Genres such as fantasy, science fiction, myth, or utopian fiction offered writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman a place for thought-experiments of more equitable societies (or at least different ones). For several other women writers, particularly those who lived later in history such as Doris Lessing and James Tiptree Jr. (the pen name of Alice B. Sheldon), imagining other worlds offered conceptual freedom to explore alternative forms in fiction, but also human life and relationships.
Philosophical letters: or, Modest reflections upon some opinions in natural philosophy, maintained by several famous and learned authors of this age, expressed by way of letters: by the thrice noble, illustrious, and excellent princess, the Lady Marchioness of Newcastle, by Margaret Cavendish. London, Printed in the Year 1664.
Aj N431 +664p
In 1666, Margaret Cavendish penned an early utopian fiction called A Description of a New World Called the Blazing World, in which a superhuman woman rises to absolute power as a matter of course. The fiction illustrated then-current growths in natural and experimental philosophy at the time for women, as Cavendish noted in its introduction ("Dedication" in The Blazing World, 1668):
by reason most Ladies take no delight in Philosophical Arguments, I separated some from the mentioned Observations, and caused them to go out by themselves, that I might express my Respects, in presenting to Them such Fancies as my Contemplations did afford.
Many of the arguments and observations underpinning The Blazing World can be studied in the Ransom Center's copy of Philosophical Letters.
[The Last Day], by Joseph Prescott. Inscribed on the verso: "March 4th 1803, 14 B 113 pa, Book 15 page 6." Watercolor on white paper laid on gauze with edges bound, 55.7 x 42.4 cm.
Uncatalogued. 80.39.5 Joanna Southcott Collection of Watercolors by Joseph Prescott
Joseph Prescott's depiction of the Last Day of Judgment was germane to followers of prophetess Joanna Southcott, who around 1792 announced herself as the Woman of the Apocalypse spoken of in Revelation 12:1-6 (KJV), who would give birth to the new Messiah. Prescott was a follower of Southcott who illustrated both her visions and his own, without professing any skill or training in drawing or painting.
Sara Coleridge, Map of Phantasmion, handdrawn manuscript, 1 page, undated.
Box 1.5 Sara Coleridge Collection
Sara Coleridge, Phantasmion (London: William Pickering, 1837). Copy presented to Hartley Coleridge by the author, with armorial bookplate of Derwent Coleridge; ms. index to lyrics at end; ms markings. From the Coleridge Library.
PR 4489 C2 P48
Hastily-drafted map of the imaginary land in which editor, translator, and writer Sara Coleridge set her fairy tale Phantasmion. While the spatial relationships between Fairyland's six countries echo that of England's Lake District—location of the Coleridge family seat Greta Hall—the characteristics of each area seem part of an imaginative game that Coleridge played with her son Herbert. The 'towering palm-trees' of Palmland and the wild tigers of Tigridia echo Herbert's fascination with the exciting landscapes denoted on maps of India, Sumatra, and similar.
Illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and Other Poems. Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Henry S. King., 1875.
F PR 5577 C264 HRC-P
In 1874, Alfred Lord Tennyson approached Julia Margaret Cameron to make photographic illustrations for a new edition of his adaptation of Arthurian legends, titled Idylls of the King. Cameron took some 200 photographs, but to her disappointment the publisher chose only two to reproduce as wood engravings. Cameron went on to produce her own version with albumen silver prints interspersed by texts from Tennyson's narrative poems. This edition was collected by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, two of photography's earliest historians.
Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman with an introduction by Ann J. Lane. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979. First published as a serial in The Forerunner, ed. Gilman (November 1909 - December 1916).
PS 1744 G57 H474
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "Studies in Ethics" [Gilman's notes on her course schedule], n.d.
Box 1.1 Charlotte Perkins Gilman Collection
First edition of socialist and suffragette Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1909-16 serial Herland, which describes a utopia comprised entirely of women. The book playfully reasons against cultural norms of masculinity and femininity, sexuality, motherhood, and civic leadership, seeking to show the degrading effect of patriarchy on human consciousness. Herland's first publication in book form in 1979 followed a string of science fiction novels written by feminists, such as Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974).
The Last Man, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. London: Henry Colburn, 1826. First edition.
29First edition of Mary Shelley's The Last Man, a science fiction novel set after an apocalypse by plague in which a group of elite survivors slowly but ultimately perish, save one. An allegorical lament for the loss of Shelley's circle—the Last Man is an autobiographical figure—the book also questions the individualistic ideals of Romanticism and the Enlightenment, as the group is corroded from within by flaws in human nature rather than plague. Though reviewers roundly castigated The Last Man for the cruel deaths of almost all its characters, Shelley later spoke of the novel as one of her favorite works.
Orlando: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf. London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1928. Unbound proof copy.
PR 6045 O72 O7 1928 MOR
Proof copy of the first edition of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the biography of a man born during the reign of Elizabeth I who wakes up one day as a woman, lives for centuries, and meets the key figures of English literary history. The eponymous hero was based on Woolf's friend and lover Vita Sackville-West.
Ursula K. Le Guin and Alfred A. Knopf, Correspondence, 1955-56.
Box 1000.3 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records
Correspondence between science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin—now an exemplar of the genre—and Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Le Guin tried to have her first two novels published by Knopf, and also sought advice on her writing. Though Knopf rejected both manuscripts, it seems he believed in Le Guin's talents since he offered extensive suggestions and criticisms. Le Guin later recounted in a short memoir for The Paris Review, "A rejection like that from a man like that is enough to keep a young writer going. I never sent the manuscript out again. I knew Knopf was right, it was a crazy damn thing." ("My Motherland" theparisreview.org, 2016).
Gloria Swanson, UFO research. 1954-1968.
Box 329.4-5 Gloria Swanson Papers
Two folders of Gloria Swanson's collection of UFO-related studies. The folders include several images of Swanson posing with a flying saucer, as well as a poster, newsletters from UFO-investigating entities (such as the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) and a booklet of the proceedings of the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects held before the Committee on Science and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Christine Brooke-Rose, Notes on astrophysics and and early manuscript for Such (London: M. Joseph, 1966), 4 notebooks, undated.
Box 5.4-6 Christine Brooke-Rose Papers
Notes and drafts for Brooke-Rose's novel Such, which tells of an astronomer's after-death insights regarding the nature of stars. Brooke-Rose's extensive research into astrophysics led to her interest in physical laws as metaphor: "For instance if you take a scientific law and use it literally, it becomes a metaphor," Brooke-Rose later recalled in an interview, "If the teacher says, 'Weight consists of the attraction between two bodies,' everybody giggles. But if you take it further and use more complicated astrophysical laws about bouncing signals on the moon, for instance, to express the distance between people, then it becomes a very active metaphor. [...] So this sort of thing, you see, isn't a conscious decision, it's a discovery." ("A Conversation with Christine Brooke-Rose, The Review of Contemporary Fiction 9 no. 3 (Fall 1989))
Fifth Stone, Sixth Stone, by Lee Bontecou [artist], and Tony Towle [poet]. West Islip, New York, United Limited Art Editions, 1968.
-f- NE 2012 B658 A455 1968
Limited-edition artist's book with aquatint etchings made by Lee Bontecou at United Limited Art Editions, a famous art-printmaking shop run by Russian-born emigre Tatyana Grosman and her husband. Bontecou's etchings used the dark ovals characteristic of her metal wall-reliefs with their protruding holes. These voids reflected Bontecou's interest in a form that might represent the unknowns of both outer space and the inner self, and in doing so express the relations between this world and other worlds.
Diane di Prima, "The Planet Eaters," typed manuscript, undated but circa 1970.
Little Alphabet UNCAT Diane di Prima, "The Planet Eaters."
An short story in which post-Beat poet Diane di Prima imagines the forces of colonialism and capitalism as alien powers, referred to as "Paper People," who are bent on straightening and streamlining the human world's messy organicity. On the back of each page is a long-haired man's head, printed in grassy green.
Alice Bradley Sheldon, also known as James Tiptree Jr., Correspondence with literary agent and editor Robert Park Mills, 1971-73.
Box 69.6-7 Robert Park Mills Collection
Alice Bradley Sheldon, Warm Worlds and Otherwise (New York: Ballantine Books, 1975), with an introduction by Robert Silverburg.
PS 3570 I66 W37
In 1977, popular science fiction author James Tiptree Jr. revealed their identity as a middle age psychologist, former-counterintelligence officer, and artist Alice B. Sheldon. Sheldon's correspondence with literary agent Robert Park Mills is extensive and intimate; yet does not reveal gender. Still Tiptree's identity came under debate, enough so that Robert Silverburg's 1975 introduction to Warm Worlds and Otherwise demonstrates a preoccupation with the author's gender. Silverburg insists that Tiptree is a man, calling one tale in the book, "a profoundly feminist story told in an entirely masculine manner."
Notes, production documents, promotional material, printed programs, reviews, clippings, and photographs for the opera The Making of the Representative of Planet 8. Libretto by Doris Lessing, music by Philip Glass. 1988-89.
Box 46.8-47.5 Doris Lessing Papers
Assorted materials documenting various productions of the opera version of Doris Lessing's 1982 novel The Making of the Representative of Planet 8, which relates the fate of a planet plunged into an ice age. When the benevolent galactic empire Canopus cannot rescue them, the people of Planet 8 eventually evolve into a collective soul, the "Representative," that carries Planet 8's collective memories.
Margaret Atwood, Early manuscript draft of "Lusus Naturae" for McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, ed. Michael Chabon (New York: Vintage, 2004).
Box 95.7 McSweeney's Records
A short story told from the viewpoint of a lusus naturae (Latin for "freak of nature"). This young girl develops a condition in which she grows fangs, her eyes turn yellow, and her fingernails go red. One day she mistakes two lovers for fellow lusus naturae, as their love-making produced growls, mewls, "little screams." Trying to join, she alerts local townspeople to her existence and seals her fate.