June 24, 2015 | by William Styron
The Paris Review could have been named Weathercock—and other early memories from an editor emeritus.
A new collection of William Styron’s nonfiction, My Generation, includes this reminiscence on the origins of The Paris Review; this piece first appeared in 1959, as Styron’s introduction to The Best Short Stories from The Paris Review.
Memory is, of course, a traitor, and it is wise not to trust any memoir which lends the impression of total recall. The following account of the founding of The Paris Review comprises my own recollection of the event, highly colored by prejudice, and must not be considered any more the gospel than those frequent narratives of the twenties, which tell you the color of the shoes that Gertrude Stein wore at a certain hour on such and such a day…
The Paris Review was born in Montparnasse in the spring of 1952. It was, as one looks back on it through nostalgia’s deceptive haze, an especially warm and lovely and extravagant spring. Even in Paris, springs like that don’t come too often. Everything seemed to be in premature leaf and bud, and by the middle of March there was a general great stirring. The pigeons were aloft, wheeling against a sky that stayed blue for days, tomcats prowled stealthily along rooftop balustrades, and by the first of April the girls already were sauntering on the boulevard in scanty cotton dresses, past the Dome and the Rotonde and their vegetating loungers who, two weeks early that year, heliotrope faces turned skyward, were able to begin to shed winter’s anemic cast. All sorts of things were afoot—parties, daytime excursions to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, picnics along the banks of the Marne, where, after a lunch of bread and saucissons and Brie and Evian water (the liver was a touch troubled, following a winter sourly closeted with too much wine), you could lie for hours in the grass by the quiet riverside and listen to the birds and the lazy stir and fidget of grasshoppers and understand, finally, that France could be pardoned her most snooty and magisterial pride, mistress as she was of such sweet distracting springs. Read More »
December 7, 2012 | by William Styron
To George Plimpton
December 1, 1953 Ravello, Italy
Herewith the interview, revised and expanded. I think that in the future it might be a good idea for you to get a tape-recorder for these darn things, because it’s a bitch of a job for the interviewee to edit his own words. Now you will note that I did not completely eliminate all the first part; as a matter of fact I retained the bulk of it, but made quite a few changes and emendations. I think it’s better now, certainly printable. Besides all the additions, you will notice I made a few eliminations. I cut out a few of the cuss-words, which were all too abundant. I cut out the cracks against little Truman and Anthony West, who God knows deserves them, but they seemed a little in poor taste. I also tempered my criticism of Faulkner. I have tried to keep the tone impersonal and conversational throughout, and I think that I’ve succeeded.
You will notice, too, that I’ve taken your suggestion and have added quite a bit toward the end. I hope you will find the questions—some of which are yours—and answers suitable; at least the piece is considerably lengthened, and I’ve gotten off my chest a few things I’ve wanted to say. One important thing is that I think you must somehow invent a little atmosphere to surround the piece. It’s mighty bare without any stage directions, and I think if you place the thing right where the original interview started, in the Café Select, or some equivalent, it will provide a suitably bibulous background.
December 6, 2012 | by William Styron
To George Plimpton
September 18, 1953 Ravello, Italy
Last night I did something which I only do once or twice in a generation: I stayed up all night with a bottle of Schenley’s and watched the dawn. That sort of thing is a perverse, masochistic business and at around 9 A.M. I was entertaining the idea of writing two or three novels before I went to bed, but oblivion closed in an hour later, and I just woke up. It is now almost sunset. This is mainly by way of saying that if this letter doesn’t have a Chesterﬁeldian elegance + grace you will at least have been apprised of the reason.
My main reason for writing this letter is one-fold, I have been forced down certain channels of contemplation by a recent communiqué from John (“The Second Happiest Day”) Phillips, to use current journalese. Primarily, I was interested in his remarks about a Hemingway issue of PR; and I think at this point and without further ado I can shoulder my burden as advisory editor of the snappiest little mag on the Rive Gauche and say that I think it’s a great idea. Peter and THG apparently (according to Marquand) are not so enthusiastic about the proposition; as for me I think that if you really have enough interesting, fresh material in the ofﬁng (it must be interesting, fresh, original, and there must be quite a bit of it) then it might be one of the literary coups of all time. As Marquand said, print the word Hemingway in neon all over each page and both covers. Anything goes. Read More »
December 5, 2012 | by William Styron
To Norman Mailer
June 1, 1953 Rome, Italy
I note that you began your last letter: “I’ve been kind of depressed lately,” and by way of preface to this letter I should say that I’ve been both depressed and elated since you last heard from me—elated at having just married a most admirable girl (perhaps you’ve gotten an announcement) and depressed because for roughly your own sort of reasons—an inability to get going again at this writing game. To complicate the situation, a few days ago, barreling down the Autostrada in an effort to catch up with Irwin Shaw’s Ford convertible (we had been on a two-car picnic at Angio) I smacked into a motorscooter going full tilt and glued an Italian all over the front end of my car. The guy was made of brick and will survive with nothing more than lacerations, and fortunately for the legal end of the thing it was his own fault (he was a moron, for one thing, and for another had been driving with a glass eye) but such incidents always leave me spookily aware of just how vulnerable we all are. Perhaps they’re valuable as such from an ah-tistic point of view, but I doubt it.
December 4, 2012 | by William Styron
To John P. Marquand, Jr.
April 17, 1953 Rome, Italy
I received your telegram, and I must say that Rose and I feel that there would be nothing more delightful than to play Byron with you for a while, and we were especially intrigued by the line which said a special tour was being arranged, or would be arranged, “in our honor,” which conjured up visions of open, bullet-proof sedans, police escorts, and jonquils being thrown into our faces by a frantic populace. It would indeed be nice. But we have talked this thing over and have decided that in view of the fact that we will probably be getting married within the next few weeks, and that Rose’s brother and wife are expected at any moment, it would put a strain on our nervous resources to come, at least my nervous resources, already depleted by a soggy, constant drunkenness brought on in part by the prospect of marriage, by insomnia, by clots, and by a general spiritual enervation resulting from the realization that already, going on 28, I am a wash-up as a writer and ﬁt only to do the “Recent & Readable” part of the book section in Time. In other words, I will be going through a crisis this spring and although I don’t doubt that Greece is an excellent place to weather such a storm, I hope you can understand my position. I hope also, by the way, that when you ﬁnish diddling your Greek lady-in-waiting you will come back to Rome in time to take part in the shoddy ceremony which is due to be enacted in the city hall. That will be some time toward the end of this month, no doubt, or the ﬁrst week or so in May.
December 3, 2012 | by William Styron
“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end,” explained William Styron in his 1954 Art of Fiction interview. “You live several lives while reading it. Its writer should, too.” Such is the experience in reading Styron’s Selected Letters, edited by Rose Styron, with R. Blakeslee Gilpin, and published this week. Alongside major cultural and political events of the latter half of the twentieth century are intimate accounts of family life, depression, writing, frustrations, and friendships.
Of his many lives, Styron may be best remembered in this office for his influence on the early years of The Paris Review. It is awfully fun to see those moments surface in his correspondence, and our selection was made with those moments in mind. Look for a new letter each day this week.
To Dorothy Parker
July 19, 1952 Paris, France
Honeybunch darling—the story is, I believe, coming along just dandy and my pretty much night and day work on it is the main reason I haven’t written you before this. It is now between 11,000 and 12,000 words, which I figure is about two-thirds complete. It has some really good—fine—things in it so far, and I think it will be even better when it’s finished. In fact I think I can say it has some of my best writing in it and will make stories by people like Hemingway and Turgenev pale in comparison. That sounds a bit like what Hemingway would say, doesn’t it? Read More »