Beinecke Top Tens: Great American Novels in Context

November 17, 2016

By Nancy Kuhl

Great American Novels in Context
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925)
This first edition copy of Fitzgerald’s iconic third novel was presented to Gertrude Stein the year of its original publication in 1925. It features at inscription from F.S.K Fitzgerald (Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) and original dust wrappers removed from Carl Van Vechten’s copy of the book. In addition, the Sara and Gerald Murphy Papers at the Beinecke include the couples’ correspondence with many famous artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Cole Porter, and Pablo Picasso. Although not directly related to The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald did famously base Dick and Nicole Diver, the main characters in his 1934 novel Tender is the Night, off of his friends Gerald and Sara Murphy.
Murphy Correspondence Call Number: YCAL MSS 468 Box 3 (Folder 55)
Gerald and Sara Murphy Papers Guide:
Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940)  
This first edition copy of Wright’s fourth novel features an introduction by the author titled “How ‘Bigger’ Was Born.” After moving to New York City from his home in Mississippi, Wright published Uncle Tom’s Children, a collection of stories, in 1938. After winning a Guggenheim fellowship, Wright dedicated himself to writing Native Son, which, after its publication, made Wright the most well-known black author in America. In 1941, Orson Welles staged a Broadway production of Native Son that Wright adapted with Paul Green. The Beinecke houses the Richard Wright Papers, which consist of manuscripts, letters, photographs, printed materials, legal and financial objects from the author’s life. The earliest traces of documents that relate to Native Son, Wright’s best-known work, is a work plan that Wright submitted to the Guggenheim Foundation. The Richard Wright Papers also house many manuscript versions, galley proofs, illustrations for, and reviews of Native Son. There are also drafts of the script for the dramatic adaption of the novel (and playbills and clippings), and additionally, the script, movie posters, and photos of costume design of the film adaptation of Native Son directed by Jerrold Freeman in 1986.
Novel Call Number: JWJ Zan W936 940Hb
Native Son Manuscript in Richard Wright Papers: JWJ MSS 3 Box 82
Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905)
This first edition copy of Wharton’s critically and commercially acclaimed fourth novel features illustrations by A.B. Wenzell. The Beinecke also houses the Edith Wharton Collection, a collection of an estimated 50,000 times, including manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and personal papers from the author’s life. The complete manuscript (both holograph and typescript versions) of The House of Mirth resides in the Writings Series of the collection, a 1905 letter from Reverend Morgan Dix discusses the novel from a religious viewpoint, a 1907 letter from Wharton to dramatist Clyde Finch discusses a French translation of The House of Mirth. In addition, the collection houses Wharton’s correspondence with writer Henry James and publisher Charles Scribner of Scribner & Sons, who published Wharton’s works. Wharton herself cared deeply about the aesthetics of lifestyle and of the home, most famously, the estate “The Mount,” in Lenox, Massachusetts where she and her husband (whom she eventually divorced) moved to in 1902. In 1907, she would move permanently to France and entertained in her lavish and famous gardens. In the General Correspondence Series of the collection, there are letters regarding the upkeep and design of her gardens in France.
Novel Call Number: Za W555 905hc
Manuscript Call Number: YCAL MSS 42 Box 8
Garden Correspondence Call Number: YCAL MSS 42 Boxes 40-49
Edith Wharton Collection Guide:
Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Hurston gave this first edition copy of her second novel to Carl Van Vechten, (whose papers are held at the Beinecke) who was the patron of Gertrude Stein and also various African American artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Langston Hughes. In addition to the first edition copy, there is a holograph manuscript (written in Hurston’s own hand) of the first draft of Their Eyes Were Watching God, located in in the “Writings Series” of the Zora Neale Hurston Collection.
Hurston majored in Anthropology at Barnard College in New York City, which gave her the skillset and the motivation to return to her childhood home of Eatonville, Florida in order to study its people, their vernacular, and their ways of life. Janie moves to Eatonville with her second husband, and a large portion of the novel is set in this up and coming town, specifically on the intimate porches of its inhabitants. In the Zora Neale Hurston Collection, there is a typescript photocopy of Robert Hemenway’s essay “Zora Neale Hurston and the Etonville Anthropology”.
Novel Call Number: JWJ Zan H946 937t
Manuscript Call Number: JWJ MSS 9, Box 2 (Folders 27-29)
Hemenway Essay Call Number: JWJ MSS 9, Box 2 (Folder 30)
Zora Neale Hurston Collection Guide:
Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926)
The Beinecke has a first edition copy of Hemingway’s second and celebrated novel, The Sun Also Rises. In addition, the library also stores the Ernest Hemingway Collection, which consists of letters, manuscripts, photographs, and artwork that involve Hemingway. Although there is nothing in the collection that directly relates to The Sun Also Rises, there is a letter from Hemingway to Ezra Pound in the Ezra Pound Papers that briefly discusses his experience writing the novel.
On July 22nd, 1933, Hemingway wrote: “I wrote the Sun Also Rises in six weeks (one of its principal defects) starting it on my birthday July 21 in Madrid and finishing it Spt. 6 in Paris. without sight or sound of Miss S. nor for a long time after.” The letter reads like a parody of Hemingway: extremely brash and arrogant, yet self-aware, self-deprecating, and sarcastic. In his distinct voice, Hemingway even offers an ode to the importance of archiving oneself when he writes, “Well gents it will be a big day when [I] write my own bloddy [sic] memoirs because papa isn’t jealous of anyone (yet) and have a damned rat trap memory and nothing to prove. Later on in the letter, he writes in French, “Il faut toujours garder les paperasses,” which translates roughly to “save the papers.”
Novel Call Number: Za H373 926s
Ernest Hemingway Collection Guide:
Pound Letter Call Number: YCAL MSS 53 Box 8 (Folder 138)
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851)
Having seen success with his previous three seafaring novels, Typee, Omoo, Redburn, Mardi, and White-jacket, Melville sought to write a more philosophically sophisticated and ambitious novel with Moby Dick; unfortunately, the novel only sold $556 worth of copies and went out of print in 1886. Copy 2 of the first edition of Herman Melville’s sixth novel has Carl Van Vechten’s bookplates and is especially treasured due to the fact that the canonical Moby Dick we associate today was a major literary failure when it was originally published in 1851. Van Vechten was actually one of the first people to rediscover Moby Dick in 1920. Melville was a close correspondent of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom he truly admired for his success and with whom he shared an interest in dark subject matter and critiques of American society. In the Nathaniel Hawthorne Collection at the Beinecke, there is a letter from Melville to Hawthorne supposedly dated 1852, the year after Moby Dick’s publication.
Novel Call Number: Za M497 851b Copy 2
Letter Call Number: YCAL MSS 204 Box 2 (Folder 47)
Nathaniel Hawthorne Collection Guide:
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
The first edition copy of Twain’s novel is titled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade), assumedly because the public already had an association and affinity for Tom Sawyer after Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in 1876. In addition to this copy, which includes advertisements for the publishing company, the Beinecke holds the Samuel Langhorne Clemens Collection (Mark Twain’s legal name). The Collection stores Clemens’ correspondence, contracts, scrapbooks, and drafts of his writing that document his creative process. In the Correspondence Series of the collection is the Clemens’ own copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from 1885. The Writings Series houses multiple manuscripts of stories that feature Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and in the Artwork and Objects Series, there is an original illustration from Tom Sawyer Abroad that depicts Tom and Huck.
Novel Call Number: Za C591 884h
His Copy Call Number: YCAL MSS 852 Box 1
Samuel Langhorne Clemens Collection Guide:
Ralph Ellisons’ Invisible Man (1952)
Ellison inscribed this first edition copy of his novel to the Beinecke’s James Weldon Johnson Collection. In the Langston Hughes Collection at the Beinecke, there is a copy of Ellison’s piece titled “Richard Wright’s Blues,” which reviews Wright’s novel Black Boy from the literary magazine The Antioch Review from the Summer of 1945. This was Langston Hughes’ copy of the piece, and written on the cover page Hughes wrote, “This young man is our best critic – Langston.” It is quite moving to see this small comment written on one of Ellison’s reviews by Hughes, who took it upon himself to archive the importance of Ellison’s voice. Ellison’s review and Hughes’ comment on it were written before the publication of Invisible Man, revealing Hughes’ instinct that Ellison – “this young man” – was already prolific.
Novel Call Number: JWJ Zan EL59 952ig
Essay Call Number: JWJ Zan EL59 945r
Langston Hughes Collection Guide:
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850)
This first edition copy of The Scarlet Letter, published the year before Hawthorne’s friend and correspondent Melville published his Moby Dick, was originally published with the subtitle, The Scarlet Letter: a romance. In addition to storing his letters to and from Herman Melville, the Nathaniel Hawthorne Collection has Hawthorne’s own writings, manuscripts, and correspondences with his children and other figures such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Sumner. The collection also stores Hawthorne’s miscellaneous personal papers, including checks signed by Hawthorne, rent agreements, photographs of the author, and a commission for an armed ship with President John Adams’ signature.
Novel Call Number: Za H318 850
Nathaniel Hawthorne Collection Guide:
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930)
This first edition copy of Faulkner’s fifth novel is in its original dust jacket and can be paired with the Beinecke’s William Faulkner Collection, which houses a short correspondence between Faulkner and American writer Malcolm Cowley, in addition to Faulkner’s drafts of his writings, both in his own hand and in typescript.
Novel Call Number: Za F273 930
William Faulkner Collection Guide:
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
There is a wealth of editions and objects of and relating to Stowe’s iconic and complicated novel. The first edition Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in two volumes, and included an alternate title Unle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life among the lowly. On one of the first editions of the book in the Beinecke, the advertising matter reads, “The great book! Uncle Tom’s cabin. A sale unprecedented in the history of book-selling in America. On the 20th of March the first sale was made of this unparalleled book and already 300,000 volumes have been sold!” This edition is also available in the Beinecke Digital Collection.
Along with the various, illustrated copies of the novel, the Beinecke also stores a large amount of paraphernalia that was created around the novel, including miniature porcelain figures of the characters Topsy and Eva, a plate with a illustrated scene captioned “Uncle Tom at Home,” and a porcelain jar decorated with two scenes from the novel.
Novel Call Number: Za St78 +852Bd
Complied by Raffi Donatich, Y’19

Beinecke Top Tens gather (approximately) ten related items to give an at-a-glance look at some of the Library’s interesting, important, strange, compelling, beautiful holdings. To see more lists, click here: Beinecke Top Tens. To suggest a list subject, contact us: Top Ten Ideas.