“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end,” explained William Styron in his 1954 Art of Fiction interview. “You live several lives while reading it. Its writer should, too.” Such is the experience in reading Styron’s Selected Letters, edited by Rose Styron, with R. Blakeslee Gilpin, and published this week. Alongside major cultural and political events of the latter half of the twentieth century are intimate accounts of family life, depression, writing, frustrations, and friendships.
Of his many lives, Styron may be best remembered in this office for his influence on the early years of The Paris Review. It is awfully fun to see those moments surface in his correspondence, and our selection was made with those moments in mind. Look for a new letter each day this week.
To Dorothy Parker
July 19, 1952 Paris, France
Honeybunch darling—the story is, I believe, coming along just dandy and my pretty much night and day work on it is the main reason I haven’t written you before this. It is now between 11,000 and 12,000 words, which I figure is about two-thirds complete. It has some really good—fine—things in it so far, and I think it will be even better when it’s finished. In fact I think I can say it has some of my best writing in it and will make stories by people like Hemingway and Turgenev pale in comparison. That sounds a bit like what Hemingway would say, doesn’t it? No, what I really mean is that it won’t have any of the really “cool, gone” (in junkie parlance) quality of the best in LDID, but it will be good, “true,” powerful and nicely-textured. I do hope I’ll be able to finish it within the month, and am determined to do so somehow, because I want the thing if possible to go into Jack Aldridge’s and Bourjaily’s magazine “Discovery,” and Vance wrote me that the outside deadline is August 15th—the very latest, and I’ll probably have to get special dispensation to get it in even by that date. Tell Lizzie I’ll send the MS as soon as it’s finished and typed and that she can wrangle with Vance about rates after he’s seen it. Vance said 3¢ a word probably, but of course I wouldn’t be averse to 3½ or 4¢ if Lizzie could work it. I really think “Discovery” is a good bet—in the first place because the story will obviously be too long for practically anything else, in the second place because $600 (or more) is pretty good dough, and in the third place because the magazine is not only going to have a large readership but, according to Lew Allen, a friend of Vance’s, I’ll be in fairly good company—Mailer, Jones, Hortense Calisher, and most likely little Truman.
The joke, which really isn’t a joke, that I forgot to tell you in another letter is more really just a mot. It concerns the remark made by a bright lad concerning a honeymooning couple, the guy a pallid sort of fellow and the gal a kind of frigid-type debutante. Quoth he: “I’ll bet you that’s going to be like trying to get a marshmallow into a piggy-bank.” End of joke. You either like that type of joke or you don’t, n’est-ce pas?
I have sort of a chore for Lizzie, as usual, which I wish you could communicate to her. I hope it’s not asking too much but I think it can be done. Friends of mine here—chiefly Peter Matthiessen, about whom I’ve written—are starting a magazine which promises to be a very good one, since unlike others they have managed to get quite a bit of backing (one of the backers is the brother of Ali Khan) and are all set financially besides having a more than ordinarily intelligent editorial approach. It’s to be called “The Paris Review” and one of its features each issue will be the photostated copy of a fiction or poetry MS, along with the author’s comments. E.M. Forster is going to be in the first issue with part of the MS of an unpublished novel, plus comments, and I’ve been picked for the second issue. Now what I want Lizzie to do, if she possibly can and it’s not too much work, is this: get hold of the MS of LDID, or the specific part that I want, and have that part photostated and sent to me. The MS was in the possession of Mrs. Hannah Josephson at the American Academy of Arts + Letters (in the phone book) but Lizzie can find out where it is now by calling her. Sigrid might have it. At any rate, I would like to have photostated that part of the MS which, in the English (H. Hamilton) edition, begins on page 223 and ends on 224, i.e. the part in the MS which, on P.223, begins with “Helen held her breath. Rain had begun to fall…” And ends, on P.224 with … She kept on crying, loud and unreasoning and anguished, and said, ‘No! No!’” If Lizzie could possibly swing this deal I’d appreciate it, and I think it will very much be worthwhile because the magazine will be well-circulated both in the U.S. and in France and could no doubt sell a few books …
From Selected Letters of William Styron , edited by Rose Styron with R. Blakeslee Gilpin. Copyright © 2012 by Rose Styron. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House. All rights reserved.