Sunday, September 5, 2010

How Others See Us

Andrei Codrescu’s new book, The Poetry Lesson (Princeton University Press, 2010) features the author’s description of a writing class where the professor lists, among the things the student will need, a “Mont Blanc fountain pen (extra credit if it belonged to Mme. Blavatsky).” Why? Because

The best of all fountain pens is the Mont Blanc, but it’s terribly expensive because of its gold nib and reputation. A Mont Blanc that belonged to Madame Blavatsky would be the instrument through which the disembodied voices of angels and demons would have traveled into the many volumes dictated to her by these otherworldly entities. In other words, you would be possessing an angelic instrument that, should it turn up in eBay, would fetch easily one to three hundred thousand dollars. Your extra credit for owning such a pen would amount to one fourth of your final grade.

Since the company that produced Mont Blanc pens was not started until 1906, it would have been difficult for her to use one. It is known that she did have “an American Gold pen given to her by a New York Theosophist and made by John Foley, whose name is known to thousands of writers.” John Foley of New York, one of the leading manufacturers of the gold-nib pen at the time, was known for his craftsmanship. His pens were 6 1/2” long and the gold nib would have been engraved “John Foley New York” with the date. The picture below, taken with a Kodak camera in 1888, shows HPB at her desk at the beginning of her day, pen in hand.

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