59. A novel history

Unique edition
2 ½”x 4 1/4”x 12”  drawer
2”x 4” cards
Skowhegan, ME and Andover, MA 2007

Both  “A Novel History” and “The Fettered Lettered” arose from similar experiences – reading. In the most random and varied sources, I kept noticing references to literature that had been written in prison, and happening upon claims of  a book being the first novel – but it was always a different book. The history of the novel, it turns out, is a matter of opinion.

Accordingly, the format of this work reflects a lack of consensus. The owner of this unique work may put the cards in any order, discard entries or add others. While I intended to make my own acid-free faux catalog cards, with holes punched at the bottom, I discovered now-obsolete acid-free blank cards left over  from the Age of Paper in the archivists’ office in the Phillips Academy library, where I was researching Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. Later that day, by the computer allotted me in the staff  office, I spotted stacks of the discarded catalog cards, now relegated to notepaper status. The works of fiction had a curious tiny rubber stamp in the top left corner. I photocopied these anonymous librarian stamps of yore, and did a transfer print of them on the blank cards. The school archivist at the time, Ruth Quattlebaum, also generously lent an old library typewriter to complete the task. Novels at Phillips Academy formerly had no call number – they were listed alphabetically by author. I have typed the current call number for each novel that may be found in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library today.

Some of the authors and works here are relevant to other projects listed in the online archive. Lucian’s ancient novel Menippus, or Descent into Hades, was translated by Sir Thomas More and his friend Erasmus. It was More’s best-selling work in his own lifetime, and was an inspiration for his novel Utopia, along with Plato’s Republic,  The book Erewhon, by Samuel Butler, is intended as “nowhere” written backwards, a satire on Sir Thomas More’s book Utopia which means “nowhere” in Greek. More coined the word utopia, establishing the Renaissance trend in literature of  science fiction-like “utopia novels” which take place in imaginary lands. More is in “Sir Thomas’more” and “The Fettered Lettered”, together with  Tommaso Campanella, who wrote a famous utopia  called City of the Sun. Sir Francis Bacon, of “Bacon’s Bits of Broken Knowledge” wrote a utopia called New Atlantis, which inspired the founding of  the Royal Society of London, an early scientific research institute. Sir John Denham, of  “Sir John Denham Jeans” was named an honorary founder of this famous society, perhaps because he was the chief architect in England at that time, the Surveyor General. John Bunyan, of “Life, Life, Eternal Life” is in both “A Novel History” and “The Fettered Lettered” as he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in prison.

Faux card catalog drawer made of acid-free cardboard and book cloth rubbed with brown wax over wood-grain. It is fitted with a brass knob and  label. The text is typed and transfer printed onto acid-free library catalog cards, which may be arranged in any order. Recycled acid-free library catalog cards released from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library may be used to add in other candidates for the history of the novel.

Dedicated to Emilia Novella Figliomeni

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