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Engaging the Text: Literary Marginalia in the Berg Collection

 an autobiography., Digital ID 492709, New York Public LibraryAs Edmund Blunden's biographer tells it, the poets Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon sat down together on the night of November 7, 1929 to annotate a book. That book was Robert Graves’ memoir Goodbye to All That, and their notes were anything but laudatory.

Graves had published Goodbye to All That, an account of his early years and service in the first world war, to critical acclaim earlier that year.  Blunden and Sassoon, WWI veterans themselves who knew Graves and had written about the war in their own poetry and prose, weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. The war that Graves described was not the war they knew. In fact, they disagreed so completely with Graves’ account of events that both felt an irrepressible urge to correct the record. And so, pen in hand, they did.

When they finished, there were 300 annotations in all in Blunden’s copy of the book.  Initially the pair had intended to give their copy to the British Library, to memorialize their own fixed record of events. But the book was never acquired by the BL.  Instead, it lives in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, here at the New York Public Library. In many instances, the two friends can’t resist taking the Graves down a notch, with hilarious results. Blunden and Sassoon mock what they perceive as self-congratulatory and dishonest in Graves’ prose, and along the way, spar with Graves as if he’s in the room with them.

To hear about more exceptional annotated copies of books in the Berg Collection, join me on Monday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. for "Engaging the Text: Literary Marginalia in the Berg Collection."  Details can be found here.


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It makes me wonder...

Hmmm I wonder about the future of marganalia with regards to Kindles, iBooks and NOOKs. I have seen books marked up pretty good, some with notes to be used for studying and others like you described, actual responses to what is being read. I have also seen books with drawings made right over the text in response to the overall theme of the book. I wonder if there is room for this type activity to exist in the future.

An annotated edition is needed...

I think that a special edition of the work - with the margin notes included at the relevant places, or in an electronic format with the pages scanned to appear exactly as they do in your volume - is very much needed. In this, the beginning of the Centenary of the Great War, it would be a good thing to have... to see from people who were there what it was like, how they experienced it, and how they argued over their stories being told.

Agreed: we need an annotated version

I'm reading it for the first time and historical notes along with this critical marginalia would be greatly appreciated

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