"...conflicts that came out of two million dollars a year, not a garret..."
More thoughts from Dorothy Parker, this time on the myth of the starving artist:
Being in a garret doesn’t do you any good unless you’re some sort of a Keats. The people who lived and wrote well in the twenties were comfortable and easy living. They were able to find stories and novels, and good ones, in conflicts that came out of two million dollars a year, not a garret. As for me, I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money. I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be darling at it.
I love her sensibility and, of course, her wit. "Big Blonde" is the only Parker I've read, but now I really want to read much more of her writing.
"...they virginized the models from tough babes into exquisite little loves..."
In a 1956 interview with The Paris Review, Dorothy Parker describes her early job at Vogue.
I wrote captions. “This little pink dress will win you a beau,” that sort of thing. Funny, they were plain women working at Vogue, not chic. They were decent, nice women — the nicest women I ever met — but they had no business on such a magazine. They wore funny little bonnets and in the pages of their magazine they virginized the models from tough babes into exquisite little loves. Now the editors are what they should be: all chic and worldly; most of the models are out of the mind of a Bram Stoker, and as for the caption writers — my old job — they’re recommending mink covers at seventy-five dollars apiece for the wooden ends of golf clubs “—for the friend who has everything.” Civilization is coming to an end, you understand.
I enjoyed this interview so much that, this morning, I dug up my old Norton Anthology of Short Fiction and read "Big Blonde" for the first time since college. The story was every bit as wonderful, though overwhelmingly sad, as I remembered it.
Hamlin GarlandI just started reading Hamlin Garland's A Daughter of the Middle Border, the second volume of his memoirs, which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1922. Though a bestselling author in his day, it seems that Garland is all but forgotten now; on Goodreads his most-read book (Main-Travelled Roads) had only been rated 129 times. Literary fame is truly fleeting. A sobering realization for us scribblers.
Quote"We invent nothing, merely bearing witness
To what each morning brings again to light."
- Richard Wilbur, from "Lying"
(Via Patrick Kurp.)
What else could I be, all apologies...
My apologies for the intermittent posting here. For the rest of this year I'm working in a different office, one with little privacy and no opportunity to blog. Even worse, I now have to drive to work instead of taking the train, which has eliminated my prime reading time. (So much so that I now eat my brown-bag lunch in my car in a forest preserve parking lot, while reading. Not as ideal as the train, but I'm getting by so far.) Not being able to blog at work, and having less time to read the literature which has been my primary subject matter, will mean much less posting here for the next few months. I'll blog on weekends now and then when something comes to mind that I want to share with my small readership, and with any luck things will get closer to normal early next year when I should be working downtown again.
Summer of Classics 2014
I set a fairly unambitious goal for Summer of Classics this year - nothing but James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy (Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgment Day), which totals just under a thousand pages. Though I liked Lonigan, it fell just short of classic. The first book was promising, the second book weak (it seemed like a third-rate, city-instead-of-small-town, Irish-instead-of-Anglo version of Winesburg, Ohio), and the third book the strongest. Further thoughts of mine on the books are here at Goodreads.
Given my slow reading pace, I figured Studs Lonigan would take me the entire summer to read. But to my surprise, I finished the trilogy in early August, and turned to another Chicago novel to finish up the summer.
Windy McPherson's Son is Sherwood Anderson's first novel, and is very much an apprentice work for the author. The first section, when the teenaged Sam McPherson shows the ambition and drive that will power his later business career, is very well done, with wonderful depictions of small-town Iowa life and Sam's quest to endure and overcome his feckless father. (More than a few echoes of Huckleberry Finn there.) The writing is fresh, the characters and place well-drawn. But when Sam moves on to the big city of Chicago, the narrative becomes more predictable, even approaching soap-operatic melodrama at times. Then, in the third section, Sam abandons his career at its lofty peak and departs for the road, on a vaguely-conceived quest for Truth, and the episodic narrative strains credulity, with Anderson even throwing in an unlikely happy ending to close things out. With this book, Anderson was clearly working toward greater things. Some of the strongest elements of Winesburg are already on display in this debut novel, but unfortunately those elements are only intermittent flashes, especially after Sam leaves Iowa.
So the verdict is: one near-classic, and one non-classic from an author who would later write an undeniable classic.
"...a lot more danger in not leaving it..."
Nice short passage here from Sherwood Anderson’s Windy McPherson’s Son. Sam McPherson, still young but rising rapidly in industry, is the wilds of Michigan, on his honeymoon.
One with whom he talked was a grocer from a town in Ohio, and when Sam asked him if coming to the woods with his family for an eight-weeks stay did not endanger the success of his business he agreed with Sam that it did, nodding his head and laughing.
”But there would be a lot more danger in not leaving it,” he said, “the danger of having my boys grow up to be men without my having any real fun with them.”
I have always agreed with the grocer’s sentiment, especially since becoming a father. The book has lost some momentum since Sam left Caxton, Iowa for big-city Chicago, and particularly since he fell in love, somewhat predictably, with Sue, the daughter of his boss. Since that point, the narrative has read like a 19th century soap opera, with frequent chauvinistic tones. Anderson was clearly still trying to find his way when he wrote this, his first novel.
Summer of Classics update
My review of James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy is now up at Goodreads. I've been wanting to read the books for a long time (ever since my mom, a native South Sider, told me of reading Studs Lonigan on the sly as a teenager), and I'm very glad I finally did, though the books were far from perfect.
I'm a notoriously slow reader, and really didn't think I'd finish reading Lonigan before the summer ended, but to my surprise I finished last week. So, to keep the Chicago vibe going, I started Sherwood Anderson's debut novel, Windy McPherson's Son, the majority of which is set in Chicago, around the turn of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, from what I've read so far, Anderson (best known for the seminal Winesburg, Ohio) beautifully depicts Sam McPherson's boyhood in a small Iowa town, and it will be interesting to see how well Anderson delivers the Chicago passages.
This might be the last Summer of Classics book I get to, since my job is shifting to the suburbs next week and I'll be losing my prime reading time on the train. But if I have time, I'll squeeze in George Ade's comic novel Artie (also set in Chicago) before the end of the month.
"...the mechanics, the farmers and the labourers dressed in their Sunday best..."
Here's a wonderful depiction of small town Iowa life around the turn of the 20th Century, from Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son:
Saturday night was the great night in Caxton life. For it the clerkgs in the stores prepared, for it Sam sent forth his peanut and popcorn vendors, for it Art Sherman rolled up his sleeves and put the glasses close by the beer tap under the bar, and for it the mechanics, the farmers and the labourers dressed in their Sunday best and came forth to mingle with their fellows. On Main Street crowds packed the stores, the sidewalks, and drinking places, and men stood about in groups talking while young girls with their lovers walked up and down. In the hall over Geiger's drug store a dance went on and the voice of the caller-off rose above the clatter of voices and the stamping of horses in the street. Now and then a fight broke out among the roisterers in Piety Hollow. Once a young farmhand was killed with a knife.
In and out through the crowed Sam went, pressing his wares.
So many nice touches there: crowds wearing their Sunday best, but on Saturday night; fights in Piety Hollow; the abrupt murder of a farmhand, told in a casual, almost matter-of-fact manner. And throughout, teenager Sam McPherson selling selling selling, working the crowd without ever really being part of it.
"The man who comes to writing late, but is in essence a writer, may sometimes gain as much as he has lost: his experience of life has given him a subject, he is spared the youthful writer's self-torment and soul-searching."
- Wright Morris, in his 1965 introduction to Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son