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Posts Tagged ‘correspondence’

M.F.A. vs Donleavy

April 23, 2015 | by

John Deakin’s portrait of J. P. Donleavy in London, 1950s.

An exchange between J. P. Donleavy—who’s eighty-nine today—and John Irving, from our Spring 1988 issue. Some two years previous, in his Art of Fiction interview, Irving had disparaged Donleavy at length, speaking of their meeting at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where Irving taught in the seventies:

I like meeting other writers, and Iowa City is a good place to meet them, but I didn’t enjoy Donleavy. John Cheever and I, who were in a particularly ritualized habit of watching Monday Night Football together, while eating homemade pasta, were happy to hear that Donleavy was coming. We’d both admired The Ginger Man and we wanted to meet the author. I went to the airport to meet him; I’d written three novels—but not yet The World According to Garp; I wasn’t famous. I didn’t expect Donleavy to have read anything of mine, but I was surprised when he announced that he read no one living; then he asked if we were in Kansas. I told him a little about the Workshop, but he was one of those writers with no knowledge about writing programs and many prejudices about them: to be a student of writing was a waste of time; better to go out and suffer. He was wearing a very expensive three-piece suit, very handsome shoes, and handling a very posh walking stick at the time, and I began to get irritated. In a meeting with Workshop students, he told them that any writer who was lowering himself by teaching writing wasn’t capable of teaching them anything. And so I was quite cross by the time I had to pick up the great man and drive him to his reading. I said we would be taking Mr. Cheever with us to the reading, and that both Mr. Cheever and I were great admirers, and that although I knew Mr. Donleavy did not read anyone living, he should know that Mr. Cheever was a wonderful writer. His short stories were models of the form, I said. But when I introduced Cheever to Donleavy, Donleavy wouldn’t even look at him; he went on talking to his wife, about aspirin, as if Cheever wasn’t there. I tried to say a few things about why so many American writers turned to teaching—as a way of supporting themselves without having to place the burden of making money upon their writing; and as a way of giving themselves enough time to practice their writing, too.

But Donleavy wasn’t interested and he said so. The whole trip he was taking was tiresome; the people he met, the people everywhere, were tiresome, too. And so Cheever and I sat up front in the car, excluded from the conversation about the evils of aspirin, and driving the Donleavys about as if they were unhappy royalty in a hick town. I will say that Mrs. Donleavy appeared to suffer her husband’s rudeness, or perhaps she was just suffering her headache. Cheever tried a few times to engage Donleavy in some conversation, and as Cheever was as gifted in conversation as any man I have ever met, I grew more and more furious at Donleavy’s coldness and unresponsiveness and total discourtesy. I was thinking, frankly, that I should throw the lout in a puddle, if there was one handy, when Cheever spoke up. “Do you know, Mr. Donleavy,” Cheever said, “that no major writer of fiction was ever a shit to another writer of fiction, except Hemingway—and he was crazy?” That was all. Donleavy had no answer. Perhaps he thought Hemingway was still a living writer and therefore hadn’t read him, either. Cheever and I deposited the Donleavys at the reading, which we spontaneously decided to skip. It was many years later that I met and became friends with George Roy Hill, who told me that he’d been a roommate of “Mike” Donleavy at Trinity College, Dublin, and that “Mike” was just a touch eccentric and surely not a bad sort. But I remembered my evening with Cheever and told George that, in my opinion, Donleavy was a minor writer, a shit, or crazy—or all three. I should add that drinking wasn’t the issue of this unpleasant evening; Cheever was not drinking; Donleavy wasn’t drunk—he was simply righteous and acting the prima donna. I feel a little like I’m tattling on a fellow schoolboy to tell this story, but I felt so awful—not for myself but for Cheever. It was such an outrage; that Donleavy—this large, silly man with his walking stick—was snubbing John Cheever. I suppose it’s silly that I should still be angry, but George Plimpton told me that Donleavy has a subscription to The Paris Review [a complimentary subscription—Ed.]; this presents an apparent contradiction to Donleavy’s claim that he doesn’t read anyone living, but it gives me hope that he might read this. If the story embarrasses him, or makes him angry, I would say we’re even; the evening embarrassed Cheever and me, and made us angry, too.

Donleavy wrote the following response; the editors also published a riposte from Irving. Read More »

Plus Ça Change

April 21, 2015 | by

Charlotte_Bronte_by_Patrick_Branwell_Bronte_restored

A portrait of Charlotte Brontë from The Brontë Sisters, by Patrick Branwell Brontë, ca. 1834.

From Charlotte Brontë’s letter to her friend Ellen Nussey, April 2, 1845. Brontë and Nussey exchanged hundreds of letters; this one, written about two weeks before Brontë turned twenty-nine and two years before the publication of Jane Eyre, finds her in a laudably bitter frame of mind, inveighing against marriage and men.

I see plainly it is proved to us that there is scarcely a draught of unmingled happiness to be had in this world. ——’s illness comes with ——’s marriage. Mary T. finds herself free, and on that path to adventure and exertion to which she has so long been seeking admission. Sickness, hardship, danger are her fellow-travellers—her inseparable companions … Yet these real, material dangers, when once past, leave in the mind the satisfaction of having struggled with difficulty, and overcome it. Strength, courage, and experience are their invariable results; whereas, I doubt whether suffering purely mental has any good result, unless it be to make us by comparison less sensitive to physical suffering … Read More »

You Too Can Be a General

April 2, 2015 | by

Ernest_Hemingway_with_Colonel_Charles_T._(Buck)_Lanham_September_18,_1944_-_NARA_-_192699

Hemingway with Lanham on September 18, 1944, after the breakthrough of the Siegfried Line in Western Germany.

From Ernest Hemingway’s letter to Colonel Charles T. Lanham, April 2, 1945. Hemingway described Lanham as “the finest and bravest and most intelligent military commander I have known”; he did, in fact, go on to make general. Original spelling and punctuation retained.

Now I just feel homesick, lonely and useless. But will pull out of it. Because have to.

Also have cut out heavy drinking … and since Liquor is my best friend and severest critic I miss it. Also have explained to my old girls there is nothing doing—and this light drinking, righteous Life isn’t comparable to always haveing at least two bottles of Perrier Jouet in the ice bucket and the old Kraut Marlene [Dietrich] always ready to come in and sit with you while you shave […] Read More »

Filial Piety

March 6, 2015 | by

George du Maurier

A letter from George du Maurier to his mother, March 1862.

My dear Mamma,

I have just received your letter which is disgustingly short and disappointing after I’ve been waiting day after day—as if you didn’t owe me a letter—fact is, you don’t care half so much for your firstborn as you used, and I’m not going to stand it Madam. I must have you over here to remind you by the fascination of my manner and the charm of my conversation that you ought to have quite a peculiar pride and affection for me. Read More »

Autobiography (With Oysters, Orgy)

February 23, 2015 | by

Chekhov in 1897.

A letter from Anton Chekhov to V. A. Tihonov, dated February 23, 1892. Chekhov had just turned thirty-two at the time. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

You are mistaken in thinking you were drunk at Shtcheglov’s name-day party. You had had a drop, that was all. You danced when they all danced, and your jigitivka on the cabman’s box excited nothing but general delight. As for your criticism, it was most likely far from severe, as I don’t remember it. I only remember that Vvedensky and I for some reason roared with laughter as we listened to you.

Do you want my biography? Here it is. Read More »

Advice for Travelers: Beware Cannibals!

February 10, 2015 | by

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A map by John Cary of “Independent Tartary,” 1811.

A letter from Charles Lamb to Thomas Manning from February 1803. Lamb, an English essayist, was born on this day in 1775; his correspondence is known for veering into what he called “nonsense.” Here he responds to news that Manning, one of Europe’s earliest Chinese Studies scholars, will embark soon for China and Tibet—he went on to become the first Englishman to secure an interview with the Dalai Lama. “Independent Tartary” is an outmoded term for Central Asia.

My Dear Manning,—The general scope of your letter afforded no indications of insanity, but some particular points raised a scruple. For God’s sake, don’t think any more of “Independent Tartary.” What are you to do among such Ethiopians? … I tremble for your Christianity. They will certainly circumcise you. Read Sir John Mandeville’s travels to cure you, or come over to England. There is a Tartar man now exhibiting at Exeter Change. Come and talk with him, and hear what he says first. Indeed, he is no very favorable specimen of his countrymen! But perhaps the best thing you can do is to try to get the idea out of your head. For this purpose repeat to yourself every night, after you have said your prayers, the words “Independent Tartary, Independent Tartary,” two or three times, and associate with them the idea of oblivion (‘t is Hartley’s method with obstinate memories); or say “Independent, Independent, have I not already got an independence?” That was a clever way of the old Puritans—pun-divinity. My dear friend, think what a sad pity it would be to bury such parts in heathen countries, among nasty, unconversable, horse-belching, Tartar people! Some say they are cannibals; and then conceive a Tartar fellow eating my friend, and adding the cool malignity of mustard and vinegar! … The Tartars really are a cold, insipid, smouchy set. You’ll be sadly moped (if you are not eaten) among them. Pray try and cure yourself … Shave yourself oftener. Eat no saffron, for saffron-eaters contract a terrible Tartar-like yellow. Pray to avoid the fiend. Eat nothing that gives the heartburn. Shave the upper lip. Go about like an European. Read no book of voyages (they are nothing but lies); only now and then a romance, to keep the fancy under. Above all, don’t go to any sights of wild beasts. That has been your ruin. Accustom yourself to write familiar letters on common subjects to your friends in England, such as are of a moderate understanding. And think about common things more … You’ll never come back. Have a care, my dear friend, of Anthropophagi! their stomachs are always craving. ‘Tis terrible to be weighed out at fivepence a pound. To sit at table (the reverse of fishes in Holland), not as a guest, but as a meat!

God bless you! do come to England. Air and exercise may do great things.

Talk with some minister. Why not your father?

God dispose all for the best! I have discharged my duty.

Your sincere friend,

C. LAMB.