The inner process of creating a literary masterpiece -- from the initial sketch to the drafting, editing, and even publishing of the first edition -- can only be revealed within the original papers of an author's archives. Princeton University Library is the home of extensive publishing archives and the literary papers of several outstanding authors, providing essential research material for understanding their literary processes and achievements.

This section highlights the working processes of three authors: the Anglo-Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849); F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), who attended Princeton University but did not complete his junior year; and Toni Morrison (1931-2019), who joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1989 as the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities.

Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849). Manuscript notebooks and sketchbooks, with the original storage case, 1799–1849.

Maria Edgeworth brought major innovations to the English novel and enjoyed success as a prolific writer for both adult and youthful readers. In 2020, Princeton acquired the novelist’s valise containing 36 autograph notebooks of early drafts that span the major subjects of her career: Belinda (1801) and Leonora (1806) on English society; Ennui (1809) on life in Ireland; and children’s stories and educational lessons such as The Parent’s Assistant (1796–1800).

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940). The Great Gatsby, Autograph manuscript. 1924. F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald began work on The Great Gatsby, his third novel, as early as 1922. This 264-leaf manuscript in pencil, the earliest extant version, was written by Fitzgerald in 1924 while in Saint-Raphael on the French Riviera with Zelda and their two-year-old daughter, Frances (“Scottie”). Typescript drafts (now lost) were sent to Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s editor at Scribner’s, from which galley proofs were printed under the working title Trimalchio.

Francis Cugat (1893–1981). “Celestial Eyes.” Original dust jacket design for The Great Gatsby. Gouache on board, ca.1925. Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.

Fitzgerald still favored the title Trimalchio when Francis Cugat provided artwork that would become the most celebrated dust jacket of the century. On November 14, 1925, Maxwell Perkins wrote to Fitzgerald: “But if you do not change, you will have to leave that note [Trimalchio] off the wrap. Its presence would injure it too much; – and good as the wrap always seemed, it now seems a masterpiece for this book.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925. From the library of Sylvia Beach.

“Scott worshiped James Joyce, but was afraid to approach him, so Adrienne [Monnier] cooked a nice dinner and invited the Joyces, the Fitzgeralds, and André Chamson and his wife, Lucie. Scott drew a picture in my copy of The Great Gatsby of the guests – with Joyce seated at the table wearing a halo, Scott kneeling beside him, and Adrienne and myself, at the head and foot, depicted as mermaids (or sirens).” – Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company, 1959.

The Great Gatsby scrapbook, 1925–26. F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers.

“And So This is Fitzgerald!”: From “his best novel… brilliantly conceived” to “a strange little bird,” The Great Gatsby received a mixed reception. Critics praised Fitzgerald’s maturation as a novelist, welcoming the new curt phrasing and pacing, but initial sales were slow. Gradually the novel climbed the bestseller charts, and by 1926 it had enjoyed its theatrical début on Broadway and a premier on the silver screen – the first of many.

Toni Morrison (1931–2019). Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Toni Morrison Papers.

Inspired by Margaret Garner’s true story, Morrison’s Beloved depicts Sethe, the protagonist, who attempts to kill her children to spare them from slavery after escaping North. She kills her youngest daughter, Beloved, before being restrained, initiating a haunting on 124 Bluestone Road, their home. The novel explores the internal, emotional, and psychological trauma of enslavement before the Civil War. Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. Shown here is Morrison’s personal copy.

Beloved Draft Part 1, circa 1984-1987. Typescript manuscript draft. Toni Morrison Papers.

“124 was loud…,” undated. Handwritten manuscript draft on paper. Toni Morrison Papers.

Beloved Draft Fragments, undated. Annotated typescript manuscript draft. Toni Morrison Papers.

These three manuscript drafts reveal the creative process behind Morrison’s iconic work, focusing on the narrative setting, 124 Bluestone Road. Steeped with the memories, horrors, and tragedies of slavery and racial subjugation, this site plays a crucial role in the non-linear structure, grounding Morrison’s use of simultaneous yet interconnected timelines. The house at 124 once manifested freedom–a place of refuge for formerly enslaved people–to a site of the precarity and vulnerability due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. 124 embodies the residual yet persistent physical and psychological racial trauma, as indicated by Beloved’s continued haunting.

Nell Painter [and Glenn Shafer]. Postcard, inscribed, sent from Paris to Toni Morrison at Princeton University, 26 May 2006. Toni Morrison Papers.

In May 2006, the New York Times Book Review named Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved the best work of American fiction published in the past quarter century. Nell Painter, award-winning historian, and Princeton University faculty colleague sent these congratulations:

"Dear Toni,

We're missing your fabulous gala with many regrets but wanted to congratulate you for having Beloved recognized as the best US novel of the last 1/4 century. Congratulations!

Nell & Glenn."

Letter awarding Toni Morrison the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. Typed manuscript letter on paper, 1988.Toni Morrison Papers.

Toni Morrison (1931-2019). Draft of Morrison’s acceptance speech for Pulitzer Prize. Typed manuscript draft on paper, 1988. Toni Morrison Papers

In 1988, Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in recognition of Beloved’s masterful storytelling, nuanced exploration of African American experiences, and unflinching examination of the legacies of slavery. With Beloved, Morrison left an indelible mark on literature. She would later go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, becoming the first African-American woman to do so.