39th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 3rd “Cut and Tape: Marguerite Yourcenar’s Emendation to a Typescript of L’Oeuvre Au Noir”

Theresa Smith of Weissman Preservation Center, Harvard University presented her treatment of the heavily edited typescript manuscript of Marguerite Yourcenar’s L’Oeuvre Au Noir. The manuscript, begun in 1956, had been bound into 2 volumes after its completion in 1968. The author’s editing techniques presented unique challenges as she made changes to her manuscript by taping new strips of paper over old sentences. Nor did she stop at just one layer. Throughout the course of conserving the manuscript, Theresa found pages with no less than 17 layers of changes, all stuck together with pressure sensitive tape. To make matters even more complicated, Yourcenar would often edit over the typewritten emendations with handwritten notes, making the tape on which these notes were written a part of the manuscript. Long term stability concerns aside, the tape with these notes could not be removed from the manuscript.

When all was calculated and done, the manuscript was estimated to have 6,725 inches of pressure sensitive tape (most of it failing) and at least eight different paper stocks. Tape on the coated paper stocks remained strong and in place, and in the past, researchers with more curiosity than sense had pried up and damaged the strips in an attempt to see underneath them.  On the other hand, the tape adhesives had mostly failed on the uncoated papers, leaving the strips of edited text floating free.  The manuscript was in an extremely compromised condition and  access not been granted to researchers for years. Obviously something needed to be done, but the project was a complicated one that spanned two conservators.  Theresa, who collaborated closely with the collection’s curator when making treatment decisions, worked through the manuscript one page at a time to carefully reconstruct the complex and layered structure of the emendations.

Briefly, here are the primary points of the treatment as completed by Theresa.

  • Emendations that obscured text were removed mechanically and hinged in at the spine.   Theresa found wheat starch paste to be an effective adhesive when applied quickly and firmly, even on the erasable bond papers.
  • Loose emendations were hinged into place.  If these emendations were on tape carriers, the carriers themselves were hinged into place.
  • Staining was not treated, as it often helped reconstruct placement of the loose strips, and could be of use to future researchers.
  • Tape that still held strongly to the page was not removed even though there was concern that the adhesive of this tape might creep out in future years, causing more problems.  Time constraints meant that the tape would stay put, at least for now.
  • Adhesive residue left behind by any necessary tape removal (only on obscured text) was mechanically removed and coated with cellulose powder to reduce tackiness.
  • Handling notes were included in the volume, in the enclosure, and in the card file for library staff.

Theresa’s presentation was yet another reminder that there is no “one size fits all” solution in the conservation profession; flexibility and a good sense of humor are key!


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