To explore the original manuscript of a treasured literary classic scribed in an author’s own handwriting is a rarity.
Setting out to help preserve and promote these historically significant documents, French filmmaker Nicolas Tretiakow and Franco-American literary critic Jessica Nelson founded Editions des Saints Pères (SP Books), an independent publishing house that specializes in sourcing and reprinting original handwritten works from authors including Gustave Flaubert, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo and now F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Since founding their company in 2012, the Paris-based bibliophiles have specialized in reproducing works originally written in French. From Voltaire’s “Candide” to “Beauty and the Beast” by Jean-Luc Godard, each hand-numbered limited-edition tome presents the author’s creative journey complete with metacognitive notes and scratched-out edits.
This month, SP Books expands into the U.S. market for the first time with the release of Fitzgerald’s original 1924 draft of “The Great Gatsby.” Contained in a slate gray slipcase framed by a geometric Art Deco design, the American author’s handwritten work presents a glimpse into how Fitzgerald developed his now-classic novel.
“The first step is to locate the manuscript,” explains Tretiakow of his process in bringing these literary relics to a broader audience. “In the situation of [‘Gatsby’], it wasn’t very hard because the manuscript is held at the Princeton University library.”
But not all of SP Books’ manuscripts are so easily sourced. The former filmmaker notes how original manuscripts are occasionally lost or stolen before reemerging in unlikely places, making the hunt for these documents nearly as intriguing as the fictional manuscripts themselves. Tretiakow recalls the discovery of “Journey to the End of the Night,” the debut novel of Louis-Ferdinand Céline that was initially published in 1932. “It disappeared for sixty years and just popped up in an auction about a decade ago,” he explains. “We have lots of informers and manuscript specialists.”
With “The Great Gatsby,” readers will discover Fitzgerald’s reworkings including original character names for “Daisy” (“Ada”) and “Nick” (“Dud”). The $250 collectible also comes with a specially written foreword by director Baz Luhrmann, who pored over Fitzgerald’s manuscript before making his 2013 film adaptation of the literary classic.
“Critics tend to say that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is the Great American Novel of the 20th century,” writes the Australian native. “I would proffer that it is looking pretty prescient of the 21st century as well.”
Tretiakow and Nelson have a similar philosophy when selecting each original work, which next year will see the addition of works from Mary Shelley and Oscar Wilde. Titles are limited to a printing of under 2000 copies, making each French-made edition a home library investment. But with it comes a tangible link to the still impactful prose of some of modern history’s most prolific writers.
“We believe it’s not worth doing something if only 50 or 100 people can buy it,” opines Tretiakow. “[Each] is an important cultural text and has to be spread.”
Nelson adds, “We restore the images of the manuscript [in a way similar to] art restoration. We don’t want the classic facsimile, but we want you to feel like Fitzgerald [or any other author] has personally given you his notebook.”
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