Thursday, June 19, 2008

"A Wonderful Adventure"

I just finished reading The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. The novel is set in the United States and Europe in the early 1900's, and traces the lives of Americans as they faced the First World War, the market crash of 1929, and the aftermath of those events. One of its central characters, Larry Darrell, is a young man who at the beginning of the book has just returned from the war and is clearly scarred by his experiences. His childhood sweetheart wants to marry and his and her family and friends want him to either go to college or go into business, but he refuses, deciding instead to "loaf," which translates into traveling around the world, working odd jobs, meeting some sages and scholars, and reading lots of books--clearly Larry made the right decision here. But before he takes off to Paris, his girlfriend tries to convince him to stay by saying to him,

"Henry Maturin was saying only the other day that we were beginning an era that would make the achievements of the past look like two bits. He said he could see no limit to our progress and he's convinced that by 1930 we shall be the richest and greatest country in the world . . . There's never been such a chance for a young man. I should have thought you'd be proud to take part in the work that lies before us. It's such a wonderful adventure."

Larry replies with a laugh, which is exactly how I felt when I read that. I like the idea of young 1920s men looking at their future in business as "a wonderful adventure."

Katie and I are definitely seeing traces of that optimism and excitement in the correspondence and publications we've come across so far. What I am especially keen on finding though is documentation of the 1929 market crash. So far, the only indication of it is a skip in the meeting minutes of the Executive Committee of the Merchants Association of New York from September 1929 to January 1930. I'm not sure what I'm hoping to find--tear stained business letters, emergency meeting memos, frantic telegrams--who knows. We haven't really gotten to 1929 correspondence or records yet anyway, but I hope we find it soon. Meanwhile, Katie is diligently working away at processing the Chairman's and Secretary's correspondence from the early part of that decade. Apparently, neither of these men placed much importance on keeping an organized and tidy filing system--I guess neither of them anticipated that their records were going to be processed and archived 90 years later. Who ever does, though? So, we forgive you Charles Bernheimer and Charles Gwynne. I'm sure that at the time, keeping six copies of every day correspondence seemed like a good idea.



Jen Rutner said...

Regarding duplicate items in archival collections: I once helped process an author's papers. He had photocopied his published books, and bind the photocopies together, and save those. In triplicate. Amazing.

NYCC Project Archivist said...

Why would anyone do that?!! I can understand making multiple copies of an original manuscript, but if it has already been published . . . weeding out multiple copies from a collection is particularly satisfying though!