“TRY AND GET HOLD OF A CATCHY TITLE”: VERY RARE GALLEY PROOFS OF RING LARDNER’S TIMELESS “PREFACE” TO HOW TO WRITE SHORT STORIES, 1924, WITH TITLE WRITTEN IN INK BY LEGENDARY EDITOR MAX PERKINS
LARDNER, Ring. Typed manuscript. Titled “Preface: How to Write Short Stories.” [New York: circa 1924]. Four original folio sheets, each measuring 8-1/2 by 15 inches, typewritten carbon proofs with typing on recto only. Housed in custom clamshell box. $4800.
Very rare typewritten galley proofs of the “Preface” to Lardner’s first short-story collection, How to Write Short Stories, with four typed carbon sheets showing typed corrections, as well as penciled marks and annotations. The title is handwritten in ink by legendary Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins.
“How to begin—or, as we professionals would say, ‘How to commence’—is the exact question.” In 1923 F. Scott Fitzgerald had already answered that question, posed here in Ring Lardner’s “Preface” to How to Write Short Stories. Dismayed to hear that Lardner (1885-1933) considered his stories dead once published in magazines and kept no copies, Fitzgerald persuaded his close friend to meet with his editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins. “Evidence of Fitzgerald’s efforts survives in the form of an 11 December 1923 Chatham Hotel lunch menu on which he and Perkins made notes for possible Lardner collections” (Turnbull, Letters, 165-66). It was also Fitzgerald, wryly alluded to here as one of “a little group of our deeper drinkers,” who “suggested presenting the collection as a parody of a how-to book for writers” (ANB). Fitzgerald then helped Perkins and Lardner select the collection’s stories and provided the book’s title, which was published in May 1924. To biographer Donald Elder, the popular book firmly enhanced Lardner’s standing as “the most ferocious satirist since Swift,” as well as one “of the ten most famous men in the United States, and the funniest.” The four folio sheets included here contain Lardner’s entire “Preface” typewritten in carbon galley proofs. The first of the four sheets contains penciled annotations on the upper left margin reading “Send galley proofs,” and a circled notation on the right of “1,500 words,” along with editing numerals and marks, as well as “Preface” in manuscript centered above “How to Write Short Stories,” both in Maxwell Perkins’ manuscript. Within the text words are occasionally typed over or penciled out, with typed corrections in the space above that correct syntax or alter wording—though the text notably retains misspellings intended by Lardner. Further folio proof sheets show similar changes, with a penciled, underlined “Lardner” handwritten on verso of the fourth sheet. These annotations most likely belonged to Lardner or possibly another Scribner’s editor. See Bruccoli & Clark I:224.
Some embrowning, chipping and edge-wear, slight occasional loss along foldline creases, first folio sheet with tape repairs on verso to closed tear and two foldlines. A very rare, fragile typed manuscript of an outstanding 20th-century work.