Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Stuff I Learned

I find it important to learn things. Maybe you do too.

The Voynich Manuscript

If you blow this picture up you will see that it is a page from a book handwritten in something other than English. It is also something other than Latin or Persian or Greek or Babylonian or anything else you can think of.

This is known as the Voynich manuscript and it was written in the early 1400's. In code. Wilfrid Voynich is the gentleman who found the book. The whole book, over 200 pages thick, is full of illustrations and coded writing. No one knows who wrote it or why they wrote it or what it is, although it is suspected that it has something to do with medicine and botany and astrology and naked girls....at least that is what is illustrated. Cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, have been trying to decode this sucker for 100's of years....and as of late, sophisticated computers with code breaking programs have lost the battle to figure this one out. Why write a book in code? That is pretty much a guarantee that it won't be a best seller. Maybe it isn't a code at all, but simply nonsense-writing. But that seems to be a lot of trouble to say nothing at all. Here is your chance to become famous -- simply break the code.

Barbara Newhall Follett

The picture above is a young Barbara Follett. What an amazing lass. In the early 1920's when Barbara was five, her father introduced her to the typewriter and she immediately wrote a tale titled The Life of the Spinning Wheel, the Rocking Horse, and the Rabbit. At the age of seven she was writing poetry. By the age of eight, she decided to write a novel and worked on it for years. At that young age she posted this Do Not Disturb notice on her bedroom door.

NOBODY MAY COME INTO THIS ROOM IF THE DOOR IS SHUT TIGHT (IF IT IS SHUT NOT QUITE LATCHED IT IS ALL RIGHT) WITHOUT KNOCKING. THE PERSON IN THIS ROOM IF HE AGREES THAT ONE SHALL COME IN WILL SAY “COME IN,” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT AND IF HE DOES NOT AGREE TO IT HE WILL SAY “NOT YET, PLEASE,” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. THE DOOR MAY BE SHUT IF NOBODY IS IN THE ROOM BUT IF A PERSON WANTS TO COME IN, KNOCKS AND HEARS NO ANSWER THAT MEANS THERE IS NO ONE IN THE ROOM AND HE MUST NOT GO IN.

In 1927 she finished her novel at the age of thirteen. It was a forty thousand word long book titled The House Without Windows.  Her father sent it to a publisher. Weeks later, when she received a letter from the publisher she wrote of her feelings upon seeing the envelope:

"I simply threw myself on the floor and screamed, either with fear for what it might contain, with joy for getting it at last, or with terrific excitement of the whole thing. There is a feeling, after you have been waiting a long time for anything, there is a feeling that, when it really comes, it must be impossible— a dream—an optical illusion—a cross between those three things…

"Now: “What doo zhoo fink???” It is Eepersip, The House Without Windows, my story, my story in New York, with the Knopfs, to be published!!... published!!!!!!!!"


The Saturday Review of Literature said of the book: It is "almost unbearingly beautiful." The novel also received critical reviews by the New York Times and  H. L. Mencken.


The novel was not a child's book but an adult novel for adult readership.

Next she published The Voyage of the Norman D. one year later at the age of fourteen. The reviews?

"Its ingeniousness is preserved, yet embellished, by a literary craftsmanship which would do credit to an experienced writer," the Times Literary Supplement marveled from London. The Saturday Review featured her book alongside Dorothy Parker’s latest, and declared it “a fine, sustained, and vivid piece of writing.”

William  Follett, her father, was her biggest supporter and fan. He had taught her how to type at the age of five, and he critiqued her works as they were in progress. He encouraged her to follow her dreams. Shortly after The Voyage was published he and Barbara's mother divorced and he left.

The young Barbara felt that he had abandoned her. She ran away from home and was soon picked up by the police and reunited with her mother. They were poor, so she had to go to work taking stenography. She said of those times, “My dreams are going through their death flurries. I thought they were all safely buried, but sometimes they stir in their grave, making my heartstrings twinge. I mean no particular dream, you understand, but the whole radiant flock of them together—with their rainbow wings, iridescent, bright, soaring, glorious, sublime. They are dying before the steel javelins and arrows of a world of Time and Money.”

Still she wrote two more books, Lost Island and Travels Without a Donkey in 1934. She met and married an adventurer named Nick Rogers shortly after these books were published. In 1939 Barbara discovered that Nick had an affair with another. After an argument she left...to never be heard of again.

The child prodigy disappeared after she felt abandoned by the second man in her life. The last mention of her was this police report:

Brookline. 139 4-22-40 3:38 pm Maccracken. Missing from Brookline since Dec. 7, 1939, Barbara Rogers, married, age 26, 5-7, 125, fair complexion, black eyebrows, brown eyes, dark auburn hair worn in a long bob, left shoulder slightly higher than right. Occasionally wears horn-rimmed glasses.



23 comments:

  1. Omigosh Jerry this is such a hauntingly tragic tale. Truly truly sad.

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  2. What a heartbreaking tale. Her joy and her despair, her talent and her loss. I am overwhelmed. And you, Jerry, told it gently... just as you always do.

    Hi to the wife; glad she's enjoying The Burrow. I like making new friends; I wish I could have been there for the delightful Miss Rogers, with her long bob and uneven shoulders. It sounds like she could have used a good girlfriend or two.
    a/b

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  3. "Just goes to show ya never can tell",,, "there are a million stories in the Naked City",,,
    and"Gently Said",,,always something new and interesting.

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  4. The Voynich manuscript - probably as indecipherable as my high school Algebra text was.

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  5. I guess she's probably dead by now though I bet she never stopped writing.
    Now, I have to figure out why you posted The Voynich Manuscript and the Barbara Newhall Follett story at the same time...

    ...Perhaps if she had written in code, and no one ever had a glimpse inside, she would never have needed to disappear...

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  6. Fascinating stories here Jerry. I like to think that Barbara settled down to a quiet life somewhere safe after all that.

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  7. LOVED this post Jerry! Maybe the book isn't in code at all. Maybe it's written by an ancient alien or a person with a major OCD affliction!

    The second part of the post is so sad! I hope Ms. Follett made a nice quite life for herself. somehow, I think her ending was much more tragic than that....

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  8. Well now I am going to have to find Ms. Follet's writings. Unfortunately, I feel that her end was tragic.

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  9. Interesting, wonder who will figure out the code that isn't.
    I will have to read Follet's books now that you have brought her to mind. The really great writers do seem to have unusual lives.

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  10. That was truly sad. I have always believed that any kind of gifted people never have happy lives. It is because they are different and can find very little understanding in the mundane crowd. They often have a very tragic faith...
    As for the book codes, have you ever read the book entitled "The Bible Code" by Michael Drosnin? And I have always been fascinated by the man that broke the code of the hieroglyphs (Thomas Young;).
    Happy Valentines day and a happy Monday.;))
    xoxo

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  11. Poor Ms. Follett, what a tragic tale and haunting picture. How is it I made my way through an English major and never heard of her? Tsk tsk. Thank you for telling her story.

    As for the code...I suck at that sort of thing, but I'll put Sean right on it. Is there a cash prize or anything? Lol.

    ♥Spot

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  12. Amazing. I (and I hope others) will go to a library and check out Follett's books. Thanks for the awareness!

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  13. Why is it that such amazing talent is so often followed by such horrible tragedy? So sad!!

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  14. Genius and madness separated by the breadth of a hair. I always secretly hope to write something of genius, but I'm just too even-tempered and lack the necessary pathos. Interesting read this morning Jerry.

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  15. I'd only recently heard of the Voynich manuscript, but Barbara Follett was completely unknown to me. Many thanks for the introductions.

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  16. Gotcha beat--I first read about Voynich and his manuscript in an Indiana Jones novel when I was, oh, 21 or something. "Indiana Jones and the Philosopher's Stone," it was. According to the book's premise, the Voynich manuscript is a complete and accurate manual for successful alchemy. Voynich didn't want just anybody to know the secret to making gold out of base metals, though, so he wrote the recipe in code.

    Had no idea about poor Ms. Follett. What a life! A life so full and yet still unfinished. I gotta pick up some of her stuff; I get the feeling an experienced-yet-hopeless writer could do with a bit of inspiration from a prodigy progeny.

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  17. What a tragic story. I don't know why, but the last line in the police report makes me really really sad. "Occasionally wears horn-rimmed glasses." I feel I can see a life backed into from that pair of horn-rimmed glasses like you are looking from the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.

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  18. I am very sad to have found out that Barbara Follett's writings are either not owned by the libraries in my consortia, and in the one that has an owning library, the item cannot be checkedout.

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  19. Jerry, thanks for sharing this story. She was quite a writing savant, wasn't she?

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  20. ...oh, and I tagged you over at my Writing Blog...

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  21. Lots of learning for me too! Thanks!

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