Frank Norris’ The Octopus – A newly discovered manuscript leaf at Yale’s Beinecke Library

I recently donated a collection of documents related to American editor, literary critic and author Frederic Taber Cooper (1864-1937) to Yale’s Beinecke Library.  Cooper (Harvard AB and Columbia LLB, AM, PhD), was an associate professor of Latin and Sanskrit at New York University (1895-1902). He was also an editor of The New York Commercial Advertiser (1898-1904), The New York Globe, and The Forum (1907-1909). His NY Times obituary states, “It was while Dr. Cooper was editor of The Forum that it began to take a leading position in literature and changed from a quarterly to a monthly publication.”

Cooper profiles Frank Norris among fourteen distinguished writers in Some American Story Tellers (1911). In the preface, Cooper writes, “The late Frank Norris once wrote that in every child a story teller was born, but that the vast majority died soon after birth.”  Cooper features Norris as a novelist among a group who possess “the gift that makes them next of kin to the minstrel and troubadour, to the ancient fabulist, and to the forgotten spinner of the world’s first nursery tales, – the gift of holding the attention by the spell of the spoken word.” 

During the collection’s appraisal process, the appraiser discovered an unsigned document which he described as “Believed Frank Norris” manuscript related to his work, The Octopus.  He writes, “A highly important literary discovery: fascinating manuscript working draft from Norris’ epic The Octopus: A California Story, from Cooper’s files. Oversize sheet 10-1/4 x 15-3/4, with corrections also in Norris’ hand. Norris died the year after publication, at just 32, from a ruptured appendix. A major work in the annals of Western Americana and turn-of-century literature, here dealing with American free trade, and iron and steel tariffs!”


The Beinecke Library displayed three Frederic Taber Cooper items during my 25th reunion weekend. The label states, “an uncredited manuscript that may be a draft fragment of Frank Norris’s acclaimed 1901 novel The Octopus.” 


The display also included “surly” letters between Frederic Taber Cooper and then-future Pulitzer prize winner Conrad Richter.  

After the donation, I hired an independent researcher, Juliet Demeter, to photograph The Octopus related items at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library (Frank Norris Collection of Papers and Related Materials).  

I am most excited to share the images below.  The Frank Norris manuscript leaf at the Beinecke Library appears authentic when compared to the known manuscript leaves at the Bancroft Library.


Infact, based on the Bancroft descriptions (leaf numbers 190, 213, 7), the document I donated to the Beinecke Library may well be leaf number 117.  (See the number notations in red ink in the upper right hand corner.)

Below is an image of a known manuscript fragment, which has a representative Bancroft Library stamp and leaf number “190” in upper right corner (Gift of Dr. Frank Norris, 1969).

photo aug 23, 12 39 09 pm

Bancroft Library manuscript leaves 190 and 213 alongside Beinecke Library leaf 117.

The Bancroft Library collection includes negatives of The Octopus manuscript fragments from the Bohemian Club (San Francisco) and New York Public Library (leaf numbers not identified).  


I hope to get color images of the Bohemian Club and New York Public Library manuscript fragments for comparison in this most extraordinary inventory. (Also, Frank Norris was a member of the Bohemian!)  


In addition, I exchanged emails with leaders of the Frank Norris Society.  Frank Norris Society President Eric Link replied, “This is potentially a very exciting discovery, indeed.”

I hope that Frank Norris scholars will study & share insights into this fragment leaf.

Relevant links:

  1. Ravi D. Goel Collection of Frederic Taber Cooper. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 
  2. Frank Norris collection of papers and related materials, BANC MSS C-H 80, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  3. Finding aids for my collections at the Yale Library and Amherst College Library.



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