The Ulysses Glove Project – The Rosenbach Museum – Sun 25 Aug 2013
The school year has started again. I have four classes, one of which is online and accelerated. It’s been rather difficult getting back into the swing of constantly having homework, especially since my sister is student teaching and is therefore on a different schedule. How will I ever get good grades if I can’t have homework dates?! Maybe I’ll have to start going to the book shop on my own. There are worse things in life.
Speaking of the book shop, Philly is lucky enough to have The Rosenbach Museum and Library, which houses, among other things, James Joyce’s original manuscript of Ulysses. Every Friday and Sunday they have themed “Hands On” tours, which are five dollars in addition to the price of admission. This Sunday the theme was “love letters.” My friend and I both attended for the first time. I had spent the previous day helping carry boxes up into his new second storey walk-up in South Philly. I’m awfully glad to have more friends in the area, especially ones who are willing to go on museum tours. (Though he did not enjoy the house tour like I did. I wonder if they decorate it for Christmas?)
We were allowed to see and handle (in protective casing, of course) John Keats’ original letters to Fanny Brawne. I think the most interesting thing about those letters is how starkly they contrast to his poetry. They have a larger sense of desperation, for one, and more jealousy and accusation. All in all, they read like letters from a poet who has, in his mind, idealized his love in a way she can’t possibly live up to, but loves her in spite of that. Which is true enough.
William Henry Ireland, England’s Best Worst Forger.
We also saw some of William Henry Ireland’s forgeries, and I attempted to read them aloud, despite the lack of punctuation and the phonetic spelling. They had been collected into a scrapbook by someone before they arrived at the museum. Apparently, Ireland was clever enough to get a hold of the same paper (in age and material) that would have been used, and to mix an authentic ink, but couldn’t be bothered to do any historical research. Is it just me, or does he look a bit like David Tennant?
The only fictional letter we read was from Ulysses, between Martha Clifford and “Henry Flower.” I am sad to say this is the only portion of Ulysses I have ever read, though I do quite like the Odyssey and therefore think it would be worth attempting just for that. I do think, however, that I have some bragging rights: my first real exposure was read aloud from Joyce’s own handwriting. I think I had better read it, because one of the many amazing things I have never done in my own city is Bloomsday. Every year, the Rosenbach museum closes off Delancey Place and has a street festival, with food and music, and they set up a mic and podium and read aloud the especially dirty and most censored parts of the novel.
(For the non-Philadelphians, a bit of trivia: Delancey Place is a very recognizable historic street in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. The museum itself is only two houses away from the house they used to film The Sixth Sense. I want to live there desperately.)
This brings me to the photo at the top of the page. Up until very recently, there was an art installation in one of the rooms on the second floor of the museum, called The Ulysses Glove Project. The artist hand wrote all of Ulysses in felt tip pen on yellow dish gloves, part as a tribute to her father, who loved it, and part as a commentary on censorship. (Evidently the whole thing, at least. It was implied in the description, and the blog certainly seems to indicate the same! I’m still surprised she managed to fit it all.) I took that picture while lying on the floor underneath it. They were hung from the ceiling by string, in a great spiral. If you looked closely at the gloves, they were all dated, and the thumb indicated how many mistakes were made in the transcription. It was unaccountably lovely, considering it was made entirely of rubber dish gloves.
On the tour, we also saw telegraph exchanges sent between Mercedes de Acosta and Greta Garbo, and de Acosta and Marlene Dietrich. We would have seen some civil war letters, but we had already gone over our allotted time before the docent had even gotten them out.
If you come to Philly, I highly recommend you go. There are several really interesting ones that I am very much looking forward to, not least among them Lewis Carrol, Bram Stoker, and the one about magic in history and literature. (There are spellbooks!) If I get to go. That weekend was rather a “last hurrah” for me, at least until later in the semester, when I have developed better time management skills!
One final note before I end this monster of a post: do any of you know of any literary journals that don’t look for things in that “literary journal” style? They all seem to want the same writing voice, and it’s not one I enjoy writing. I like my writing to disappear into itself. I feel like calling attention to the words themselves ruins the story. A lot of them… don’t seem to want that? I would love to earn a publication credit, but I’d learn a bit more from being rejected if they were accepting things more similar to what I actually want to write.