The Draft

What we don’t say when we talk about war.

As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, the question of how to commemorate such an anniversary challenges cultural and political leaders. Things have certainly never been the same since. Never such innocence, as Philip Larkin wrote. The subject of war haunts the literature of our century. It can be seen as a collective effort, a confession, an acknowledgement of shared suffering. But as we look to the past again, to find what we have learned, we might also find things we have missed. As first-hand knowledge of the Great War becomes impossible, we try to get closer to our works of art, by choosing to look at what they didn’t say.

In Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, the protagonist serves in the ambulance corps during the Italian campaign. His love affair with nurse Catherine Barkley ends in her death during childbirth. Through his career, Hemingway edited himself down a lot to suit his publishers, removing superfluous words and creating the spare style for which he became famous. A Farewell to Arms is a fair example of this editorial rationing. Though perhaps for a different reason than style, the book’s final line was revised over 30 times. These missing lines vary in sentimentality and cynicism, including one particularly grave version – That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.” Hemingway had also written a list of possible titles for the work, including “In Another Country and Besides”, a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta, which conjures the sort of foreignness, and the inexplicability, of war itself.

Our interest in preserving these lost lines (they have now been included in a special edition of the novel) seems to come out of more than just curiosity about the creative process in general, it seems to be amplified by the subject matter.

Earlier this year, a draft of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “Atrocities” was auctioned at Bonham’s Auction House – the winning bid was higher than even experts predicted, at £13,500. The draft shows that much of the poem’s confrontational and blunt language was softened for the printed version. The line “How did you kill them?” became “How did you do them in?” in the published poem for example. The euphemism covers up the immediacy and honesty of the description of murder. Though some might see the two versions as fundamentally identical and with the same condemning attitude, for a poet, the dilution of “kill” into “do them in” is a significant modification.

Some drafts serve to show us how rewrites can also make the work closer to the truth of war. One of the most well-known, and revered, poems to come out of the First World War was Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”, which exposes the untruth of the Latin motto that claims it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. With such a declaration comes a pressure to mould each line of the poem to that purpose and provide the reader with a bodily experience and we can see in Owen’s early drafts of the poem, that the most evocative words often came out of a series of modifications. Gargling became gurgling became goggling became guttering in this draft, the final word carrying to the reader the sound of water draining from a pipe, the shallow, inevitable sound.

hemingway

Many drafts like this exist. They help us to visualize the unpublished, underside of the canon of war literature. There are innumerable lost poems that loom in our imaginations too when we let ourselves imagine them. And it is perhaps this shadowy, vague sense of things unsaid that writers like Owen, Sassoon and Hemingway aimed to give their readers in the first place.

 

All Time Favorite Children Classics Books

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Who does not love adventures?  We were all fascinated by Alice’s adventure in the rabbit hole and we always wanted to fly with Peter in the old days.  And as Albert Einstein suggested, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”.

Check out our all time favourite children classics books below and read with your children today.

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

 

 

2. Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimms
Grimm's Fairy Tales

 

 

3. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Peter Pan

 

 

4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island

 

 

5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels

 

 

6. The Happy Prince and other tales by Oscar Wilde
The Happy Prince and Other Tales

 

7. Andersen’s Fairy Tales by H. C. Andersen

Andersen's Fairy Tales

 

Cover Photo from Flickr and under Creative Common license. 

Deciphering Lewis Caroll

How to invent, from the mind that made Alice in Wonderland

Charles Dodgson, the man behind the pen-name Lewis Caroll, has inspired millions of children and adults with his wordplay and absurd characters. But his inventions were not solely literary; he also occupied a mathematical world that served his fiction no end.

Dodgson was born in 1832, in Cheshire, England. He went to Oxford University and continued for many years there as a lecturer of mathematics. Over the course of his writing life, he pursued many other talents, even professionally, including inventing and photography. It was his ability to think beyond formal constraints that gave his work its magical quality.

The Nyctograph

Dodgson was always having ideas at night, and, in the candle-days of the eighteen hundreds, he would often have to lie in the dark with his thoughts instead of writing things down. So, he invented the Nyctograph, an object especially for night-writing. It was a sheet of card gridded with cut-out squares. The first version of nyctography involved Dodgson simply writing letters inside the cut-out squares and then moving the nyctograph along to make his night-writing more legible but he found it still didn’t have the desired effect, so he encoded his writing into symbols.

Chess

On the surface, chess is a restrictive arena, a grid of black and white squares with pieces that move in predetermined directions, but to Dodgson, a master at the game, chess could become a world of invention. He took his travel-board on train journeys and in his diaries wrote of how it livened up his days. He often played with children to teach them, including Alice Liddell, the young friend who inspired Alice in Wonderland. In these games, he used to make stories with the pieces, turning kings and knights into real men, who fought and schemed against each other. Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, is formed around the idea of a chess board.

The Alphabet Cipher

In Dodgson’s lifetime, cryptology went through an important phase of its history, between the invention of Morse code in 1835 and Charles Babbage’s solution to the polyalphabetic ciphers during the Crimean War. Ciphers were a popular wartime tool. Amid the height of Dodgson’s creation of the Wonderland series, he published his Alphabet Cipher, a square table, each row and column being the traditional alphabet, by which one can follow a row and a column to a common point and find a new letter, the cipher.

Memory Techniques

Dodgson made up his own version of the Major System, a code for memorizing numbers. He converted each number into a series of consonants and phonemes, which could then spell out words. For example, if he wanted to remember the dates of the Oxford colleges, for the purpose of giving an entertaining tour or hosting a visitor, he created a little rhyme. For St. John’s college, founded in 1555, he would recite “They must have a bevel, to keep them so LEVEL,” referring to the college’s famously level lawns. V and L were the consonants assigned to the number 5, being the Roman numeral symbols for five and fifty.

 

Dodgson’s biography brings up a question of influence. How can the creative mind be nurtured by maths? Can thinking in numbers, codes and logic provoke inventiveness of a kind never dreamed of by words alone?

Many other writers have used the constraints of mathematics, logic and puzzles to create some of their most fantastical work. Try the Fantasia Mathematica, compiled by Clifton Fadiman in 1958, for mathematical stories from some of literature’s most inventive authors from Plato to Poe. This unusual canon shows us that perhaps math shouldn’t be seen as an eccentricity in fiction, that we might be surprised what can happen when we think inside the box.

little improvements here and there

We have been working really hard in the past few months to make Towerbabel better.  Everyone in the team has been really enthusiastic since the launch of our site and we are always full of ideas and suggestions in order to provide better user experience to our users.

We have more than a hundred items on our ever expanding enhancement lists (not including our development priorities).  There have been numerous discussions among our developers, UX design and marketing team to prioritize our enhancements.  We investigated the user behavior from our users and understand what they want by researching the statistics of all links in our site to make sure we are doing the right thing on every single page.  We make sure our site takes the right balance in usability, performance, clarity, simplicity and productivity.

We are glad to announce that we have added a few nice features and small enhancements on our site.  Below are the highlights:

1. Feature Tour

Just one click on the Take A Tour button on the homepage will bring you to a tour to understand the various functions  where users could enjoy when they are reading or writing on Towerbabel.

tour button

2. Towerbabel Chat

We know you love to communicate.  We have enabled Towerbabel Chat again with a new design so that you can chat with your friends while you are stuck when writing your book or want to share a quote immediately with others.  Just click the plus sign will let your add your friends to the contact list.  Don’t forget to register and login as our member in order to chat.

chat window

3. No of reads

We have added a little badge to each book and show the no of reads on the Library page and the Book page.  If you would like to know the most popular books on the site, the Popular Books are always showing on the Library page as well as the Homepage.

reads

reads2

4. Search

Search has always been the most important function in our site.  95% of our users will search on the site.  Our search will now look for keywords in the book title, book description, author name and member name from Towerbabel which makes it so much easier for our users to discover contents on the site.   And if your keyword matches with the book title or the author  name, we will bring you directly to the respective book page or author profile page which save you another click.

search

 

 

Are you happy with the updates?  Please give us comments so that we can do better for you.

 

 

 

 

Book covers by Nicolas Beaujouan

Graphic Designer Nicolas Beaujouan designed a list of minimalist book covers under his Ultimate Geek Selection.  Below are the ones that are available on Towerbabel.  Inspired by the book cover?  Just click on the links to read the books.

 

The Lost World

The Lost World

 

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

 

Dracula

Dracula

Frankenstein

Frankenstein

 

Nineteen Eighty-Four

1984

 

Source: Ultimate Geek Selection