This Tuesday deadkytty9 and I ventured, finally, to the Harry Ransom Center for their tour. That's right; I have been here for two years and have not yet really explored the HRC (though I did go to one of the reading rooms with my Romantic Lit class, where I got to breathe on Cassandra Austen's personal copy of Emma). The truth is I have been intimidated. It's a huge collection, and trying to figure out where to start and how to proceed gives me the fantods. Ridiculous, really; I'm going to pass up one of the best reasons to come to UT Austin just because I've got the Stendahl shakes?
So, let me tell you what we saw just in the lobby and the gallery (disregarding the milliions of manuscripts and artifacts within the bowels of the collection): a Gutenberg Bible (illuminated with what looked to my undiscerning eye with blue Bic pen); the first photograph; an exhibition of Fritz Henle's photography; a hundred plus beautifully bound and beautifully illustrated copies of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat (which became a Victorian sensation upon its translation in 1859 by one Edward FitzGerald, and as you can imagine is treated with all the cultural sensitivity one can expect from that particular time period); and one of my favorite Frida Kahlo portraits, "Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird."
Evidence that we do more at UT than paint ourselves orange and pound the snot out of Sooners. Though we do that too.
It's odd to know how much stuff we have, and while I'm glad a lot of this material is in the hands of trained archivists in one of the most climate-controlled environments in the state of Texas, I do wonder if there are places and people that have firmer claims to these treasures. Still, collecting all these physical artifacts in one place makes good sense from a research perspective. The collection is fully open to memebers of the public, as well, which I find beautiful. You too, dear reader, can waltz into the building and read Tennessee Williams' first draft of A Streetcar Named Desire (spoiler alert: Blanche and Stanley run away together in this version. No joke.). You can walk into Earl Stanley Gardner's living room. You can read Carson McCullers' letters, Edith Wharton's letters, Henry James' letters, Paul Bowles' letters, and so on.
Also if I ever have any degree of success as a writer the HRC is my retirement plan. Selectively, of course. The eight-grade Newsies fan-fiction and the blues song I composed for a grade-school project on Roald Dahl's BFG might not make the cut.