection and head to the third floor of Joyner library to enjoy.

Literary Lampoons Part II: Golf and Politics – Not Quite Death and Taxes, but Close

Special note: This blog post was written by Edward Reges, M.A. ‘16, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection.

Sometimes, the lives of authors can seem as distant to us as the hole on a long, hazardous par 5. One need only peer into a literary anthology to find oneself immersed in a strange world of antiquated terms, ideas, and even settings. Take John Updike’s renowned short story “A&P,” for example. In the story, a young man makes a rash decision to leave his job after his manager forces three young women, clad in only two-piece bathing suits, to leave the store. “What’s an A&P?” I recall a classmate of mine inquiring in a class discussion of our assigned readings. The question was not a literal one; we had all read the story and could draw from context what the A&P was. Rather, it was a commentary on how rapidly change occurs and how quickly our memories can glaze over what was once a staple of our predecessor’s culture. The short story, written just over 50 years ago, takes place in what was at the time one of the largest supermarket chains in the United States. Now the mere existence of a supermarket other than Wal-Mart, Target, or even K-Mart (which may be antiquated as you are reading this article) is the stock of a joke playing on our short-term view of existence. (For those seeking more information about A&P supermarkets, the company’s website has an interesting history section.)

Likewise, authors and poets of yesteryear seem accordingly distant from us. Creators of fiction such as John Updike seem to be of a different breed. A breed that survived and even thrived without all of the technology we now take for granted. These authors have an air of mythos: an air that a bit of digging in a literary archive, however, proves unwarranted.
Nestled away in the Stuart Wright Collection at Joyner Library are windows into the lives of these very human authors of yesteryear. While Updike is known for his writing prowess, he was not born a writer or a historical character; he was born a man. A man who, incidentally, once aspired to doodle for a living. Several original pen-and-ink drawings as well as Updike’s newspaper copies of published cartoons found their home in the collection of Stuart Wright, Updike’s friend and golfing companion. They are now available for view in the North Carolina Collections area on the third floor of Joyner Library.

Looking through these inked drawings, the difference between our predecessors and us seems to shrink. One of Updike’s cartoons references a troubling time in U.S. History. Following WWII, Germany was divided amongst the allies into East and West Germany. The nation’s capital, Berlin, located in Soviet occupied East Germany, was likewise divided. The situation grew tense when East Germany denied land access between West Germany and West Berlin. A decade later, President Eisenhower found himself in a rough situation when the Soviets demanded that western allied forces leave Berlin:

Updike, John. “The Rough.” Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Compare this to a modern political cartoon depicting President Obama sinking into the sand trap of world crisis:

Varvel, Gary. “Obama, golf, and world crisis.” Cartoon. Indystar. Gannett, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014 http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/cartoons/2014/08/28/cartoonist-gary-varvel-obama-golf-world-crises/14755671

Varvel, Gary. “Obama, golf, and world crisis.” Cartoon. Indystar. Gannett, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014
http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/cartoons/2014/08/28/cartoonist-gary-varvel-obama-golf-world-crises/14755671

As you can see, the pastime of golf serves as a bridge between the distant past and present, if not in reality then at least in political cartoons. As Updike used humor and a pastime to voice his concern about political affairs, so do those of us in modern society.
Updike’s love for golf proves to be an unexpectedly relevant part of ECU’s collection of his materials. This is evidenced in Stuart Wright’s personal copy of “Golf Dreams,” complete with a dedication to Wright from the author himself. Tucked away in the pages one finds a number of letters expressing Updike’s delight in playing the game and his companionship with Wright. Several scorecards record the friendship match by match.

Updike, John. Untitled Scorecard. Ludlow Addition to Stuart Wright Collection. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C. 22 May 1987

As you can see, John Updike was not just some far away author creating literature to enjoy from a detached modern viewpoint. He was a man who could revel in a game of golf to the point of solidifying his appreciation of the contest on the scorecard: “what a match!” More cartoons, bridges to the present and past, and glimpses into Updike’s life can be located and requested by using the Special Collections Finding Aid to his papers.

Literary Lampoons: The Cartoonist Ambitions of a Great American Writer

Special note: This blog post was written by Bryant Scott, M.A. ’14, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection.

In a review of Updike, Adam Begley’s new biography of the beloved American writer, Orhan Pamuk writes that, “in a way, what Melville did for whales, Updike did for upper-middle-class life in suburban America: He produced partly allegorical realist novels containing an encyclopedic array of the thousands of facets of human experience, all collected with loving attention to his subject matter.”

What is less known about one of the great writers of his generation is that long before John Updike began semi-autobiographically chronicling the anguish of American middle-class torpidity, he aspired to be, in his words, “the next Walt Disney.” In fact, as a youth he wrote frequently to his cartoonist heroes, stylized his artwork after theirs, and even modeled notable protagonists after aspiring cartoonists.

Newly added to the Stuart Wright Collection in Joyner Library is a modest yet exclusive supply of Updike material. Among the annotated manuscripts, personal notebooks, and correspondence is a wealth of sketches, drawings, political cartoons, various works published in the Harvard Lampoon and local newspapers, and other original art that expose the famous writer’s earliest ambitions—to be a great cartoonist.

The collection ranges from figure drawings to newsprint, spanning roughly the decade in which Updike was emerging as a major American writer.  At Harvard, Updike was in full form on the editorial board of the Harvard Lampoon, where, alongside poems and longer articles, he published cartoons frequently. The image below, from Updike’s own marked-up copy of the Harvard Lampoon, for instance, showcases an early bit of Updike’s sense of social irony.

Updike, John. Harvard Lampoon. Feb. 1954. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Augmenting these Lampoon editions, in the 50s and 60s Updike published frequently in newspapers, as is shown in the following example from the Amesbury Daily News. Here, as is typical of his cartoons, Updike displays political and social acuity at a young age.

Updike, John. Amesbury Daily News. June 21, 1958. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

As seen above, these cartoons also nicely showcase the political environment of the time, often exposing the underlying social fears of a nation in the midst of the Cold War.

Interestingly, the collection houses various doodles and sketches that show the evolution of an Updike cartoon from brief sketches to prints to published cartoons, as is shown through the sequence of Nixon and Kennedy cartoons below. The first image is an undated pencil sketch from Updike’s composition notebooks while at Harvard, the second is an original pen and ink cartoon (one of many in the collection) that Updike submitted to the Amesbury Daily News, and the published cartoon is the third image below.

Updike, John. Personal composition notebook. Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.
Kennedy: “What the American vision needs is a vision of a vision—more homes for our senior citizens. More schools for our junior citizens—I call all citizens to greatness! Hurrah!”
Nixon: “I, for one, thank the dear lord for the strength that enabled me to stand up to Khruschev [sic], and for the wonderful leadership provided by that master among men, Dwight David Now-is-the-Hour! Whee!”

Updike, John. Original Drawing. Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C

 

Updike, John. Amesbury Daily News. August 23, 1960. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

 

Introducting a Series of Guest Blog Posts

During the Fall 2014 semester, we will be hosting a special series of guest blog posts promoting the Stuart Wright Collection at J.Y. Joyner Library. These posts, written by graduate students and faculty in ECU’s Department of English, highlight items of special interest in this unique literary collection, which came to ECU in 2010. Among the treasures held in the collection, you’ll find letters between Eudora Welty and Robert Penn Warren, drawings by Maurice Sendak, and, as the blog’s first post showcases, cartoons created by the young John Updike. We hope the blog sparks your interest in the Stuart Wright Collection. You’re invited to:

*Explore digital images of collection items.

*Browse finding aids for each author in the Stuart Wright Collection.

*Read the story of the Stuart Wright Collection.

*See the exhibit, Stuart Wright: A Life in Collecting.

*Visit the collection’s home in the Special Collections Reading Room on Joyner’s 3rd floor.

*Learn more about using the collection for research and teaching by asking a special collection librarian

Alumni Day 1968

Source:  University Archives Image Collection (UA55-01-9775)

Staff Person:  Arthur Carlson

Description:  This image from the University Archives features the layout of J.Y. Joyner Library on Alumni Day in 1968.  Joyner Library was dedicated on March 8, 1955 as part of that year’s Founder’s Day celebrations.  The growing student body forced campus administrators to add air conditioning and two additional floors in 1964. From 1994-1999, a third major renovation added the rounded tower and Sonic Plaza which make Joyner among the most recognizable buildings on campus.  Its namesake, James Yadkin Joyner, was a career educator and served as state Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1902-1919.  He was instrumental in the modernization of the North Carolina public school system.

St. James Episcopal Church, Kittrell, NC

Source: Augustus Moore Family Papers (ECU Manuscript Collections #1216)

Staff Person: Lynette Lundin

Description:

St. James Episcopal Church was built in a Gothic-Style, the church is located in Kittrell, NC.

A Confederate Hospital was located in Kittrell during the  Civil War and the church saw  to the patients needs and provided Christian burials for the 52 soldiers who died there. PC-1216.13.a.1

WWI Scene of Devastation

Source: Emil Gorling Papers, MC #1200

Staff Person: Nanette Hardison

This image is from a postcard that is part of the Emil Gorling Papers, a collection that has postcards and photographs that show the result of the 1918 German Spring Offensive in Northern France and specifically the Noyon Campaign (April-August 1918). This particular scene is a building in Noyon, France that was damaged in April 1918 during that campaign. Emil Gorling was a German soldier in the 3rd Landwehr Division during World War I and his postcards and photographs of WWI show scenes of devastation and of German soldiers in the field.

Scouting for Food

Source: Boy Scouts of America, East Carolina Council Records, MC #1199

Staff Person: Nanette Hardison

This photo (1990) is from the Boy Scouts of America, East Carolina Council Records; a collection of documents that illustrates the history of the eastern N.C. branch of the Boy Scouts of America.  This picture was taken at a Boy Scout charity event called Scouting for Food; a food drive that the Boy Scouts conduct on a regular basis to collect food donations for the hungry. The picture shows a boy scout with two cub scouts preparing for the Scouting for Food Campaign.

Petticoat Pilots Meeting

Source: Daily Reflector Negative Collection (Manuscript Collection #741)

Staff Person: Martha Elmore

Description:

For decades women faced tremendous hurdles in their desire to become pilots.  In the early years they weren’t allowed to enter into competitions such as the National Air Race because these races were thought to be too dangerous for women.  In 1929 women pilots held their first National Women’s Air Derby.  Humorist Will Rogers, who was the starter for the race, referred to the women pilots as “petticoat pilots and flying flappers” and nicknamed the race the Powder Puff Derby.

This photograph shows a group of women welcoming Petticoat Pilots to the airport at Greenville, North Carolina, in August of 1965.  I don’t know what the occasion was for this group of women pilots gathering, but it is interesting that the nickname for women pilots in 1929 was still being used in 1965.

Information about the Powder Puff Derby came from Karen Bush Gibson’s book titled, Women Aviators:  26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys.

Plan for 7′ 9 Pram

Source: Hagerty Company Collections (EC Manuscript Collection # 1084 Os1)

Staff Person: Ralph Scott

Description: The Douglas Fir Plywood Association founded in 1933 in Tacoma, Washington was one of many trade associations that that were set up following the National Recovery Act. The Association set standards for plywood manufacture and in 1938 became the holder of an industry wide trademark on plywood. Prior to that each manufacturer had their own brand logo. The new DFPA Construction Standard was accepted by the Farm Home Administration for interior and exterior use of FHA approved homes. In addition to developing industry-wide standards the DFPA also promoted consumer use of member plywood. One such promotion is shown here in a plan for a 7′ 9″ pram. Construction techniques for the pram as well as a bill of materials were supplied on this plan dated 1940. During World War II DFPA plywood was used in barracks, life-boats, and gliders. The Hagerty Company of Cohasset, MA constructed PT boats, skiffs, sailboats and dinghies from DFPA plywood.