Possible First Drafts of First Sentences
I once believed that the really superb writers of literature had a creative gene in their DNA that enabled them to dip a quill pen into an inkwell and, “Voila!” elegant undying prose or verse flowed effortlessly from brain to paper.
Aspiring writers absent the creative gene would lack any possibility of writing anything creative, not even an excuse to their Applied Mathematics professor explaining the reason for a missing problem on the final.
Recently two unrelated and improbable events unearthed evidence to disprove this notion of born writing geniuses.
Roxaluna Dunbar describes herself as a“nosy snoop.” Roxaluna, employed at the Herman Melville House in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as a cleaning woman, pried open a locked box in the attic. Inside she retrieved a sheet of foolscap paper which Melville scholars believe with certainty is the handwritten first draft of the opening paragraph of Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. My thanks to “Hasty” McClave of the El Segundo Irregulars for obtaining a copy of the Melville draft. Herman’s working title was That Big Albino Fish.
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Noah Moses Archibald Ishmael. Mother wanted to name me Archibald after her uncle, but father, an avid student of the Old Testament, insisted on Ishmael. He was the son of Hagar and Abraham. Not my father; Ishmael. My older brother calls me “Ishy,” I hate it when he does this. Actually, I don’t much like Ishmael, come to think of it. So anyway, I got fired from my job in the fish market bait store. I was broke and bored at loose ends didn’t see any future for me in this one-rowboat town hamlet. “Why not sign on as a sailor?” I said to myself. “It’ll do you good “The salt air will cheer you up.”
Twenty-seven other crumpled pages of Herman Melville’s attempts to begin his novel also were found. but as we know, after burning gobs of whale oil in his writing lamp Herman got it right:
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.” Moby Dick, Herman Melville
A second unlikely incident shows clearly that Jane Austen struggled with her opening paragraph of Pride and Prejudice. Austen authored six novels covering the fashions and foibles of the English upper crust of the mid to late 18th century. We may surmise from this next paragraph that the words and sentences of those classics of literature did not fall on Miss Austen’s writing desk like manna from heaven.
I am indebted to Lathrop and Laveta Wasenberg, U.K. members of the El Segundo Irregulars from Upton Snodsbury-on-Giggleswick for the following: “My wife Laveta is nuts about Jane Austen. Last week she retrieved a tattered copy of Pride and Prejudice from the discard bin at the local used book repository. A yellowed, possibly tear-stained sheaf of paper fell out. We deciphered the words on the faded ink. Laveta is positive they are Jane Austen’s initial attempt at the opening sentence of P and P.”
“A rich-as Croesus wealthy bachelor – no matter his age . . . cannot go through life unmarried– needs has got to get marry a suitable woman. But don’t take my word for it. It’s a law of Nature. No, seriously, it is.”
After a number of false starts, discarded sentences and muttered expletives, Miss Austen wrote: “‘t is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Would-be Aspiring Hopeful writers like myself I me can take heart from these remarkable findings don’t need to cash in their chips wallow in fear despair if they can’t write great sentences at the drop of a hat right off the bat Oh, forget it. You know what I mean.