The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘deaths’

Portable People

October 22, 2015 | by

From the cover of Portable People, illustrated by Joe Servello.

Paul West, whom the New York Times once praised for his “unsettling nonuniformity,” died this week at eighty-five. An absurdist with a formidable, playful, idiosyncratic style—we become inured and have to be awakened by something intolerably vivid,” he wrote, defending purple proseWest published some fifty books of fiction, poetry, and memoir. He suffered two strokes later in life, which slowed him down but couldn’t deter his ingenuity with language. “He would come out of the bedroom and say, ‘Where’s my cantilever of light?,’ ” his wife, Diane Ackerman, told the Guardian. “I suppose you can only know that this means a velour tracksuit when you have been living with someone for four decades.”

The Review published nine of West’s stories, the first in our Summer 1971 issue. The excerpts below are from “Portable People,” a satire of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives from our Summer 1990 issue; later that year, Paris Review Editions published an expanded version of eighty-five “portable people” portraits, illustrated by Joe Servello. —D. P. Read More »

Robert Stone, 1937–2015

January 12, 2015 | by


From our Winter 1985 issue: “A Robert Stone manuscript page, from his most recent novel, Children of Light; an indication of how barren the word processor has made examples of a work-in-progress.”

“I like big novels,” Robert Stone said in his 1985 Art of Fiction interview. “I really admire the grand slam.” Stone died last weekend in Florida, at seventy-seven. He leaves behind more than a few grand slams—broad, despairing, powerful books full of searchers, outsiders, and misfits. His work exudes what Jessica Hagedorn calls “exquisite paranoia and apocalyptic dread.”

Of course, descriptions like that can make his novels sound too potent—and one of the surprising things about Stone, it must be said, is how little he’s read these days. I hope that will change. As M. H. Miller wrote of him in 2013,

He’s a best-selling author whose work has been heaped with critical praise, but because of the long interims between books, he is more heard of than read by a certain generation of readers. Updike had Rabbit, Roth had Zuckerman, Norman Mailer had Gary Gilmore, even Joan Didion, whose novels are the least interesting thing about her, had Maria Wyeth. Among Mr. Stone’s books there is no clear standout, no obvious introduction. His work is best taken in tandem, like one long narrative where you age with the characters.

He’s right: among readers my age, Stone’s work has had that enviable air of mystery to it. He was always that major writer lurking in the distance. His books didn’t seem approachable, not because they were long or “difficult” but because, as the New York Times put it, they “resonate with philosophical concerns, the thin divides between life and death, good and evil, God and godlessness.” These were tomes about war and God and postwar tumult, and, uh, we definitely wanted to get to them, yes, but—maybe later? Read More »


What a Way to Go!

September 15, 2014 | by

constans ii

A hexagram of Constans II struck in the Constantinople mint, struck ca. 648.

Sometimes power changes hands. Sometimes, perforce, the change is violent. And sometimes, albeit rarely, it involves a Byzantine emperor who’s assassinated in the bathtub, where his servant bashes his brains in with a silver bucket.

Such is the fate, putatively, that befell Constans II on September 15, 668, unless it befell him on July 15, 669, which is also eminently possible. As a historian on Reddit’s AskHistorians recently explained, “there is basically only one source for this, the eighth-century Theophilus of Edessa, who wrote a chronicle whilst serving the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. This work is now lost, but it was used by several later chroniclers, including the more well-known Theophanes from the ninth century.” Said historian goes on to quote an account by the tenth-century historian Agapius:

When Constans was in the bath, one of his attendants took a bucket, mixed in it mallow and soap, and put this on Constans’s head. While the latter’s eyes were filled with the mallow and soap, so that he could not open them, the attendant took the bucket and struck Constans on the head with it, so killing him. He rushed out of the bath to escape and no one heard any more of him. The servants remained outside waiting for the king to come out, but when they had been sitting a long time and it was getting late and he still had not come out, they entered the bath and found him unconscious. They brought him out and he lived for that day, but then died having reigned for twenty-seven years.

In a paper on the era’s Roman-Arab relations, the Oxford historian James Howard-Johnston collates a number of sources to offer a slightly different account: Read More »


William Weaver, 1923–2013

November 15, 2013 | by


“Some of the first books I read or that my father read to me were translations, although I didn’t know they were translations because in those days the translator often wouldn’t even have his name on the book. I remember a French book, Sans famille, called in English Nobody’s Boy, which my father read to me when I was four or five. It was about a little orphan boy who runs away from the orphanage and goes off with an Italian organ-grinder who has a pet monkey and a lot of stray dogs, all of them with names. Since I came from a large family with all these older brothers and sisters, the dream of my life was to be an orphan, so I thought, Oh, this lucky kid. He’s an orphan, and he gets to wander the roads with all these animals and this nice Italian. I thought it a great happy book, but you were supposed to be dissolved in tears from beginning to end. My father understood perfectly.” —William Weaver, the Art of Translation No. 3



Obituary of Edgar Allan Poe

October 7, 2013 | by


From the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, vol. II, no. 98, October 12, 1849:

EDGAR ALLAN POE died in Baltimore on Sunday last. His was one of the very few original minds that this country has produced. In the history of literature, he will hold a certain position and a high place. By the public of the day he is regarded rather with curiosity than with admiration. Many will be startled, but few will be grieved by the news. He had very few friends, and he was the friend of very few—if any. But his character and adventures were too remarkable, and his literary merits too indubitable, to pass from the stage with the simple announcement already given.

His family was a very respectable one in Baltimore. His grandfather was a Quartermaster General in the Revolution, and the esteemed friend of Lafayette. During the last visit of that personage to this country, he called upon the widow to tender her his acknowledgments for services rendered him by her husband. His great-grandfather married a daughter of the celebrated Admiral McBride. Through him they are related to many of the most illustrious families in England. Edgar Poe’s father was reputably brought up and educated. — Becoming enamored with a beautiful young actress, he made up a runaway match with her, and was disowned by his friends thereafter. He or his wife possessed mimetic genius, and they lived precariously. They came to Richmond in pursuit of their profession. She was somewhat of a favorite on our boards—but more on account of her beauty than her acting. They both died in Richmond—both of consumption, and within a few weeks of each other, and left here without a house or home their gifted but most miserable and unfortunate son. Mr. John Allan, a wealthy and kind hearted merchant of this place, having no children of his own, taking a natural fancy to the handsome, clever child, adopted him as son and heir. He was consequently brought up amidst luxury, and received the advantages of education to their fullest extent. In 1816 he accompanied his adopted parents in a tour through England, Scotland and Ireland. — They returned to this country, leaving him at Dr. Brandsby’s High School, Stoke Newington, near London, where he continued five years. He returned in 1822, and continued about Richmond for two or three years. He was then remarkable for his general cleverness, his feats of activity, his wayward temper, extreme personal beauty, his musical recitations of verse, and power of extemporaneous tale-telling. In 1825 he went to the University of Virginia. The University was then a most dissolute place, and Mr. Edgar A. Poe was remarked as the most dissolute and dissipated youth in the University. He was already a great classical scholar, and he made huge strides in mathematics, botany, and other branches of natural science. But at the same time he drank, gambled, and indulged in other vices until he was expelled from the place. On Mr. Allan’s refusal to pay some of his gambling debts, he broke with him and went off at a tangent to join the Greeks—those being the times of Bozzaris and the Greek Revolution. When he reached St. Petersburg, however, he found both money and enthusiasm exhausted, and he got into a quarrel with the Russian authorities—whether about liberty or lucre is not known. At any rate he found himself nearly adding some knowledge of the knout and Siberia to his already extensive knowledge of men and manners, and was glad enough to accept the intervention of the American consul, Henry Middleton, and his aid to get home. In 1829 he entered the Military Academy of West Point. In the meantime, Mr. Allan had lost his first wife, and married a lady his junior by a very great number of years—he being sixty-five. Mr. Poe is said to have behaved uncivilly to the lady and to have ridiculed the match. The old gentleman wrote him an angry letter, and Mr. Poe answered it with a very bitter one. The breach was never healed. Mr. Allan died a short time afterwards, and left Poe nothing. Read More »


Seamus Heaney, 1939–2013

August 30, 2013 | by


“I might enjoy being an albatross, being able to glide for days and daydream for hundreds of miles along the thermals. And then being able to hang like an affliction round some people’s necks.” —Seamus Heaney, the Art of Poetry No. 75