In the past few years the Schlesinger Library has acquired several wonderful association copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, including those of Denise Schorr, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, and Ruth Lockwood. The capstone, however, is our recent acquisition of inscribed copies that belonged to Avis DeVoto. The inscriptions are not only a testament to DeVoto’s deep friendship with Julia Child and Simone Beck, but also to the immense work that went into the book, and how the work continued even after its initial publication.
By the time Julia Child inscribed the first copy of the not yet released Mastering the Art of French Cooking to Avis DeVoto, nine years had passed since DeVoto initially set eyes on the manuscript. Although it was DeVoto who told Child, “My god I can see that you simply cannot go on nit-picking on that ms. Comes the time when one has got to let it alone, and send it forth, all imperfect. It will still be light years better than any cookbook ever published in this country,” and DeVoto who later says that, “there are just no books at all, bar the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary, that are free of howlers, and I’ll bet there are a few subtle ones in those vols,” she was not immune from the urge to nit-pick herself. While the inscription is endearing and lovely, it is the marginalia that starts to tell the story of how much work will still be done. DeVoto indexes her own corrections to the text on the back free endpaper, noting both minor typographical errors and a true howler—the mustard sauce without any mustard.
After seeing the inscription on the twelfth printing indicating that “every known fixable thing had been fixed,” we became curious to know if the changes were new to this printing, or if some had been made earlier. Silent corrections for minor changes are not uncommon in 20th century publishing, and since the Library has so many copies, we decided to take a look at them, using DeVoto’s index as a guide. The errors that DeVoto lists in her copy are corrected by the eighth reprinting, but despite all our copies, we do not have many variations in printings and were unable to determine just when the mustard was restored. We did, however, find something much better—Child’s manuscript corrections to the text in Ruth Lockwood’s copy (the second printing), evidence of her deep attention to detail and drive to write the best possible book that made Mastering the Art of French Cooking a classic.
Without Avis DeVoto, Mastering the Art of French Cooking would not exist as the cultural icon that we know today. Serving as early editor, critic, and staunch supporter, it was DeVoto’s connections and behind-the-scenes championship that led Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle first to Houghton Mifflin and then to Knopf. While one might think that this would have been enough, we at the Schlesinger Library are profoundly grateful that she did more. Avis DeVoto gave her papers*, including her correspondence with Julia Child, to the Schlesinger Library in 1969, at a time when our culinary collection was still quite small. It was through DeVoto that Julia Child’s longstanding relationship with the Library began, profoundly influencing the development of our now preeminent culinary collection.
* Included in DeVoto’s papers are several recently processed addenda donated to the Library by her son, Mark DeVoto, between 1988 and 2012.