Do not adjust your sets: theparisreview.org has been fully redesigned and beautified. If you fear change, you’ll be horrified to learn that this new site is more than just a cosmetic improvement: it also marks the debut of our complete digital archive, making available each and every piece from The Paris Review’s sixty-three-year history. Subscribe now and you can start reading 0ur back issues right away; you can also try a free ten-day trial period.
Now you can read every short story and poem, every portfolio, every hastily doodled authorial self-portrait, and every introductory notice from the unassailable George Plimpton, who used to use the front of the magazine to brag about its ever-longer masthead. (“It is extremely difficult to extricate oneself—rather like being stuck in a bramble bush.”)
As always, our full Writers at Work interview series, which dates back to 1953, is freely available.
This week, watch this space to get a sample of some of our favorite writing from the magazine’s past. We’ll start today with “The Paris Review Sketchbook,” an illuminating history of the magazine by George Plimpton and Norman Mailer from our seventy-ninth issue, published in 1981:
The first talks about the Paris Review were between Peter Matthiessen, in Paris with his beautiful young wife Patsy, and Harold L. (Doc) Humes, who had arrived in Paris not long before. Peter was then at work on his first novel Race Rock; Doc was already the flamboyant publisher (he carried a silver-headed cane and wore a beret) of a magazine called the Paris News-Post—once described by John Ciardi as “the best fourth-rate imitation of the New Yorker I have ever seen.” Among the names proposed for the new enterprise, and subsequently discarded, was Manuscript (what would have become, had it stuck, Ms.); it was thought bland.
Peter Matthiessen had met Humes in the Dôme in Montparnasse in the spring of 1951. “He was a remarkable figure,” Matthiessen remembered. “He wore a cape … burly and curly fellow with a deep laugh … a lot of style to him; he was appealing, aggressive, warm-hearted, curious, yet with convictions on every subject … all of which made him impossible. Doc wanted me to serve as fiction editor at the Paris News-Post, but the first story I acquired—‘The Sun and the Still-Born Stars,’ by a young unknown writer named Terry Southern—was so much better than his magazine that I persuaded him to put to death the Paris News-Post and start a new literary magazine, using Terry’s story all over again, which we did.”
Humes was expected to function as the first managing editor of the Paris Review. From his short experience with the Paris News-Post he was supposed to know something about the process of putting out and distributing a magazine: he knew the jargon of the printing shops. But, instead of doing what was expected of him, he took to reading Huckleberry Finn in the corners of the Montparnasse cafés, a supérieur of beer in front of him. He explained that it was best for the young staff of the Review to learn for itself. As its managing editor, he was doing the magazine a favor by remaining aloof from its activities. Besides, he had decided to become a writer; administrative work was behind him. That first summer of 1953 he applied to Harvard as a graduate student and was accepted. Archibald MacLeish took him into his English writing course. He left for the United States.