Special Collections

The University library has an enormous number of resources for students, many of which are accessible online. The library’s lineup of Special Collections has much to offer to those interested in literature and poetry; the Literature Collection includes prominent British and American texts, as well as papers by writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Allen Tate. The collection also includes texts like Ezra Pound’s translations of Greek and Japanese drama, correspondence from figures such as Lewis Carroll and George Eliot, and manuscripts of writers like the Brontë sisters, Oscar Wilde, and Emily Dickinson. Other collections include the Latin American Literature Collection and the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, the latter of which range in date from the 8th to 16th centuries and comprise significant vernacular manuscripts — in Middle English, Old French Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Flemish, and other languages — as well as hundreds of separately described miniatures, leaves, and cuttings. Furthermore, the Rare Book Division contains hundreds of thousands of books published from as early as the 15th century; currently, Leonard L. Milberg ’53 provides funding to grow various collections in the Rare Book Division, such as one in American poetry.

Other specific collections and resources of note include the Emblem Books collection, a compilation of over 800 Renaissance-era texts, as well as the Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts, which contains the Peck Shahnamah, a 16th-century illuminated manuscript of a Persian epic poem. The library also offers students the opportunity to browse through Shakespeare’s first, second, third, and fourth folios; read through the papers of Robert Fagles, a former Princeton professor perhaps best known for his acclaimed translations of The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid; and even see artifacts like the writing desk of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, an English poet of the Victorian era, on display.

Recently, the library has made available the papers of writer Toni Morrison — varying from early handwritten drafts to professional correspondence — to students and researchers worldwide. Morrison, both the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and a professor emerita at the University, was a member a member of the University’s creative writing program, as well as the founder of the Princeton Atelier, a program in the creative writing department that matches undergraduates with acclaimed artists for interdisciplinary study. Notably, the collection contains manuscripts, drafts, and proofs for 11 of her novels — including The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and others — which allow for in-depth study into Morrison’s writing and revising process. Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies Kinohi Nishikawa remarks about this collection that it “offers unparalleled insight” into Morrison’s career, as well as showcase “the extraordinary care with which Morrison approached the craft of writing.” You can check out the finding guide here.

An even more recent collection is that of Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale, his lifelong friend, muse, and confidant. Hale originally donated these letters — all 1,131 of them — to the library over 60 years ago, requesting that they only be opened 50 years after the death of either herself or Eliot. By the time of the final reveal in January 2020, this collection of letters had become one of the best-known sealed literary archives in the world. Researchers highly anticipated the opening of these letters, as there had previously been much speculation over the true nature of Eliot and Hale’s relationship, which overlapped much with Eliot’s marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Strikingly, though, when University of Missouri Professor Frances Dickey read the letters on the day of their opening, he noted that Eliot “basically confesses his love for Emily Hale and tells her that she’s the great love of his life, that he’s been writing for her all of these years” in just the first two letters — suggesting that perhaps Eliot’s firm denial of any romantic relationship with Hale is a bit disingenuous. You can begin browsing through what’s available on the finding guide — and you can read through the letters at the library to decide for yourself the implications of Eliot’s writing.

Firestone Library also offers reading rooms to students that function both as quiet spaces for study and as places to hold additional book collections. The Scribner Room, a gift to the library in 1946 by Charles Scribner ’13, is a non-circulating collection of reference works, scholarly journals, and major texts and critical studies in English and American literature. Students can also find new fiction and popular nonfiction books, as well as a travel books collection, in the Thomas-Graham Reading Room, a gift from Lawrence Graham ’83 and his wife as part of the recently completed renovation to the library.