In the mid-1920s, Mary Hallock Foote drafted a memoir titled "Backgrounds with Figures" that was never published in her lifetime (the Huntington Library eventually published an edited version in 1972). Biographers and critics alike have attributed its non-publication to either reticence or inaction on Foote's part--either she was unwilling to publish the stories of people known intimately to her, or she never followed up on her editor's initial encouragement to her first half-draft by sending a complete manuscript. The archives, however, tell a different story. This essay discusses the heretofore uncatalogued and unpublished in-house materials from Houghton Mifflin that pertain to "Backgrounds with Figures," particularly their importance to fully understanding Foote's late-career place in a changing marketplace. Consisting of several letters exchanged between Foote and her editor in 1923 and a collection of thus far entirely unknown readers' reports filed by Houghton Mifflin in 1926, the archive demonstrates the fate of Foote's autobiographical manuscript, which she had sent in full, to be largely the result of a shift in taste on the publisher's end. Which is to say, the sources uncovered herein reveal that Foote's memoir was rejected not because of incomplete or missing material but rather because the press no longer saw itself as a publisher of her style of literature. This shift in priorities, moreover, had broad implications for the publication of both women's autobiographies and books about the American West.
- Mary Hallock Foote,
- Western American Literature
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/nicolas_witschi/48/