Saturday, May 13, 2017

`The Secret of Style, Really!'

Thus far we’ve had The Happiness of Getting it Down Right: Letters of Frank O’Connor and William Maxwell (1996), The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell (2001) and What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell (2011). That Maxwell had time to write vast reams of correspondence while turning out six novels, dozens of stories, book reviews, a memoir and children’s books, and editing fiction for The New Yorker, is appalling. Among the writers he edited for the magazine were Cheever, Nabokov and Mavis Gallant.

A reader has just alerted me to the existence of some four-hundred letters exchanged by Maxwell and Louise Bogan, poet and poetry critic for The New Yorker for thirty-eight years. The correspondence is kept at Amherst College. What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan was published in 1973, and the prospect of a Maxwell/Bogan collection is enticing, though I see no evidence of such a book in the works. Perhaps I can prime the publishing pump with this excerpt from a letter Bogan wrote to Maxwell in 1941 about her daughter:

“Maidie is becoming v. proficient in driving; and we got to Jones Beach in 1 and 1/2 hours.  The other day a refugee couple sprang out in front of the car, against the lights, and the woman began berating Maidie for not stopping. Maidie immediately shouted: `You’d better watch the lights, BABE!’  This BABE, after I had shaken off my own fright, really made me laugh.  `Why BABE?’ I asked Maidie. `O, that was to put a little life into it!’ she said. –The secret of style, really!”

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