Monday, October 28, 2013

`Quite Unsuitable to a Lady's Reading'

Alfred J. Appel Jr. in Nabokov’s Dark Cinema (1974) reports the great American novelist and patriot heaped “unsparing…criticism” on Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, denouncing it “indignantly” as “anti-American.” Today, Nabokov’s dismissal of Heller’s nihilistic cartoon seems self-evident, but there was a time when readers and critics took it seriously. Sharing Nabokov’s judgment was Evelyn Waugh, who knew a thing or two about war, prose and love of country. In September 1961, a publicist at Simon & Schuster, Nina Bourne, sent Waugh an advance copy, hoping he would supply the book with a blurb. Here, from The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (1980), is Waugh’s reply:

“Thank you for sending me Catch 22. I am sorry that the book fascinates you so much. It has many passages quite unsuitable to a lady's reading. It suffers not only from indelicacy but from prolixity. It should be cut by about a half. In particular the activities of `Milo’ should be eliminated or greatly reduced.

“You are mistaken in calling it a novel. It is a collection of sketches—often repetitious—totally without structure.

“Much of the dialogue is funny.

“You may quote me as saying: `This exposure of corruption, cowardice and incivility of American officers will outrage all friends of your country (such as myself) and greatly comfort your enemies.’”

One would love to know Bourne’s reaction. Waugh was born on this date, Oct. 28, in 1903, and died on April 6, 1966, at age sixty-two. 

[To revisit an earlier convergence of Nabokov and Waugh, go here.]

1 comment:

George said...

Marvin Mudrick was not imnpressed, I remember; I wish I remembered which collection had the review, but can so only that it isn't On Culture and Literature.