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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

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Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

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Metaphors with eyes

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In Which We Cast Our Vote For Darcia Darkeyes

For Love Or Profit


Nobody has such an opportunity to know the world as a public woman whose opinions are known to favor social freedom. Nearly every male biped of the genus thinks that every woman who believes in freedom is therefore free in his sense of the word, ready to throw herself into the arms of every man who approaches her.

Victoria Woodhull had every reason to hate the world, but did not.

She was born to an eccentric named Roxanna who people called Annie. Her mother had a strong jaw, a prominent nose, a fondness for hoop earrings. Annie had ten children, of which Victoria was the seventh. That her mother called Victoria "my little queen" did not save her from regular beatings from both her parents. In church her mother regularly created a scene by launching into a trance of ecclesiastical ecstasy. The only positive lesson young Victoria was able to take was that even pain had within it the possibility of pleasure. To protect herself from the disturbing reality of life, Victoria summoned two imaginary sisters, Delia and Odessa Maldiva, to reassure her. 

By the age of eight, it was obvious Victoria was the smartest person in the town of Homer, Ohio. She used a photographic memory and massive IQ to outwit both her cruel parents and whatever teachers the Methodist Church would infrequently wrangle to instruct children. Her father lost his savings and drifted from job to job, eventually taking up as a fraud hawking spiritual treatment to medical woes. His daughters Victoria and Tennessee, called "Tennie," were quickly caught up in it.

Victoria was only 14 when she was forced to accept a marriage proposal from the family's doctor, the 28 year old Canning Woodhull. She "accepted the change," and was wed to the man on November 23rd, 1853. Victoria soon found her husband's medical degree was something of a joke; to earn his title only required eight months of training and a short apprenticeship. Her new husband drank to excess on a daily basis, visited prostitutes whenever he could, and gave her a son with severe developmental disabilities.

The young family moved to San Francisco, where friends tried to convince Victoria to become an actress. This inclination soon gave way to making money as a travelling spiritualist healer. After giving birth to a daughter, she divorced Canning and returned to Chicago. Her next husband was a Union officer named James Blood. She reported that a spirit guide told her to move into a house at 17 Great Jones Street in New York City.

The moment she was first exposed to the women's suffrage movement, she saw her future. She wrote, "visions of the offices I might one day hold danced before my imagination." She gave up medical clairvoyance and debuted her new career in September of 1869 when she became a stockbroker during the gold panic. With the assistance of her friend and confidant, the ancient Cornelius Vanderbilt, she turned her savings of $100,000 into seven times that amount through capitalizing on what would become known as the first Black Friday.

Vanderbilt's son prevented Tennie Claflin from marrying his father, but with the financier's backing, the two sisters incepted their new career as Wall Street stockbrokers; their offices were parlor 25 and 26 at the Hoffman House Hotel on Madison Square. Soon the publicity and interest surrounding the all-female agency allowed them to open a larger office at 44 Broad Street, where they were alternately known as the "Queens of Finance" and the "Female Sovereigns of Wall Street." The media fetishized the two beautiful sisters, and as a result they attracted early admirers like Walt Whitman and Susan B. Anthony. "Look at this office," Tennie observed, "isn't this better than sewing drawers at ten cents a pair? Or teaching music at ten dollars a quarter?"

In a sense, Woodhull, Chaflin and Company succeeded based on its own momentum. Massive parties and high living increased the sisters' profiles and kept the firm in the news. Tennie took up with the new managing editor of The New York Tribune, Whitelaw Reid, and they used Victoria's husband as their secretary - he even ghostwrote Tennie's romantic notes to Reid. As her sister devoted herself to the fledgling firm, Victoria planned a greater challenge. She moved to a Murray Hill brownstone and sent a letter to The New York Herald announcing herself as an eventual candidate for a president of the United States:

While others of my sex devoted themselves to a crusade against the laws that shackle the women of the country, I asserted my individual independence; while others prayed for the good time coming, I worked for it; while others argued the equality of women with man, I proved it by successfully engaging in business; while others sought to show that there was no valid reason why women should be treated, socially and politically, as being inferior to man, I boldly entered the arena of politics and business and exercised the rights I already possessed.

The suffrage movement had been splintered into factions both regional and political in nature, and Victoria picked an ideal time to assert prominence. To support her candidacy she used every media connection at her disposal, and eventually began publishing a weekly newspaper of her own to get the message out. Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, as it was called, addressed the issues of the day with the proto-feminist perspective you might imagine, but it also abandoned a moralistic tone, arguing that "ambition, love of power and love of fame are not necessarily evidence of insincerity." It was a bold and true declaration, but it was also as good as a bullseye.

There is a fascination with tearing down both men and women in the public sphere once they assert any kind of moral superiority over their fellow man. In the case of Victoria Woodhull, her ideals and opinions were actually superior: reading them today is like looking into her future, our present. The pages of Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly also contained poetry and fiction, stock listings and sports news. There was no field of human activity which did not apply to Victoria's essential mission. Lasting for six years, the paper hemorrhaged money every time it opened in the morning, but the Weekly did the important work of refining the political and social philosophies of its publishers.

In 1870, Victoria moved to Washington, taking up residence at the Willard Hotel. She began an affair with a powerful member of Congress, a House representative named Benjamin Butler, a former Union general. Her one woman campaign for suffrage oriented around her contention, often posited in the pages of her newspaper, that the Constitution already permitted women the vote. Her crusade made remarkable progress until the president killed the bill before it got off the ground in the House Judiciary Committee. 

Her next step was to form her own political party, which she called the Cosmo-Political Party. She booked the largest auditorium in Washington to jump start her public campaign for the presidency in 1872. Butler's advice for public speaking - "Put that glass of water down. Never touch it while you are speaking" - worked in spades and the resulting oratory was such a success it turned Victoria into a sensation. For her audiences, she was often the first woman they had ever seen addressing a large crowd.

Even those who had previously been skeptical of Victoria's celebrity threw their support behind her resources and popularity. She was still an easy target for faux-moral critics like Harriet Beecher Stowe (who termed her "Darcia Darkeyes") and Anna Dickinson, whose prudishness born of a religious background limited their ability to embrace the considerable value in Victoria's ideas and public appeal. Once she became president, Victoria planned to wear dark blue pants over light blue tights, sporting a short haircut complementing a man's collar and cravate. When a reporter jokingly suggested she would be arrested in that garb, she replied, "When I am ready to make my appearance in this dress, no police would dare touch me."

Just as her political capital reached its apex, wild fluctuations in the price of gold torpedoed her brokerage. The behind-the-scenes operations were run by Victoria's husband James Blood in tandem with her sister, and as the financial side collapsed, the Weekly suddenly inveighed against corporate fraud. Having witnessed the rampant corruption in that world firsthand, they knew exactly where to look for the dirty laundry. The main targets of Blood's editorials were the railroads, but all were fair game. The love affair with Wall Street was decidedly over.

Thomas Nast deserved the death penalty

A legal complaint, filed by Victoria's insane mother Annie against her husband, exacerbated her daughter's troubles by bringing Victoria's domestic life into the open. The supposed scandal that came out of it was the fact that Victoria allowed her diseased alcoholic first husband Canning to reside in her home and help care for their disabled son. In order to justify the arrangement, she invoked the principle of free love, which would end up consuming her public identity. Her ideas about sex turned some of the most powerful forces in the media against her, including Horace Greeley who insisted "my conviction of the proper dissolubility of marriage is the mainspring of my hostility to women's suffrage... My conception of the nature and scope of the marriage relation renders my conversion to women's suffrage a moral impossibility." It is the exact same doggerel offered today. The nastiest and most hurtful bit of anti-Woodhull propaganda appeared in the pages of Harper's, where the subject of the Thomas Nast cartoon would be labeled as "Mrs. Satan."

She took up with the writer Theodore Tilton, who would become her lover as well as her biographer until he turned on her later. Their mutual infidelity came out of his worship of her - among others, he compared her to Joan of Arc. With his help she created a new political party: The Equal Rights Party. To promote the new organization, Tilton penned his biography of her, one of the first in a long tradition of "campaign biographies." Victoria's new platform was designed to appeal to the masses, and it repudiated many of her earlier, more pro-capitalist ideas.

Looking back at that platform today it seems neither completely socialist nor especially radical. Her relationship with Cornelius Vanderbilt convinced her that when someone of extreme wealth dies, it was dangerous to allow them to keep everything they possessed within their own relations. The idea of a death tax scared the very rich and powerful at the time; today we only argue over the size of the fine. Even in her newest and strangest ideas, she anticipated the future of the national conversation more than her detractors could have imagined.

Her own finances improved as long as she was able to stay on the road. An intense lecture schedule restored her empty coffers. However, her bizarre plan to nominate Frederick Douglass in the role of vice president without his consent was not only politically impractical, it diminished the impact of her rhetoric. More importantly, her turn against the devout capitalists who had supported her earlier efforts marked the end to their contributions, and she quickly found herself the enemy of then-conservative New York Times.

Susan B. Anthony's public turn against her came as a result of the gossip from her mother's trial, and it amounted to the beginning of the end. She began sleeping in her new office, and fell deeply in debt. To resurrect the fortunes of her newspaper, she decided to publish a story she had gotten from Elizabeth Cady Stanton about a popular preacher Henry Ward Beecher committing adultery with Theodore Tilton's wife Elizabeth. The story was completely true, and it sold more copies than any other edition of Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly by a large margin. (Some of the editions of the paper were leased for $1 a day.)

Shortly thereafter, United States marshalls locked Victoria Woodhull in jail for the crime of obscenity. After her supporters bailed her out, Harriet Beecher Stowe appealed to her own political connections on behalf of her brother and got Victoria banned from speaking in several auditoriums. Beecher himself refused to sue for libel since he knew the story was true, but Stowe believed her brother innocent. In the summer of 1873, Victoria was finally declared not guilty of all charges, with former lover Benjamin Butler offering the key point in her defense.

Yet all was not well. During the trial, Victoria had suffered a mild heart attack, and she was never the same after her illness. Her ideas were fresh as ever, but in the public eye she had been pigeonholed by the critical media as guilty of something. Her oratory focused on the considerable pleasures of sex, a century before such musings would actually become popular to espouse, noting that "to kill out the sexual instinct by repression is to emasculate character." She herself experimented sexually with her young acolytes as well as with men in power; her husband was pleased to accomodate her wishes if it made her happy.

When the Weekly died, so did Victoria's marriage with Blood. Their divorce came about as a result of a doctor who had fawned over her and then written a series of vicious letters after she rejected his advances. Blood had originally introduced the two, and the resulting scandal ended her political career. He reported that "the grandest woman in the world went back on me."

attempting to voteShe tried to escape that life in 1883 with a move to London and a third marriage, this time to a monied Englishman named John Martin. High society, including her new husband's family, strenously objected to her, and Henry James found the material of two novels in her life. She would never talk about The Bostonians, but she noted in her autobiography that James was "one of your greatest intellectual snobs." In Rome she finally got a real audience with Frederick Douglass, who barely recognized her.

The next year,  she entered menopause and discovered that she suffered from benign uterine tumors. Her desire to restore her undeserved reputation enabled her to find the strength to survive. She wrote, "God helping me, I will not rest until I am known for what I am, not what others have made me out to be." Her daughter Zula managed Humanitarian, a new publication. She threw herself into her writing, into enjoying the company of her wealthy husband. At the age of 57, he taught Victoria how to ride a bike. But then, in March of 1897, John Martin pedalled up a mountain in the rain, caught pneumonia and died. Victoria inherited a vast sum (over $10m by today's standards) and plunged it into the paper for four more years, until she conveyed the estate to her daughter. She occupied her remaining years as a generous philanthropist. When the first World War arrived, she promoted U.S. involvement and organized sewing sessions in her community. She endured until the age of 90, asking her daughter and friends to scatter her ashes over the Atlantic Ocean.

Victoria Woodhull never viewed her sufferings as injustice: it was simply the place and time in which she lived. These were not obstacles, trials or tribulations. There was no need for anger or disappointment that things were not as they ought to have been. It feels inadequate to write about her; it is preferable to simply be as she was. In Rae Armantrout's phrase, Victoria so impotently loved the world.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about the underwater habitats of Jacques Cousteau. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

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In Which We Descend Further Than Jacques Cousteau

Habitat Jones


Since eventually the lands of Earth will be subsumed by the rising tides of the planet, it is imperative we learn to live completely underwater. A lot of things are better underwater. Synagogue services are only twenty minutes, for example, and imitating Lord Grantham isn't as bougie. Other aspects are less appealing: no smoke breaks, movies by Ridley Scott just feel claustrophobic, and it's impossible to read Jules Verne without marvelling at his naivete. What is certain is that mankind will be irrevocably altered by this sea change. Jacques-Yves Cousteau termed this new species homo aquaticus, and made a mock dictionary definition of the phrase with a picture of Andrew Sullivan swimming the butterfly.

JYC and Simone with their pet dachshund

"In ten years," Cousteau said in 1962, "there will be permanent homes and workshops at the bottom of the sea where men can stay for three months at a time, mining, drilling for oil, coal, tin, other minerals, and farming seafood and raising sea cattle." The Captain, as he was often called, was a fervent believer in stock farming, and he equipped his flagship Calypso with massive explosives to lay the groundwork for underwater mining until his conscience got the better of him.

That year Cousteau launched a livable capsule that held two members of his team in a project called Conshelf I. The long hours were relieved by radio and television relayed from the surface, and the capsule even featured the ability to provide long, hot showers. Great care was taken to ensure that Albert Falco and Claude Wesly had every comfort in their new underwater home.

the DiogenesFalco suffered terrible nightmares in the Diogenes. When he closed his eyes, he imagined a hand coming to strangle in him in his sleep. The merest indignity because a horrible nuisance; when divers came to maintain the habitat he called them "surface people" and berated them for stirring up a murky haze that obscured the view from his "home." In his diary he moaned, "We are sentenced to remain underwater for a week!"

After Cousteau ordered the divers to avoid disturbing the homo aquaticus, Falco mellowed to the experience. When he returned to land after a mere ten days, Cousteau asked his colleague what exactly it had been like down there as they strolled the streets of Marseilles. "Oh Captain," he responded, "everything is moral down there."

Above the Diogenes, things were decidly immoral. Cousteau provoked the animals of the sea constantly to get the reactions he desired for his underwater films. The Calypso would tear through assemblages of sharks, whales and dolphins to torment the poor beasts into savagery, creating an innate fear of humans that was generally spread by word of mouth. Once an imprisoned octopus (Cousteau had commented that he hoped the creature "would accept its situation") lifted up his aquarium cover and marched back into the ocean. The crew nearly killed many of the dolphins of Monaco when they tried to capture them, not realizing they were markedly different from the more docile dolphins of the Americas. Another time, Cousteau tried to tame a three ton elephant seal. If the animals survived the capture, Cousteau named them.

Cousteau never sat still. His relentless energy is a distinctive quality of all achievers. It bears little to no relation to his own intelligence or the merits of his ideas, only to the likelihood of their accomplishment.

Near the end of 1962, Cousteau addressed the so-called World Congress on Underwater Activities. He argued for the existence of homo aquaticus and informed the group that by the year 2000, people would be born and die at the bottom of the ocean. His next experiment, Conshelf II, placed five men in a star-shaped base at the bottom of the Red Sea, at a cost of $1.2 million. The only way he could afford to fund the research was to sign a movie contract.

They called this second capsule Starfish House. For the ten men inside the air conditioned structure, all was peaceful and idyllic, and the television was nearly always on. The habitat contained quarters for eight men, a kitchen and dining table, a biological laboratory and a dark room. For the massive team on the utility ship Rosaldo and the Calypso, the calm beneath the sea required round-the-clock work in temperatures of more than 100 degrees, as delays had postponed the experiment into the summer though it had been designed to take place in March.

Most of the photography was done at night, when temperatures were cooler and tropical waters flooded with a variety of species. A nasty pack of seventy sharks tormented the crew from the first days of filming, and several close encounters with the beasts nearly killed an inexperienced diver. Given these handicaps, Cousteau's record of preserving the lives of his crew is regarded as sterling considering just how many dives they made.

Of greater concern was the house's deep cabin, which mysteriously kept flooding despite the ideal pressure of oxygen and helium in the unit. The team eventually figured out that helium was seeping out of the habitat through the television cable. The documentary about Starfish House, entitled World Without Sun, won an Academy Award.

emerging from Conshelf III live on EurovisionFor their third experiment in underwater living, Cousteau submerged a globe seven meters in diameter at nine times the depth of Starfish House. On the other side of the planet the U.S. Navy was testing its own venture in underwater living, Sealab II, and the two groups were linked by telephone. The U.S. government experiment entailed aquanaut/astronaut Scott Carpenter confined below for an entire month. Easing his time was a bottlenose dolphin named Tuffy who had been trained to bring supplies to the unit.

The environment aboard Conshelf III was no less lavish. Aquanauts consumed wine and cheese at their leisure, fresh fruit was an absolute mainstay. Cousteau and his wife Simone even celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary in the habitat. Conshelf III launched Cousteau deeply into debt, and the next project, planned as a 300-ton ten man sub that would operate at a depth of 700 meters never materialized. In Cousteau's mind, it would have been the first step to an underwater Disneyland.

The $4.2m deal Cousteau signed with ABC to create a series of television specials marked the end of his serious research. Governments also were turning away from the oceans and focusing on the possibilities of space. Both refuges afforded a measure of distance from reality. It would feel like a relief, on some level, to rid yourself of the landlocked world. The inside of the ocean (for all things contain some penetrable interior, even endless ones) envelops willing participants as a cocoon, and nothing can intrude without permission. It would also be important to have pets.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about the writing of The Lord of the Rings. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish. A shark is no more a killer than the housewife who served bacon at the family's breakfast table.

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In Which Nothing Would Be Left For Tolkien

How's Your Hobbit?


I first tried to write a story when I was about seven. It was about a dragon. My mother said nothing about the dragon but pointed out that one could not say "a green great dragon" but had to say "a great green dragon." I wondered why, and still do. The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a story again for many years, and was taken up with language.

- J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter to W.H. Auden

After publishing The Hobbit in September of 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien worried about the direction his readers wanted him to take next. His book for young adults had been a success by any measure, and readers demanded more about Bilbo and company. His publisher Stanley Unwin informed him that everyone would be "clamoring next year to hear from you about Hobbits." Tolkien wrote back, "I am a little perturbed. I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits." Later he exploded, "I am constantly asked how my hobbit is!"

Had Tolkien felt free to pursue his own interests (he had many varied ones) instead of giving into this pressure, he may not have spent the better part of the next two decades writing The Lord of the Rings, and may have imagined a litany of other worlds. As it is, Tolkien eventually gave in and told his publisher that "a sequel or successor to The Hobbit is called for" - and Middle Earth was born. Starting something new was never a problem for the longtime professor; he claimed to have written "unlimited first chapters", and the beginning of The Lord of the Rings emerged whole with the story of Bilbo Baggin's birthday party.

Stanley Unwin shared the first bits of what would become The Fellowship of the Ring with his precocious son Rayner, who reported that he was "delighted." Other early readers showed similar excitement, including his friend C.S. Lewis, who had completed the classic Out of a Silent Planet mere months earlier. Competitiveness may have played some small part in pushing Tolkien onwards. As he continued his difficult task, he relied heavily on the advice of Lewis, his son Christopher, and at times young Rayner Unwin, whose early endorsement of The Hobbit had been crucial to that book's publication. Tolkien allowed them to read his new work chapter by chapter, like a magazine serial. On the surface, this seems a most disturbing way to approach a writing project, or any creative work, since repetition is the unfortunate consequence, and The Lord of the Rings is nothing if not extremely repetitive. Not to mention Tolkien also readily admitted he was "as susceptible as a dragon to flattery."

Nevertheless, by the end of 1939, Tolkien had progressed well into what would become The Fellowship of the Ring, finding himself at Balin's tomb in Moria.

In the real world, circumstances were not as accommodating. The Tolkien family was struggling financially, his wife Edith was sick, and war loomed on the horizon. As the project progressed, Tolkien sensed the scope of the enterprise he had unwittingly begun, yet could not help but recognize the core value in what he had written, saying, "the story has (I fondly imagine) some significance" - practically braggadocio from a depressed and humble man.

With the onset of World War II, food was scarce on the island of Britain. A German publisher offered to issue a translation of The Hobbit, but demanded that Tolkien write a letter insisting he was not Jewish. The author was upset and said so, but could not afford to pass on the opportunity. These and other distractions slowed his pace, but by 1942 he was ready to say The Lord of the Rings "is now approaching completion." It wasn't. Now his incipient worry was worry that the book would not appeal to the young audience he had cultivated with The Hobbit.

Tolkien was bothered by the state of England during the war, since his personal view endorsed total freedom. When his son Christopher was drafted into the Royal Air Force in 1943, he wrote, "my political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)," and the loss of liberty he felt during the war did not help the pace of his literary work. Depression hounded him, and he told his son, "we were born in a bleak age out of due time." England may as well have been cast in the shadows of Mordor. For over a year he did not look at the scraps of paper and multitude of random manuscripts that, at the time, constituted the novel.

The following year, however, he found himself able to return to The Lord of the Rings. He telegrammed his son Christopher to say, "How stupid everything is! and war multiplies the stupidity by 3 and its power by itself. I have seriously embarked on a effort to finish my book & have been getting up rather late: a lot of re-reading and research required. And it is continual sticky business getting into the swing again. I have gone back to Sam and Frodo, and am trying to work out their adventures. A few pages requires a lot of sweat: but at the moment they are just meeting Gollum."

Tolkien's concern for his son funnelled into and was absorbed by the work, and he sent his chapters for Christopher to read when he was not in the air. In a telegram he reflected that "Gollum continues to develop into a most intriguing character." Christopher objected strenuously to the name Samwise Gamgee, but Tolkien argued, "the object of the alliteration was precisely to bring the comicness." Tolkien never completely turned away from his own reading during the period, continuing to be engaged in both the academic and literary worlds. He read everything G.K. Chesterton produced - the man's books did double duty by troubling him and earning his admiration. Lewis' prolific, less rehearsed writing also inspired him, pushing him further into his own work.

In fall of 1946 Tolkien told his publisher - by then, very familiar words -  that he intended to have a draft of the novel finished by the next year.

Rayner Unwin, returned from his own service in the war and newly employed by his father's company, read a semi-complete draft of the novel that July. He admired this early version, but readily admitted: "Quite honestly I don't know who is expected to read it." Discouraged, Tolkien managed to compose a rejoinder in his own defense, noting, "The world seems to be divided into impenetrable factions, Morlocks and Eloi, and others. But those that like this kind of thing at all, like it very much, and cannot get anything like enough of it, or at sufficient great length to appease hunger." In short, he knew he had a hit, but who else did?

By the fall of 1948 Tolkien had managed to compile over 1200 pages of his sequel to The Hobbit. Sensing his publisher's lack of enthusiasm for the work (Stanley Unwin was no genius, financial or otherwise), Tolkien began taking inquiries from other imprints. He apologized to Unwin for "presenting such a problem" while boiling inside. In August of 1950, Unwin officially rejected The Lord of the Rings in its entirety, for there was no thought yet of splitting the book into discrete parts. Though no one had yet agreed to put the novel out, Tolkien was already in a panic about the maps that would have to be created for anyone to follow the plot.

When Rayner Unwin finally ascended to a position of prominence in his father's company, he begged Tolkien to resubmit the manuscript, which he had never seen in its entirety - it had just sat at their offices in a state of neglect. Together they agreed to split the book into three parts. Initially, they argued over what to call the second book - Tolkien did not care for The Two Towers, and the third volume was initially called The War of the King.

There was also a long discussion about what to do with the character of Tom Bombadil. Tolkien was in favor of leaving him in, writing, "He is a not an important person - to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a comment. I mean, I do not really write like that, he is just an invention, and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in if he did not have some kind of function.

"I might put it this way - the story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were, taken a vow of poverty, renounced control, and take your delight in things themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately, only the victory of the west will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron."

We imagine all authors of renown as confident successes. Tolkien spent the majority of his life as a somewhat impoverished academic and while he did feel support from his fans, with whom he would readily exchange lengthy correspondence on the thematic issues of his work, at no time was he ever anything but anxious about his future prospects as an author. It was only a vague sense that he would turn out to be right that allowed him to go on at all.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about the marriage of Jean Stafford and Robert Lowell. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

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