February 1, 2016 | by S. J. Perelman
From a letter sent by S. J. Perelman to Betsy Drake, dated May 12, 1952. Perelman, one of the most popular humorists of his time, was born on this day in 1904; he died in 1979. Donald Barthelme called him “the first true American surrealist.” “I classify myself as a writer of what the French call feuilletons—that is, a writer of little leaves. They’re comic essays of a particular type,” Perelman told The Paris Review in 1963. Here he advises Drake on the miseries of screenwriting. “The mere mention of Hollywood induces a condition in me like breakbone fever. It was a hideous and untenable place when I dwelt there, populated with few exceptions by Yahoos, and now that it has become the chief citadel of television, it’s unspeakable,” he told the Review. Read More »
January 28, 2016 | by Horace Walpole
Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter to another Horace—Mann—dated January 28, 1754. The occasion was pretty unremarkable—it was a happy accident, after all—and almost archetypally British: Walpole had used a talisman to discover a link between two families by investigating their coats of arms in an old book. At least Walpole was aware of the dullness of his eureka moment: “I have nothing better to tell you,” he writes, before launching into the fascinating etymology of his new word. It would take nearly two centuries for the adjective form, serendipitous, to come on the scene—its first recorded usage was in 1943. —D. P. Read More »
December 17, 2015 | by Terry Southern
A letter from Terry Southern to Fayette Hickox, dated June 29, 1978, and sent to the offices of The Paris Review. Southern, a novelist and screenplay writer, contributed often to the Review; he died in 1995, and our humor prize is named after him. Hickox—who is, as Southern was apparently unaware, a man—was George Plimpton’s assistant and a former managing editor of the magazine. Gene Andrewski, referred to below, was a former managing editor, too, and Maxine Groffsky ran the Review’s offices in Paris from 1966 until it moved to New York in 1973. (The letter’s original spelling and punctuation have been retained.)
This letter appears in Yours in Haste and Adoration: Selected Letters of Terry Southern, edited by Nile Southern and Brooke Allen, out now from Antibookclub. Read More »
December 2, 2015 | by Antonin Baudry
Over the half century since The Paris Review moved its headquarters to New York, we have often relied on a Paris editor to bring us the literary news from France. These Paris editors have included, at different times, Robert Silvers, Nelson Aldrich, Maxine Groffsky, and Susannah Hunnewell. Our new Paris editor, Antonin Baudry, served the French government as cultural counselor in New York and Madrid, as president of the Institut Français, and as an aide and speechwriter to foreign minister Dominique de Villepin during the Iraq crisis, an experience on which he based a best-selling graphic novel and hit movie (released here as Weapons of Mass Diplomacy and The French Minister, respectively). We heard from Antonin earlier this week. —L. S.
I’m writing you from the Café de Tournon, where the founders of The Paris Review spent so much time back in the fifties. It happens to be my local, too. Today I ordered a café crème instead of my usual espresso. I’m celebrating your decision to make me the Paris editor of The Paris Review. I admit it sounds bizarre to me, though it’s hard to say what exactly counts as bizarre these days, around here. In any case, I will strive to do my duty by our readers … whatever that may turn out to be. Read More »
October 30, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Lord Byron to Thomas Moore, dated October 31, 1815. Read More »
October 20, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From a letter by Arthur Rimbaud to his family, dated November 17, 1878, and sent from Gênes. After a disastrous affair with Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud, born on this day in 1854, left France to travel the world, eventually setting up shop in Ethiopia, where he sold coffee and arms before falling gravely ill. This note chronicles his harrowing journey through the Gotthard Pass, in the Swiss Alps. It’s translated from the French by Wyatt Mason, from I Promise to Be Good: The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud.
As for how I got here, it was full of wrong turns and sporadic seasonal surprises … for after a certain point no carriage could get through with an average of fifty centimeters of snow and a storm brewing. The Gothard crossing was supposed to be the route; you can’t get through by carriage in this season, and so I couldn’t get through either.
At Altdorf, on the south side of lake Quatre-Canton along the border of which we strolled through steam, the Gothard road begins. At Amsteg, fifteen kilometers from Altdorf, the road begins to climb and follow the contours of the Alps … At Göschenen, a village that has become a market town because of the affluence of its workers, you see the opening of the famous tunnel at the back of the gorge, the studios and canteens of businesses. Moreover, this seemingly rough-hewn countryside is hardworking and industrious. Even if you can’t see the threshers going in the valley, you can hear the scythes and mattocks against the invisible heights. It goes without saying that most of the local industry manifests in wood. There are many mining operations. Innkeepers show you mineral samples of every variety, which Satan, they say, buys on the cheap and resells in the city. Read More »