Skip to main content

Hamilton Basso papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 57

Scope and Contents

The Hamilton Basso Papers consist of letters, manuscripts, photographs, legal and financial documents, and printed material concerning the working and publishing career of the author. The papers span the years 1851-1975, but are concentrated in the period 1929-64.

The collection is housed in 22 boxes and consists of three series: Correspondence, Writings, and Other Papers. Box 21 contains Oversize material. Box 22 contains Restricted Fragile Papers.

Series I, Correspondence , covers the years 1927-73. Included here are letters to and from Hamilton Basso and his family, colleagues, readers and publishing companies. The letters from Hamilton Basso to his wife Etolia discuss his activities while away on a series of trips between 1942 and 1960. Letters from February and March 1942 involve Basso's sojourn in Florida where he met Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Between 1957 and 1960, Basso traveled to Rio de Janeiro, the South Seas, Scandinavia, and Finland to do research for articles. His letters reflect his admiration for foreign settings and his interactions with natives in both urban and rural areas. Basso later corresponded with many people he met during this period, including the Danielsson family and Emmerik Jensen.

Basso's professional correspondence involved a number of publishing companies and fellow authors. Letters from Thomas Wolfe, written from 1935 until his death in 1938, concern Wolfe's growing notoriety and friends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald. A 28-page letter from Wolfe to Maxwell Perkins dated December 15, 1936 discusses Wolfe's personal philosophy, his writing, and his opinion of influential books such as Ulysses. Maxwell Perkins's letters to Hamilton Basso from August and October 1938 concern Thomas Wolfe before and after the author's death.

Jade Snow-Wong, a sculptor from San Francisco, corresponded with Basso in the mid-1950s and sent him copies of letters written during her trip to Japan, Hong Kong, and India in 1953. During this same period, Basso received a number of fan letters from readers of his best-selling novel, The View from Pompey's Head. Many of these can be found in the "Letter" general folders.

Correspondence with publishing companies reveals the often arduous process of negotiation. The Doubleday & Co., Inc. letters from 1955 reflect the success of The View from Pompey's Head, while later letters from 1962 concern the growing incompatibility between author and publisher.

Series II, Writings , covering the years 1878-1964, contains drafts of most of Hamilton Basso's later works and a number of short pieces written early in his career. The first subseries covers books written by or contributed to by Hamilton Basso. The View from Pompey's Head exists in three versions. A draft typescript is followed by a setting typescript, which was made into a final galley proof for the book. These stages are evident for other titles such as A Quota of Seaweed. The Light Infantry Ball also includes an advance proof of the book and several folders of notes, both written and collected by Basso in preparation for this tale of the Civil War period.

A Touch of the Dragon, Basso's final published work, exists in several stages of development. Begun as a short story entitled "Edwina and the Kangaroo," this story went through at least three distinct drafts before being typeset for publication. The pages of the first and second drafts are not in precise numerical order, because numerous additions and duplicate pages which had to be kept in the sequence in which they were received.

An unpublished novel, The Swing of the Compass, also has many variant pages intermingled in its separate drafts. Draft 3 represents the most cohesive text of this book. Included before the drafts are files of notes, typewritten outlines, character sketches, and printed materials which help trace the development of the Basso's idea from a storyline called "Adam's Profession" to the final 378-page manuscript.

Sun in Capricorn, Basso's 1942 novel about southern politics, is present in several forms, exhibiting a different process of revision than that seen with other manuscripts. For a Popular Library edition of the book in 1961, Basso took copies of his original hardcover novel and revised its pages, making additions and deletion by inserting typewritten notes throughout. One copy of the original hardcover novel contains notes for a play based on the book, while another was used as a setting copy for the paperback edition.

Basso contributed the introduction to Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon by William Lewis Herndon in a reprinted edition of this title from 1952. Drafts of his essay and the final galley proofs are included here as is a setting typescript of another work of fiction, The Green Room, from 1949.

The second subseries, Shorter Works, contains many short stories from Basso's early years in New York and New Orleans. Many of these stories center around a character named Quimby. Profiles of writers (Thomas Wolfe, Eugene O'Neill) and notes for various projects (The USA, Cuba, 1952, Letters from America) make up the later works in this subseries.

Series III, Other Papers , contains financial, legal and printed materials, and photographs. Included here are copies of contracts for publishing and filming rights to several of Basso's books and royalty receipts from the 1950s and 1960s. The printed materials contain a variety of items categorized by the work or subject to which they pertain. Found in the folder for The View from Pompey's Head are newspaper clippings of reviews of the novel, a map of the town of Pompey's Head, and advertising flyers and posters for the British edition of the book, which was entitled simply Pompey's Head.

Writings by Others includes a sketchy profile of Thomas Wolfe by Robert Sadow, as well as a typewritten carbon copy of Wolfe's own work, "The Child by Tiger." Two versions of the radio adaptation of Basso's novel The Green Room, retitled "The Great Lady" by Fletcher Markle and Robert Wallstein, are found here, as well.

Box 21 contains Oversize material from the Writings series. The Restricted Fragile Papers in Box 22 consist of the originals for which preservation copies have been made.


  • 1861 - 1975


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: Oversize

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 22: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Hamilton Basso Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated to the Yale Collection of American Literature by Mr. Basso and his widow between 1962 and 1984.


10.5 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Manuscripts, letters, and research material document the life of best-selling novelist Hamilton Basso.

HAMILTON BASSO (1904-1964)

Joseph Hamilton Basso was born September 5, 1904 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His early years were spent in the French Quarter of the city, where his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had established a successful shoe factory. He attended Tulane University, first studying law, but eventually concentrating on journalism and literature, though he did not take a degree. The change in his scholarly interests was precipitated by his association with a group of southern writers who contributed to the Double Dealer, published in New Orleans, the magazine that would eventually publish the first of Basso's own work. Included in this group were writers with whom Basso established lasting friendships, including Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, and Edmund Wilson.

In 1926, Basso moved to New York City, establishing himself for a few years in Greenwich Village. He soon moved back to his native New Orleans, where he progressively established himself as a writer and editor at all three of the city's newspapers, including the Times-Picayune. His first novel, the semi-autobiographic Relics and Angels, was published in 1929. The work garnered little acclaim and Basso would later dismiss it as a piece of juvenilia. His next work, Beauregard, the Great Creole (1933), a biography of the Confederate general, was a success, allowing Basso to move to the mountain retreat Pisgah Forest, North Carolina to work on his next novel, accompanied by his wife, Etolia (née Simmons) and their infant son, Keith.

Basso's efforts of the 1930s established him as a novelist of note. His Cinnamon Seed (1934) was well received, as was In Their Own Image (1935) and Courthouse Square (1936), which was optioned to be made into a motion picture. Days Before Lent, published in 1939, became widely acclaimed, winning the Southern Writer's Award for 1940. The film version of the novel, retitled Holiday for Sinners, was released 12 years later. Sun in Capricorn, a novel about the struggle of a Yale graduate against the wiles of a southern politician named Gilgo Slade, who was fashioned after Huey Long, was issued in 1940. In 1943, Basso published Mainstream, a collection of profiles of famous Americans, including Franklin D. Roosevelt.

During the productive years of the 1930s and 1940s, Basso resumed his editorial work by moving to New York to write for several nationally known magazines. Beginning with New Republic in 1935-37, and continuing at Time from 1942-43, Basso eventually established himself as an associate editor at the New Yorker in 1943, a position he held until 1964. The New Yorker gave him the opportunity to work with a variety of other writers and to publish his own short fiction and nonfiction.

The World from Jackson Square, a collection of writings about New Orleans, published in 1948, was done in conjunction with his wife. In 1954, Basso published what is likely his most widely-read book, The View from Pompey's Head. The novel, concerning the conflicting emotions of a Southern expatriate who must confront his heritage when he is called back to his hometown, the fictional Pompey's Head, South Carolina, stayed on the best-seller lists for the better part of a year. The movie, made from the book the following year, proved to be just as successful.

Though Basso and his family settled in Weston, Connecticut in the 1940s, he had a passion for travel. Many of his voyages would provide background for his work. After writing several short pieces for Holiday magazine, Basso issued some of his essays as a collection, titled A Quota of Seaweed, in 1960.

The Light Infantry Ball, a prequel to The View from Pompey's Head and the second in a unfinished trilogy about the town, was issued in 1961. Basso's final novel, A Touch of the Dragon, was published shortly after he died of cancer on May 13, 1964 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Guide to the Hamilton Basso Papers
Under Revision
by Timothy G. Young
September 1992
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.