Marianne Moore’s notebooks contain a vital record of a mind at work—drafts of poems and prose, playful drawings, copious notes from the events and performances she attended and her daily reading and research, remarkably diverse materials that range from quotations of scholarly commentary to advertisements for Johnnie Walker Scotch. Moore also recorded conversations—snippets of monologue and dialogue spoken by or about most of the most famous modernists and by family members and people she overheard on a train or at the zoo. Her notebooks constitute one of the great critical and cultural resources for modernist studies and twentieth-century cultural history.
There are 122 notebooks in the Rosenbach Museum and Library Marianne Moore Collection and Moore’s hand-written notes in these notebooks vary from a few pages to over 400. These include Reading Diaries, Conversation Notebooks (recording conversations Moore participated in or overheard, whether in public venues like the circus or at parties with famous peers), Poetry-draft Notebooks [see 07.04.04, image 0012; Poetry Notebook from 1922-1930. On this page Moore is drafting both “An Octopus” and “Marriage.”], Travel Notebooks, Music Notebooks (on concerts she heard), Notebooks on lectures, classes she attended, and sermons, and Financial Notebooks. The earliest three of Moore’s notebooks dates from 1905 (a Bryn Mawr College record book, student essays, and a reading notebook) and several contain notes made in the 1960s—making it clear that Moore engaged in such writing throughout her adult life. The collection also contains at least two notebooks belonging exclusively or in part to her mother, Mary Warner Moore (one beginning in 1882), indicating that such record-keeping was a family practice [see 07.01.01, image 0016; where there is an 1882 date]. Indeed, Moore kept notebooks consisting largely or wholly of her mother’s remarks and in others both recorded dialogues between herself and her mother and took dictation from her mother for correspondence. Through her recorded reflections and quotations, one sees from year to year what Moore was reading, what lectures and concerts she attended, conversations she engaged in or overheard, and bits of prose she drafted in response to events or simply to something she saw on the street. As these remarkable notebooks reveal, Moore had boundless energy for engagement with people and with fields beyond the obviously poetic.
While Moore evidently bought some notebooks to use for her record-keeping, most notebooks are repurposed calendars or diaries, where she writes across or around the printed information or dividers on each page, ignoring the notebook’s intended or original function—although sometimes filling in requested identificatory information. [see 07.01.03, image 0007—where she fills in information—and image 0027, where she writes and draws over the material on the page] None of Moore’s notebooks has been published in any form and they are currently available only at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which is open to scholars a total of 18 hours a week.
The notebooks are hard to decipher—in part because of Moore’s handwriting and use of abbreviations but also in part because they are filled with cancellations and write-overs [see 07.04.07, image 0005, Poetry Notebook from the 1930s]
Many of these notebooks have already been found to be a rich resource for understanding Moore's composition process; they provide information about the source of lines and ideas used in her poems and essays—sometimes decades later [see 07.02.02, image 0033 verso; Notes on a 1930 article, used for “O to Be a Dragon,” first published in 1957] They are also an extraordinary resource for following the observations of an astute critical observer and reader through six decades of the twentieth century, including the period of two World Wars, the depression, and the Cold War, and for illuminating the source materials for composition of one of the century’s most important poets. It is difficult to overstate the impact that access to these notebooks will have on studies of Moore and of twentieth-century poetry and cultural studies.
The notebooks housed at the Rosenbach Library are in very fragile condition. Some have fallen apart and needed to be reconstructed. Unfortunately, as now conserved at the Rosenbach, at least two poetry notebooks have been reconstructed and digitized in an order that does not correspond to the order of pages as Moore wrote them. This site restores, as far as scholarly expertise enables, the original page order for these notebooks. As we continue work on additional notebooks, we will discover whether other notebooks are similarly disordered, and then work to restore original order. For more on this subject and process, see “Accuracy and the Challenges of Editing Moore’s Archive,” soon to be posted on this site.