Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist

byCarlton Lake.New Directions, $21.95. As a young student in Boston, Mr. Lake took to collecting rare books, but, once settled in Paris as a correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, he graduated to collecting manuscripts. Manuscripts, he discovered, can provide unexpected, exciting, and valuable behind-the-scenes information for scholars, while tracking down such material requires all the abilities that he claims to have inherited from a long line of Yankee horse traders. His leisurely, gracefully written book describes the ways, from slow patience to quick pounce, in which he assembled what has been called “the finest collection of research materials on modern French literature and the
arts anywhere outside Paris,” and summarizes some of its highlights. Valery, Laurencin, Cocteau, Stein, and Toulouse-Lautrec are only a few of the important figures illuminated by Mr. Lake’s happy pursuit of old papers. Part of the book’s charm is the author’s unconcealed delight in the hunt.