The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘letters’

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 »

Small Man on Campus

September 17, 2015 | by

Williams ca. 1920.

From letters William Carlos Williams sent to his mother as a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. During his time there, Williams, born on this day in 1883,  joined Mask and Wig, the nation’s oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe, and landed speaking roles in at least two productions. He was a varsity fencer and the art editor of the med-school yearbook, which awarded him the superlative “most versatile.” He also met Ezra Pound, beginning a long and sometimes turbulent friendship; here Williams mentions some of their earliest days together. 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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What Happened to O?

August 27, 2015 | by

The death of an exclamation.

William Blake had me thinking about death.

I was lying on my couch, Norton Anthology in my lap, when I stumbled on Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose.” I’d read the poem before, and I remembered its famous opening lament: “O Rose, thou art sick!”

What follows is a compact poem built of stark imagery. An invisible, amorous worm is flying through a storm at night. It descends on a rose. A death is at hand. And the perpetrator of the rose’s death, Blake warns, is none other than the worm’s secret love.

I reread the poem, parsing its lines for meaning. Then I read it once again. The night was late, and I felt drowsy. As sleep approached, an inchoate thought began to surface.

I sat up. O Rose, I thought. O Muse. O death.

I stood from the couch and found a pen. I tore off a piece of scratch paper, and on it I wrote myself a note: “What killed O?” Read More »

Two Irreducible Singlenesses

August 14, 2015 | by

Smuel Beckett Murphy manuscript for sale

Beckett’s doodles in the notebooks for Murphy (1938)

A letter from Samuel Beckett to Cissie Sinclair, his aunt, dated August 14, 1937. At the time, Beckett was trying, fitfully and without much success, to become an art dealer; he’d gone so far as to travel through Germany for six months for the express purpose of seeing as much art as he could. Though his efforts as a dealer foundered, he emerged with an affinity for Cézanne, Watteau, and especially Jack B. Yeats, whose painting “Morning” he bought when he could scarcely afford it. The poem he includes here, “Whiting,” was published soon afterward.

Southampton, En route to South Africa

14th [August 1937]

Gresham Hotel, Dublin

dearest Cissie

I was glad to get your letter this morning. I wanted you to think of me sometimes when you had a drink. How else would I render it likely? Have many.

[…] I had a letter from Tom by the same post as yours. He is writing about Jack Yeats, inspired apparently by some Constable exhibition & a chance remark of mine about the Watteauishness of what he has been doing lately. Every Thursday there seems to be something to prevent me going in to see him. I suppose to suggest the inorganism of the organic—all his people are mineral in the end, without possibility of being added or taken from, pure inorganic juxtapositions—but Jack Yeats does not even need to do that. The way he puts down a man’s head & a woman’s head side by side, or face to face, is terrifying, two irreducible singlenesses & the impassable immensity between. I suppose that is what gives the stillness to his pictures, as though the convention were suddenly suspended, the convention & performance of love & hate, joy & pain, giving & being given, taking & being taken. A kind of petrified insight into one’s ultimate hard irreducible inorganic singleness. All handled with the dispassionate acceptance that is beyond tragedy. I always feel Watteau to be a tragic genius, i.e. there is pity in him for the world as he sees it. But I find no pity, i.e. no tragedy in Yeats. Not even sympathy. Simply perception & dispassion. Even personally he is rather inhuman, or haven’t you felt it? Read More »