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Houghton Librarian Clarifies Alcott Book Status

University Maintains Novel Has Been Properly Catalogued for 22 Years

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Responding to a firestorm of media attention, the University yesterday called a press conference to clarify the status of an unpublished novel authored by Louisa May Alcott.

The New York Times published a front page article yesterday claiming that a copy of Alcott's first novel, The Inheritance, had been found in Houghton library after being miscatalogued "a generation ago."

At the 4 p.m. press conference, Houghton Librarian Richard Wendorf said that the novel has been properly catalogued in the archives for 22 years and has been examined by scholars in the past.

As proof, the University produced a card catalogue entry stamped "1974."

Since that time Wendorf said it has been available to scholars, adding that users could consult a microfilm copy available in the reading room. In fact, library records show the microfilm has been checked out five times.

Despite the University's claims, however, Alcott family descendents said that they did not know about the novel until they were told of its existence by the two professors the Times credits with finding the manuscript in 1990.

In fact, one of the owners of the manuscript rights is Ziegler Professor of Business Administration John W. Pratt, the great-great grandson of Louisa's father Branson Alcott. Louisa died childless.

When told about the University's claim that the novel had been around for years, Pratt said, "That's what I learned from Houghton, that it had been around, but the extent to which it was known to exist...is not something I understand completely."

According to various media sources, Joel Myerson, Carolina Research Professor of American Literature at the University of South Carolina, and Daniel Shealy, associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, came accross the manuscript sometimes in the late 1980s.

"My first impression from [Myerson and Shealy] was that they did not know it existed until they found it," Pratt added.

"The literary heirs of Louisa May Alcott presented and sold a significant collection of Alcott papers to the Houghton library during its 50th anniversary in 1992," Wendorf said. "Our Alcott manuscripts are on deposit in the library including The Inheritance [and] have been catalogued and fully accessible to the public since they arrived."

According to Pratt, the family's agent Lane Zachary on Monday plans to begin circulating copies of manuscripts to bidders interested in the publishing and movie rights. There will be an auction to determine the eventual winner.

Wendorf said he is not sure what had recently garnered the manuscript such attention but guessed it was the recent publicity Alcott's works have received, due in part to the adaptation of Little Women to film.

According to Wendorf, because of the attention, the manuscript will be on public display in the future.

"If it came today, we could make a greater effort to make its existence known," he said.

Despite the fact that the manuscript has been catalogued for 22 years, Wendorf called yesterday a "momentus afternoon for American literature and American literary manuscipts."

The 166-page The Inheritance was written in Boston in 1849 when Alcott was just 17 years old and was given to the library by her family in July 1974.

Wendorf described the novel as a "common notebook" that could have been found anywhere in the 1840s. He added that it was in "remarkably good condtion" although hard to read because it is somewhat faint

Wendorf said he is not sure what had recently garnered the manuscript such attention but guessed it was the recent publicity Alcott's works have received, due in part to the adaptation of Little Women to film.

According to Wendorf, because of the attention, the manuscript will be on public display in the future.

"If it came today, we could make a greater effort to make its existence known," he said.

Despite the fact that the manuscript has been catalogued for 22 years, Wendorf called yesterday a "momentus afternoon for American literature and American literary manuscipts."

The 166-page The Inheritance was written in Boston in 1849 when Alcott was just 17 years old and was given to the library by her family in July 1974.

Wendorf described the novel as a "common notebook" that could have been found anywhere in the 1840s. He added that it was in "remarkably good condtion" although hard to read because it is somewhat faint

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