Going Places

Licensed to Write: Passports of Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman & More (Photos)

The Ransom Center shares with us the passports of Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman, Sybille Bedford and more.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Licensed to Write

Passports are stamped with a person’s physical and mental journeys, etched with permanent records of explorations. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, shares with us the documents of seven great troubadours of the soul.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Sybille Bedford (1911-2006)

“We must get one of our bugger friends to marry Sybille,” the wife of Aldous Huxley was supposed to have said around the time of World War II, when the part Jewish, German born Bedford needed a new passport as the continental storm brewed. A ceremony was arranged, and Bedford became a British citizen—and a great English writer, best known for her autobiographical novels like A Legacy, a biography of her friend and mentor, Aldous Huxley, and her travel, food, and court writings. (She covered the censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the trials of Jack Ruby and members of the Auschwitz staff. She zipped around Europe, as she did in her awful childhood filled with neglectful adults. In adult life she repeated the pattern, and her greatest writings were informed by those early indignities—she’s truly a writer whose passport tells her story.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Arnold Newman (1918-2006)

The great photographer, who brought us definitive portraits of Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and more, traveled quite a bit (look at all those 1968 stamps!) on assignment for Fortune, Life, and Newsweek.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965)

“Profession: Writer.” Though also known as a muse and lover to writers (Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound) and Surrealist artists (Man Ray), an heiress (to the Cunard Line shipping empire), and an anti-fascist crusader and a member of the French Resistance, Cunard was a poet and a keen chronicler of the times. Yes, a writer, of the first rate.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Lillian Hellman (1905-1984)

The divisive playwright—Jean Stafford called her Old Scaly Bird, and Mary McCarthy famously said “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’”—had a life-changing trip in 1929 around Europe, where she settled in Germany. A passionate left-wing advocate, she was attracted to the socialist aspect of a Nazi student group while in Bonn—until they attacked her Jewish roots. “Then for the first time in my life I thought about being a Jew,” she wrote later.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964)

If you’ve ever seen John Singer Sargent’s portrait of The Sitwell Family, and beheld the then 13-year-old Edith on the left of the painting, draped in a blood-red dress looking like Lady Macbeth, with her father’s hand on her shoulder as if restraining her in the dark backstage of the session lest she lunges and bites, then you know Edith Sitwell was not to be taken lightly. Along with her two younger brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, the Sitwells founded a circle to rival the Bloomsbury group, and their Wheels poetry anthology featured the early works of Nancy Cunard, Aldous Huxley and Wilfred Owen. Sitwell’s own poetry were infused with worldly sights: “Do not take a bath in Jordan, Gordon,” “There is a hotel at Ostend / Cold as the wind,” “Go to Babylon, Rome, The brain-cells called home.”

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Norman Mailer (1923-2007)

Mailer’s father was born in South Africa. He himself was raised in Brooklyn, and served in the Philippines during World War II. It was during his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris that he published the war novel The Naked and the Dead. The Ransom Center holds more than 1,000 boxes of materials in the Norman Mailer archives—it is the largest literary collection at the library.

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)

The passport of one of the greatest American authors—born in New York, and died in New York, the chronicler of Jewish life in the shadows of the city’s great bridges and stadiums.