“Why You Will Never Meet the Newberry’s Most Famous Librarian,” by S.M. O’Connor

The most famous librarian at The New Library is not a real person, but a character.  Research Librarian Henry DeTamble from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife has a genetic abnormality (called Chrono Displacement Disorder) that causes him to uncontrollably travel through time (within the span of his own lifetime).  He also travels through space, appearing mostly at places that are important to him, such as the family home of his artist wife Clare, and the couple’s house in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.  He uses The Newberry Library, an independent research library devoted to the humanities that is located in the Near North Side (Community Area #8) on the North Side of Chicago, as an anchor in time and space (somewhat like the concept of the constant in the TV series Lost).  DeTamble is said to be the most competent research librarian at The Newberry Library, but is also considered unreliable because he can literally disappear at any time.  He also leaves his clothing behind when he leaves his present and arrives naked wherever he’s going, which leave shim in the position of being forced to steal clothing (and sometimes to defend himself).  Consequently, his colleagues on occasion find him wandering about naked.  Due to his travels through time and space, for Clare they meet for the first time in a meadow near her family home (Meadowlark House) in South Haven, Michigan (the novelist’s real hometown) when he is in his forties and she is a six-year-old girl.  However, for him they meet for the first time at The Newberry Library when he is a twenty-eight-year-old research librarian and she is a twenty-year-old student at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Authoress Audrey Niffenegger is a Michigan native who formerly made a living as an artist and printer.  She was a faculty member at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts while she wrote her debut novel, which was published in 2003. Amongst other things, she taught graduate students how to make limited-edition books by hand.  On April 15, 2010, Ron Falzone, a faculty member in Columbia College’s Department of Film and Video, interviewed her as the fourth program in the series Friends of the Library Signature Showcase.

Ms. Niffenegger subsequently wrote two graphic novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters, published in 2005, and The Adventuress, published in 2006, both published by Jonathan Cape.  The latter is an imprint of Random House, which also published The Time Traveler’s Wife in the U.K. under the Vintage imprint. Her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, is a ghost story set near London’s Highgate Cemetery, and was published in the U.S. by Charles Scribner Sons in the fall of 2009.  The publishing house paid an advance of $5,000,000 after an auction in the spring of that year.  They won out over, amongst others, MacAdam/Cage, a small company in San the Francisco that was hardcover publisher of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, paperback publisher of the novel, according to The New York Times.  Jonathan Cape published it in the U.K.  Her third graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile appeared in serialized installments in The Guardian (previously known as The Manchester Guardian) in 2008 and Jonathan Cape published it in 2010.  Ms. Niffenegger is currently working on a sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife that will focus on Henry & Clare DeTamble’s daughter, Alba DeTamble.

In the film adaptation, The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009), Australian actor Eric Bana[1] plays Henry DeTamble and Canadian actress Rachel McAdams[2] plays Clare DeTamble (nee Abshire).  The adaptation for the silver screen was filmed in Chicago and Toronto.  The screenwriter for the adaptation was Detroit native Bruce Joel Rubin, who in 1991 won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the supernatural thriller Ghost (1990).

1Figure 1 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a view of the fountain at the center of Washington Square Park and The Newberry Library on Sunday, July 14, 2019.



[1] Eric Bana is best known for playing the Trojan hero Prince Hector in Troy (2004) and Nero the Romulan villain in Star Trek (2009).  In The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), he played King Henry VIII of England.  Twice, in war films, he played real men, Norm “Hoot” Gibson and Lieutenant Commander Erik S. Kristensen, in respectively, Black Hawk Down (2001) and Lone Survivor (2013). In a similar vein, he played Daniel Cluff, a real U.S. Coast Guard officer in The Finest Hours (2016), which relates the tale of one of the largest rescue operations ever undertaken by the Coast Guard.  In the horror film Deliver Us from Evil (2014), he played another real man, Ralph Sarchie, who went from being a police sergeant with the New York Police Department to a lay demonologist.  He briefly appeared on screen as King Arthur’s father King Uther Pendragon in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017).

[2] Rachel McAdams is best known for playing ingénue Kate McNab in the first and second seasons of the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows (2003-2006); teenage bully Regina George in Mean Girls (2004); the young adult version of heroine Alice Hamilton in The Notebook (2004); Claire Cleary in the debauched comedy Wedding Crashers (2005); and femme fatale Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes (2009). After she played Clare DeTamble in The Time Traveler’s Wife, she remarkably played the winsome American wife of a young Englishman who (like Henry DeTamble) could naturally travel through time (i.e., without the aid of a machine), Tim Lake (played by Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson), in the romantic dramedy About Time (2013).  More recently, she joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe when she played surgical nurse Christine Palmer, Dr. Stephen Strange’s love interest, in Doctor Strange (2016).

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