The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘correspondence’

Will They or Won’t They?

September 24, 2015 | by

The not-quite-romance of Eudora Welty and Ross MacDonald.

Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald.

Some friendships hover between romantic and platonic, anchored to the latter by circumstance or fate. It’s a sitcom trope: the will-they-or-won’t-they couple, always teetering at the edge of love. But though TV demands a tidy resolution—the answer is almost always that they will, and do—in life such friendships often remain in limbo indefinitely, stretching on for years, even decades.

Such was the case for Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald. By the time they became acquainted, in 1970, both were well established in their fields—Welty in that nebulous genre called Southern literature, and Macdonald in hard-boiled detective fiction. Welty’s stories and novels captured the voice of small towns in Mississippi; Macdonald, the pen name for Ken Millar, set his novels in Southern California, where he and his wife, Margaret, had settled. His books explored, through his Philip Marlowe–equivalent Lew Archer, the ways in which the dream of suburbia could turn twisted and nightmarish.

Welty was an avid reader of crime fiction, so much so that the now-defunct Choctaw Books in Jackson used to keep a pile of paperbacks on hand for when she stopped by. Though she went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, the only award Welty publicly displayed in her house was the Mystery Writers of America’s Raven Award, which she received in 1985 for being the Reader of the Year. She and Millar, by all accounts, had admired each other’s writing from afar for many years, but never connected. Then Welty published her novel Losing Battles, and Millar, using his real name, wrote her a brief, appreciative note. Read More »

Fun with Freud

September 10, 2015 | by

H.D., 1922

A letter from Hilda Doolittle (H. D.) to her companions Bryher and Kenneth Macpherson, sent March 1, 1933. H. D., born on this day in 1886, had journeyed to Vienna to commence her psychoanalysis with Freud himself, though he was old and frail by then. She wasn’t supposed to discuss her analysis with friends, but she wrote about it in great depth to her loved ones; those letters are collected in Analyzing Freud. Here, she chronicles their first meeting and the difficult initial session. The analysis soon improved, though H. D. remained wary of Freud; among other concerns, she found it perturbing that he preferred dogs to cats. Read More »

Driveling Idiots from All Over Europe

September 2, 2015 | by

Joseph Roth, potentially exercised.

Part of a letter from Joseph Roth to Blanche Gidon, his French translator, sent October 11, 1932. Roth, born on this day in 1894, used his letters to vent his spleen, often about money and politics; in this note he rails against French publishing. (“Une heure avec” refers to a regular interview feature in the literary weekly Les Nouvelles Littéraires.) “His actual molten, sun-spotted core,” writes his English translator Michael Hofmann, “flares nakedly in these letters.” Hofmann’s Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters was published in 2012.
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A New Kind of Refinement

August 26, 2015 | by

Guillaume Apollinaire and Madeleine Pagès in December 1915.

A letter from Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, dated October 11, 1915. Apollinaire had met Pagès, who taught literature, on a train in January of that year; by August they were engaged and Apollinaire was stationed in the trenches of Champagne, fighting the Great War. His prolific correspondence with Pagès from this period is remarkable not just in its erotic candor but in its portrayal of life in the trenches, down to the finest details: “mud, what mud, you cannot imagine the mud you have to have seen it here, sometimes the consistency of putty, sometimes like whipped cream or even wax and extraordinarily slippery.” At times he rebuked his lover for not writing often or well enough, though the beginning of this letter finds him pleased with her efforts. The following year, he was wounded by shrapnel; the injury so disturbed him that he refused to receive his fiancée during his convalescence, and soon the letters, along with their engagement, dried up.

My love, I had two letters from you today. I am very happy with them … especially out here, where your precious sensuality is a consolation to me, the sole remedy for all my troubles. Please do mark this well, my love. You said yourself that we should strengthen the secret between us, so do strengthen it, and fear for nothing. Be naked before me—as far away as I am … Your meaningful look in Marseilles is admirably clear to me in memory, charged with all the voluptuousness that is part of you. You are very beautiful. I kiss your mouth through your hat veil, tearing it like a Veil of Isis and grasping the whole of that little traveller who is now my own beloved little wife and clasping her madly to me …

I take your whole mouth and kiss it, and then your breasts, so sensitive, whose tips harden at my kiss and strain towards me like your desire itself. I wrap my arms about you and hold you fight forever against my heart. Read More »

Letters of Note

August 13, 2015 | by


Thomas Rowlandson, A Book Auction, 1810-15.

In his late twenties, my father was a habitué of the Charles Hamilton Autograph Auctions at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, where he would snap up anything that went unsold at the end of the day; in this way he earned the nickname The Vulture. Charles Hamilton himself was a noted signatures expert who had given testimony in a number of prominent forgery cases. His auctions were known for their quality and their miscellany, and for the personality of their proprietor. ‘‘Unless you have a soul made of solid lead,’’ he purportedly said, ‘‘your pulse quickens and your eyes brighten when you look upon something that a great man actually held and into which he put his personal thoughts.’’

My father, due to his own somewhat indiscriminate buying practices, ended up with a somewhat unfocused collection of bargains. He had some good pieces of ephemera—two tickets to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, a dinner invitation from Thomas Jefferson—but he also had a single strand of John Keats’s hair. And then there were the ones that got away. There was that time Hamilton auctioned off Harry Truman’s World War I diaries, and the asking price was a bit high, and no one was allowed to inspect them before bidding, “and they might have been incredibly boring,” but still … Read More »

Te-thrum, Te-thrum

July 28, 2015 | by

Malcolm Lowry in the late thirties.

A letter from Malcolm Lowry to Conrad Aiken, sent in the winter of 1929. Lowry, who was born on this day in 1909, was so enamored of Aiken’s novel Blue Voyage that he attempted, with this bumptious letter, to strike up a correspondence; throughout, as if to prove his worth, he quotes liberally from Blue Voyage and Aiken’s poem “Palimpsest: A Deceitful Portrait.” It worked: the letter sparked a complicated, rivalrous mentorship that would last until Lowry’s death. By July of 1929, Lowry had already decamped to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for lessons from Aiken, who was twenty years his senior. Lowry called his first novel Ultramarine in parodic reference to Blue Voyage.


5 Woodville Road
Blackheath, London S.E. 3

I have lived only nineteen years and all of them more or less badly. And yet, the other day, when I sat in a teashop (one of those grubby little places which poor Demarest loved, and the grubbier the better, and so do I) I became suddenly and beautifully alive. I read … “I lay in the warm sweet grass on a blue May morning, My chin in a dandelion, my hands in clover, And drowsed there like a bee … Blue days behind me Reached like a chain of deep blue pools of magic, Enchanted, silent, timeless. Days before me Murmured of blue sea mornings, noons of gold, Green evenings streaked with lilac … ”

I sat opposite the Bureau-de-change. The great grey tea urn perspired. But as I read, I became conscious only of a blur of faces: I let the tea that had mysteriously appeared grow clammy and milk-starred, the half veal and ham pie remain in its crinkly paper; vaguely, as though she had been speaking upon another continent, I heard the girl opposite me order some more Dundee cake. My pipe went out. Read More »