Friday, November 30, 2012

Positive Spur: Henry James, Theodora Bosanquet, and a Remington Typewriter

Having seen its heyday, the torch of the typewriter is only carried by a few true believers. We see these Promethians lighting pockets of darkness all over the world. The impetus is drawn from a vast mythology of typewriters; Mark Twain with his love/hate relationship to the Sholes & Glidden, Ernest Hemingway standing at a bookshelf in Cuba, Cormac McCarthy's $50 beat-up Lettera from a pawn shop in Texas. Stories are ambrosia that feed our love of these wonderful iron companions, but there is one great story of a man and a woman and a typewriter that shows how a simple machine intended to complete a task can become integral to a life.

Henry James by John Singer Sargent
Henry James is known for his meandering prose. Jamesian sentences can stretch on for lines. It's his style, and he is a master. What Hemingway did for the terse, short sentence, James did for long, complex syntax. I thought this was a by-product of writing during the Gilded Age, but James was a realist author. He wasn't a victim of Romanticism. Wharton, a compatriot and Gilded Age insider, wrote in a far less complicated way. Reading the criticism you hear mention of his "dictations" and that being an excuse for the prose.

James didn't write many of his books by hand. Early in his career he did put pen to paper, but his handwriting was so poor that it made sense to find some way to alleviate the problem. In a letter to Frances R. Morse dated June 7, 1897 James tells Morse that he took up "the click of the typewriter to which I dictate, and which, some months ago crept into my existence through the crevice of a lame hand and now occupies in it a place too big to be left vacant..."

When James writes about the typewriter he does not describe it as a tool that can be forgotten. James describes it as occupying "a place too big [in his life] to be left vacant." This tool has become far more important than a means of keeping his handwriting in check. It was a tool of composition.

However, James never operated his own typewriter, or at least that is the impression given by the papers he left behind. In 1897 Henry James hired William MacAlpine to serve as his amanuensis; a secretary. James replaced MacAlpine, perhaps due to his completely stoic reaction while James was dictating The Turn of the Screw. Whatever the true reason might be, MacAlpine was replaced by Mary Weld a young woman from one of the many secretarial schools that were popping up in The Strand (James was living in London at the time). In the great pauses that James took while dictating his prose, Weld would take out her crocheting. This, no doubt, aided in making it easy to replace Weld with someone more attuned to James' thought process: Theodora Bosanquet, the woman who would be his amanuensis until his death.
Theodora Bosanquet

James described Bosanquet as "boyish" and very much the perfect secretary for his need. Her literary sensitivities were more advanced, and she was able to translate James for the typewriter. Bosanquet read many of James’ early pieces previously and was, indeed, a fan.

Bosanquet described her first experience with the typewriter in a personal journal entry from late 1907:

“[Thursday]. 10 October, Rye…I went to Mr. James’ house and he introduced me to his typewriter—which I inspected for an hour or so—a brand new Remington and very complicated—or so it seemed to me.”

Here we get the only factual piece of information about one of Henry James' typewriters for we must conclude that he had an earlier Remington in 1897 when MacAlpine was working for him. The Remington, most likely in his study at Lamb House, would have been a No. 7. Bosanquet described it as being "brand new" and very complicated.

Remington No. 7
Alan Seaver Collection
The Remington No. 7 above certainly fits the bill. The maze of features, four-bank keyboard, and modern feature-set must have seemed very formidable when new and shiny. Alan Sever’s No. 7 looks the part of a complicated modern typewriter. A preponderance of levers and knobs make early Remingtons look positively byzantine. I have always enjoyed the fact that the key levers-- to which the keytops are attached-- are not metal, but wood. Yes, lumber. It's the Morgan of typewriters.

Remington No. 6
Alan Seaver Collection

However, a No. 7 was probably not the first typewriter that James had. We know that MacAlpine used one and that means that it was lost likely a No. 6. The No. 6 was available in 1897 and a fairly usable machine. While still a blind-writer the escapement, carriage, and ribbon advance mechanisms had all been improved.

The Remington No. 6, as period advertising described, was "A Development, Not An Experiment."

While pinning down the typewriter that James relied on is interesting, the most amazing thing is how the typewriter became more than a way to make a quick letter impression on paper. The typewriter became the trigger for a response in the mind of Henry James. His Remington made him create.

In an excerpt from Bosanquet's memoir, At Work with Henry James we can see how the noise the typewriter made, in effect, became the trigger for creating.

Indeed at the time I began to work for him, he had reached a stage at which the click of a Remington machine acted as a positive spur. He found it more difficult to compose to the music of any other make. During the fortnight when the Remington was out of order he dictated to an Oliver typewriter with evident discomfort, and he found it almost impossibly disconcerting to speak to something that made no responsive sound at all.

The typewriter was part of his creative process and Bosanquet recalls “…he liked to have a typewriter moved into his bedroom for even the shortest letters.” The typewriter became the locus around which his prose was crafted. However, there was Bosanquet, also a typewriter.

Her role is far less understood. Pamela Thirschwell, in her fascinating article "Henry James and Theodora Bosanquet: on the typewriter, In the Cage, at the Ouija board", talks about the unusual working roles of the elderly bachelor novelist and a young woman. As his amanuensis and typewriter Bosanquet was privy to many intimate moments of James' creation. The manner James created was unique to him. First he would think about the characters and the situations. He would do this silently, pacing the room. Bosanquet would be installed at the typewriter waiting for him to start speaking. At a moment’s notice he would start speaking; spending no time indicating punctuation. Often he would have asides and it was Bosanquet's job to decide what James intended to include in his dictated narrative. James told her that “I know, that I’m too diffuse when I am dictating.”

In a sense the typewriter, the machine and the typewriter (women who operated typewriters were called typewriters themselves) were entwined in the creative process. Each was inextricably linked to the other and where James, the typewriter, and Bosanquet melded was on the page. In fact, even Bosanquet became more and more reliant on the typewriter herself. The sound became synonymous with the thinking mind of James which Bosanquet desired nothing more than to completely understand.

…but what I really want most is just to get back to the dear old Remington tick. I hope to arrive with the ticker itself &c on Monday about one; and I will bring a new ribbon...

It was this way up until Henry James died. The typewriter allowed him the freedom of words to write in a way that was immensely unique. James' prose is unlike any others and a James sentence is always identifiable. Even when on his deathbed, Henry James called for his trusty old Remington and his special amanuensis to ease the pain of dying.

1. Fanny was a long-time correspondent to Alice James, Henry and William James' sister Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute. Fanny's father, Samuel T. Morse was a shipping merchant in Boston.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wall Post

When we moved to our new home about a year ago, Mrs. Magic Margin was very generous in allowing me space to display my personal typewriter collection. Everything about the "typewriter room" has been a work in progress. The biggest problem for any collector is storage space. To display a typewriter is a large investment in shelf real-estate. 

I've mentioned my love of the Expedit shelf from the mega furniture retailer, IKEA. Each cube is 12" square so any typewriter you display needs to be smaller than that. I have been able to display a large collection using this storage system, but there are machines that I don't use (because they need to be repaired or restored. I don't want to get rid of them, but I would like to have them out and appreciated. So, this was the solution:

I know that there are some in the Typosphere that might be a little hesitant to hang some typewriters on the wall, but I like it. 

Each machine is custom-hung and the mount is attached to a stud. They are very secure. I don't know about the long-term effect that hanging would have on the mechanisms, but I imagine that it wouldn't be too different from storing them upright in their cases for an extended period of time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

19 Typewriters

Through my many (three) years of scientific (barely) study of youths and typewriters I have arrived at an optimum number of typewriters for use in an opt-in classroom. 19. Also, the shelves I have hold 19 nicely with room for journal forms. The number is arrived at by a combination of prudence and actual use. So, here are the 19.

With bad photography and all, here are the 19:

Royal QDL, 1950s (Richard Polt donor); Royal QDL, 1950s (Erick Lawson donor)

Royal QDL, 1950s (Erick Lawson donor); Royal QDL, 1950s (Erick Lawson donor)

Royal QDL, 1950s (Erick Lawson donor); Royal Custom III, 1970s (Bill M. donor)

Royal Safari, 1950s (CTP donor); Royal Mercury, 1970s (Erick Lawson donor)

Remington Performer, 1970s (Jen Aschmann donor)

Royal QDL, 1940s (CTP donor); Remington Quiet-Riter, 1950s (Erick Lawson donor)

Olympia B12, 1970s (Richard Polt donor); Olympia B12, 1970s (Bill M. donor)

Olympia SM9, 1960s (Ted Munk donor); Olympia SM3, 1959 (CTP donor)

Tower Presidental, 1950s (Ton Sisson donor); Hermes 3000, 1950s (Kathy Maguire donor)

Brother Eschelon 90, 1970s (Peter Baker donor); Webster XL-500, 1970s(Erick Lawson donor)

What about all the other typewriters? Well, I keep them in-reserve should anything happen to the ones I have out in rotation. With as much use as these typewriters get, I have been able to come to some conclusions about certain brands and their ruggedness. 

As you can see, there are few Smith-Corona typewriters. They seem to just wilt under pressure. The typebar linkages are openable so those typewriters tend to fail in that one area. All the Smith-Corona Galaxie-like machines currently have a problem with their linkages as a result of this tendency and await repair.

Brother typewriters are remarkably durable and able to withstand heavy use. They are easy to repair and have both precision manufacturing and the ability to be "formed" when needed.

1950s Royals are plentiful and cheap. When they are in good shape, they type well. When they are junkers, boy are they pitiful typers. All of the escapements on the CTP Royals are good. There tends to be little skipping when the typist has a good rhythm, but any time the typeist is out-of-sych with the machine, chaos ensues.

Things are going well with the CTP. We are treading the typing waters here. No revelations or grand schemes are in the works. There have been rumblings about a 4th Phoenix Type-In. We'll see if something cool happens with that.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Labor of a Mind

I asked a few of the typing regulars to respond to a question about typewriters. "Do you think that using old technology (like a typewriter) could help young people be more aware of the world?"

As soon as I asked the question, I thought of a thousand ways to better phrase what I was asking, but Vanessa (all of 17 years old) decided to go with her first instinct. 

The thing that makes me furious is that I didn't come up with "...hearing the labor of your mind and fingers ring out in the air..."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Very Nearly Perfekt

Sunday I had the opportunity to visit a few antique stores while Toddler Magic Margin was taking a nap. I usually don't find much and what I do find is rather expensive or junky. Such was the case Sunday when I saw the regular assembly of Underwoods, Smith-Coronae, and Royals. Everything was really beat-up and invariable in the $70 price-range. 

This antique store is more of a mall (why they would purposely call an antique store a mall is beyond me) where individuals can rent stalls. Most of what you find in just junk; junk with a patina. In Ohio or Pennsylvaia it would only be worthy of dusty junk shops, but here they are antiques worthy of the Hermitage. 

I was browsing through getting ready to leave when I thought to go into one of these little stalls. There wasn't much, but my eye did catch a little fawn colored typewriter poking out from a shelf. 

It was this Triumph Perfekt 

and it was 

The price was high, but in the years I have been hunting down machines I have yet to see an early 60s Triumph for sale. I consoled myself with the knowledge that shipping plus sale price on Shopgoodwill, eBay, or Etsy would be much more than the asking price of…$58. 

I know, but given that typewriters of this style are as rare in Valley shops as a rainy day in Phoenix, it was prudent to just bite the bullet. 

That bullet nearly prevented me from buying this typewriter all because of a small, non-mechanical, cosmetic blemish. 

No H. I found no trace of it in the case. I also checked inside the typewriter. Nothing. It was nowhere to be seen. I will, however, not be daunted by something so trivial. I went to ACE and bought myself a piece of aluminum sheet and I will attempt to craft my own H. I'll keep you posted on this project. Any comments with ideas on fabrication of the missing 'H' would be very much appreciated. 

Back to the typer. The Perfekt-Norm line was recycled many times into what would become my nemesis; the Adler J5.

My dislike of my J5 is well documented and based solely on a dodgy ribbon advance and auto-reverse mechanism. 

This Perfekt is the exact opposite of my old J5. The all-aluminum body of the Perfekt gives this little machine a very tight feel. When I use it I am reminded of a spring wound very tightly. This manifests itself in some very responsive action. The touch is quick and the key tops are very well balanced. It's fun to type on because of the taught feel. 

The experience of using this typewriter was worth the price and it has shifted my opinion of its progeny.

If you are interested in reading about the Triumph line of typewriters, Robert at ozTypewriter has the best information. Check it out for more.

Next post: I have some interesting facts to share about the CTP and one of our young novelists.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sneak Peak and an Odd Translation

I have much more about this typewriter, but in the meantime please enjoy the fractured translation. To get the full effect, click on the cover and be taken to a PDF.

Click on the image to be taken away to a PDF. 4 Mbytes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Typogram 2

October 5th? I cannot believe that more than a month has past since this Typogram 2 was written. I am a terribly negligent Tyopgrammer. To my eternal shame Dwayne sent me several letters and I have yet to respond. Anyway, please enjoy...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Handy Little Thing

The carriage for my HH was feeling a little sluggish so I called Bill at MTE to see if he could help me do some on-the-fly diagnosis. The problem is that the carriage grabs and feels heavy in the same place. Letters pile up and some spacing between letters can be dodgy.

I was able to walk through a few diagnistic things when Bill said, "You can take the tension by removing the drawband."

That was a good idea, but I only had two hands to do this and there is a good chance I would have lost control of the the drawband causing damage to my fingers and havoc to my typewriter.

Royal's engineers thought of that and provided a handy screw for temorarily affixing the drawband to the body.

I could see that this feature might also be helpful if you were trying to fit a new drawband.

My KMG, FP, and HH all have this little knobly screw. I would have to check the other Royal desktops when I get home, but this was new to me and I could see it being a handy little thing.