Joseph Blotner collection on Thorne Smith
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Thorne Smith (1892–1934) was an American author of comedic supernatural fiction. His best-known work is the two Topper novels, published between 1920 and 1930. Smith was born in Annapolis, Maryland as James Thorne Smith, Jr., and as a result of the death of his mother in 1896 and his father's career in the Navy, he was raised by relatives and educated in boarding schools in Virginia and Pennsylvania. He attended Dartmouth College, though he left two years into his degree to take a job writing advertising copy in New York. In 1917, Smith joined the Navy and was stationed at Pelham Bay Naval Reserve Training Station in New York City where one of his chief tasks was editing the camp's journal, The Broadside. According to Blotner's dissertation, it was at Pelham Bay that Smith realized "that writing was his career, but not the type he had done at the advertising agencies," (Blotner, page 14). Smith was released from the Navy in early 1919, and later that same year, he married Celia Sullivan and returned to working for advertising agencies. Struggling to support a wife and two children while living in Greenwich Village, he achieved sudden bestseller status in 1927 with the publication of Topper. Smith's work was filled with sex, drinking, and shapeshifting. He died suddenly of a heart attack while vacationing in Florida at the age of 42.
Joseph Leo Blotner (1923-2012) was an American scholar, professor and biographer. He earned his undergraduate degree from Drew University and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he wrote his dissertation, Thorne Smith: A study in popular fiction. He went on to befriend William Faulkner, writing what is considered to be the definitive biography on the author. He contributed to at least a dozen works on Faulkner, and also wrote on authors such as J. D. Salinger and Robert Penn Warren. He taught at the University of Idaho and the University of Virginia, and was integral to Faulkner's appointment as writer-in-residence at Virginia in 1957.
Works cited: Blotner, Joseph Leo. Thorne Smith: A study in popular fiction. 1951.
The collection is organized into two series. The first is comprised of correspondences between Joseph Blotner, a then-Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania conducting research for his dissertation entitled Thorne Smith: A study in popular fiction, and various associates of Smith. Blotner corresponded with a range of figures from publishing houses and advertising agencies for which Smith worked to Ogden Nash and H. L. Mencken. Some of these letters appear to have resulted from an announcement in the New York Times in which Blotner requested information about Thorne Smith; other letters appear to be responding to specific enquiries from Blotner. The resulting letters provide first-hand accounts of the letter-writer's impressions of and experiences with Thorne Smith. Of note is a biography of Thorne Smith by Roland Young which was published in 1934.
The second series consists of typescripts and manuscripts of Smith's novels, including Topper, The Night Life of the Gods, and Rain in the Doorway.
Gift of Mrs. Floyd Delaney, Marion Smith Canner, and Joseph Blotner.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Justin A. Bortnick
- Finding Aid Date
- 27 May 2014
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.