Biographical/historical: Mina Stein Kirstein Curtiss was born in 1896. Her brother was the choreographer Lincoln Kirstein. She was a professor of English at Smith College from 1920-1934, from 1940-1941, and in 1977. Her research talents appear to have been molded while she was a research assistant for the Mercury Theatre and the Mercury Theatre of the Air (1935-1938) and solidified during World War II when she worked for the Office of Information. During the war she published Letters Home --a collection of letters from servicemen overseas (the working papers for this book are located at the Manuscripts and Archives section of Yale University Library).
Throughout her life Curtiss published books and articles. While doing research for a translation of letters by Marcel Proust (published in 1949), Curtiss discovered an unknown cache of letters to Proust from Geneviève Straus, widow of composer Georges Bizet (she was immortalized as one of the characters in Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu). This led her to undertake a biography of Georges Bizet as her next topic, publishing the book in 1958. She received the Legion of Honor from the French government for her books on Proust and Bizet.
Mina Curtiss continued to teach and publish for the remainder of her active career. She died in 1985.
Content: This collection contains working papers for the book Bizet and His World by Mina Curtiss. It does not contain any draft material for this book or virtually any other documents that reveal Curtiss's writing. At one time Curtiss had in her possession many items from Bizet's estate, including a corrected proof of a piano-vocal score to Carmen. These items were given to the Library of Congress prior to The New York Public Library's acquisition of this collection.
Though Mina Curtiss visited France to interview various people relating to the life of her subject, most of the archival research in French libraries appears to have been carried out by research assistants.
The collection is divided into seven series:
Ancestral and biographical material Materials about Bizet's works Materials concerning individuals Other research materials Curtiss materials Catalogs Photographic material Series 1 contains copies of certificates documenting the lives of Bizet and his ancestors. Also included are published biographical essays, excerpts from Bizet's diary and accounts by others. A curious set of papers are by an individual named Beaunier who claimed her family was related to Bizet. Lacking verifiable documentation Curtiss put this material in an envelope labeled “Ridiculous family claiming to be related to Bizet” (folders 4-5 and 204-213).
Series 2 contains articles about and reviews of Bizet's works.
Series 3 includes materials about individuals associated with Bizet and forms the major part of the collection. Part of Curtiss's success in covering the breadth of 19th-century musical and social life in France was her uncovering of certain key correspondents, such as the artist Jules-Elie Delaunay or Bizet's uncle François Delsarte. Most of the documents in this series are copies, either typed or photostated. The exception are a group of letters by Bizet's friend Edmond Galabert (folder 70 -- these letters were sent to Curtiss by his son François Galabert).
Series 4 contains miscellaneous research materials, such as the livres de bord(log books) of the Opéra-Comique.
Series 5 contains a few items of correspondence to Curtiss.
Series 6 consists of several catalogs of music publications by Choudens and Heugel.
Series 7 consists mostly of photographs and photostats.