Friday, February 26, 2016

The Golden Honeymoon

Ring Lardner (1885–1933)
From Ring Lardner: Stories & Other Writings

“The crowd began to chafe Frank and pass remarks. Like one of them said: ‘Whoever told you you was a checker player.” One of several illustrations by American illustrator T. D. Skidmore for “The Golden Honeymoon” in the July 1922 issue of Cosmopolitan.
When George Horace Lorimer, editor of The Saturday Evening Post, read the latest submission from Ring Lardner, one of his most popular writers, he decided it was too unlike the author’s previous stories to satisfy the magazine’s readers, who were accustomed to farcical tales of semiliterate baseball players and slang-impaired demimonde characters. “The humor in it is so quiet,” Lorimer responded, that readers “would miss it.” And so he turned down the opportunity to publish “The Golden Honeymoon.” Ray Long, an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, concurred with Lorimer’s decision: “I see what the Post meant. That story isn’t the usual Ring Lardner story. All it is is a fine piece of sympathetic human interest writing. I should be glad to trade you a check for $1500 for it and I shall be very proud to publish it.” The story appeared in the July 1922 issue of Cosmopolitan. It would be ten years before Lardner sent another story to the Post.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lardner’s close friend, drinking buddy, and neighbor in Great Neck, New York, played a role in encouraging him to write stories more “literary” than what had been appearing in the Post. Clifford M. Caruthers, who published Lardner’s correspondence, writes:
Fitzgerald admired Lardner’s deflating humor, stoical cynicism, insistence on accuracy, and general knowledge of human nature, and he saw Lardner as potentially a great literature talent. . . . Whereas Lardner often imposed restraints on Fitzgerald’s enthusiasms, Fitzgerald apparently succeeded in convincing Lardner to take himself more seriously as a writer.
In 1923 Fitzgerald urged Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s, to consider publishing a collection of Lardner’s stories and recommended that he read “The Golden Honeymoon.” Lardner had already published twelve books, most of them with Bobbs-Merrill, but Perkins read the story “with huge enjoyment” and sent off a respectful note: “I would hardly have ventured to do this if Scott had not spoken of the possibility, because your position in the literary world is such that you must be besieged by publishers.” Flattered, Lardner agreed to switch publishers and the collection, How to Write Short Stories (with Samples), appeared in 1924, with very brief introductions to the “sample” stories and a preface that parodied the advice found in writing manuals. The headnote to “The Golden Honeymoon” was a single line: “A story with ‘sex appeal.’”

During the last century “The Golden Honeymoon” has been one of the most frequently anthologized of Lardner’s stories—perhaps second only to “Haircut.” (John Updike included it in his Best American Short Stories of the Century.) It is deceptively simple: an elderly couple, Charles and Lucy (“Mother”), head off for a fiftieth-anniversary vacation in Florida, but their enjoyment is unexpectedly interrupted by an encounter with Mother’s former fiancé and his wife. “When this story was first published,” the young editor and critic Clifton Fadiman wrote ten years after its publication, “most readers thought it very touching, even a trifle sentimental.” Instead, he argued, “it is one of the most smashing indictments of a ‘happy marriage’ ever written, composed with a fury so gelid as to hide completely the bitter passion seething beneath every line.” Fadiman certainly overstated the case. More recently Jonathan Yardley has suggested that the truth is somewhere in the middle, some distance away from the “venomous vision” conjured by Fadiman: “Ring understood . . . the unwritten rules that permitted these people to have their minor spats and running arguments while maintaining a foundation of affection and mutual understanding.”

Notes: On page 539 is a reference to Willie boys, late-nineteenth-century slang for tramps or hobos. “Hearts and Flowers” (p. 541) is an 1893 song composed by Theodore Moses-Tobani, with lyrics by Mary D. Brine, using a melody from the Wintermärchen Waltzes by Hungarian composer Alphons Czibulka. The song was ubiquitous in the 1910s and its title became synonymous with melodrama and sentimentality. Popular in the early twentieth century, roque was a form of croquet played on a hard court with banks along the sides. Usually affecting horses, glanders (p. 544) is an infectious disease, since eradicated in North America and Europe. “Home to Our Mountains” (p. 547) is an English-language adaptation of “Ai Nostri Monti” from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore (1853).

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Mother says that when I start talking I never know when to stop. But I tell her the only time I get a chance is when she ain’t around, so I have to make the most of it. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Henry James at Work

Theodora Bosanquet (1880–1961)
From Henry James: Autobiographies

Cover of Henry James at Work, 1924; cover art by Vanessa Bell. Published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press as the third of The Hogarth Essays, it was the only one of the thirty-five pamphlets to be hand-printed by the Woolfs themselves. Image courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.
In 1897, suffering from piercing pains in his wrist, Henry James had to abandon the physical act of writing, and he hired the first of a series of stenographers to record his works as he dictated them. Theodora Bosanquet was his third amanuensis, and she worked for him from 1907 until his death one hundred years ago, on February 28, 1916. “Henry James almost immediately realized that he had a prize in Miss Bosanquet,” writes Larry McMurtry in The New York Review of Books. “She was not uncritical, thought he alliterated too much, and didn’t like it when he described ‘a fine purple peach.’ . . . What made her invaluable was that she soon recognized that the Master, with his days drawing in, feared nothing so much as interruption. She became, in a way, his barrier reef.”

During the last eight years of his life, James worked with Bosanquet on a variety of projects: the New York Edition of his collected works, for which he wholly revised many of the novels and stories published before 1890; the five stories collected as The Finer Grain; several plays, including the comedy The High End (adapted from his story “Covering End,” itself a reworking of an unproduced one-act play); his final novel, The Outcry, which was originally written as a play; his unfinished novels The Ivory Tower and The Sense of the Past; and—above all—his memoirs A Small Boy and Others, Notes of a Son and Brother, and the unfinished The Middle Years. And even after his death, she helped with the preparation of James’s posthumously published writings and the production of a two-volume collection of his letters edited by Percy Lubbock.

In 1916 Bosanquet recorded in her journals that she was working on an article about James and had received encouragement from his friends (including Lubbock) after they had seen a draft. Between 1917 and 1920, she published three articles on various aspects of her years with Henry James, from her childhood reading of his books to their first meeting to her employer’s methods and intentions for revising his early fiction. At some point Virginia Woolf came across one of the articles and suggested expanding it into a booklet. Bosanquet forwarded all three of the essays and received this response from Woolf:
I have read your articles (which I send back separately—) with great interest. . . . [We] think your idea of combining the different articles a very good one. Would it be possible to begin by giving your personal memories, which would be of the highest value as there is no account I think of his methods during his later period, and so on with criticism of the novels themselves?
Woolf sent a follow-up note after the pamphlet had been printed by Hogarth Press (the firm owned by Woolf and her husband):
I think your essay is a great success, and I'm glad you did not keep it to tinker at, for I think you have suggested everything, and further work might well have spoilt it. As it is, you have got an immense deal into it, and made it come together perfectly as a whole. . . . I am sure it ought to have a success with anyone who cared for Henry James and his work, and I think we are very lucky to get it.
Since its appearance, the booklet has indeed been treated with high regard by James biographers and scholars, who recognize it not merely as a recollection of how she met and then worked with James but also as a discerning assessment (and defense) of how he developed a more mature style and aesthetic. Although the original pamphlet is quite rare (the Woolfs hand-printed and sold fewer than six hundred), Bosanquet’s essay has been included in the just-published Library of America collection of Henry James’s autobiographical writings—and we present it here in full to Story of the Week readers.

Notes: The bold young critic referred to on page 737 is the novelist and journalist Rebecca West, whose first book—a critical study of James’s writings—appeared months after he died, when she was only twenty-three. Neil Paraday (p. 743) is a fictional author depicted in James’s story “The Death of the Lion.” Madame [Pauline] Viardot (p. 746) was a famous French mezzo-soprano.

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I knew nothing of Henry James beyond the revelation of his novels and tales before the summer of 1907. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, February 12, 2016

“The Urgent Necessity”

George Washington (1732–1799) & John Adams (1735–1826)
From John Adams: Writings from the New Nation 1784–1826 and George Washington: Writings

Christopher Jackson (center, as George Washington) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Alexander Hamilton) in the Broadway musical Hamilton. Photograph posted on Twitter by David Korins, the show’s set designer.
In a profile of George Washington written fourteen years after his death, Thomas Jefferson recalled, “His temper was naturally irritable and high toned but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If ever however it broke its bonds he was most tremendous in his wrath.” During his own term as president John Adams found himself on the receiving end of that wrath when he brought Washington out of retirement to lead a fledgling U.S. Army against the French.

As tensions mounted between the two countries during the 1790s (climaxing in what became known as the Quasi-War), fears of an invasion by French forces increased. In early July 1798 Washington made it known privately that, if Alexander Hamilton were his deputy, he might be willing to come out of retirement to defend the country against France. Adams subsequently appointed Washington as commander-in-chief of a new army created by Congress to resist the threat—but he did so without consulting the retired general, who learned of his confirmation from accounts in the press. The Secretary of War, James McHenry, subsequently delivered the commission to Washington, who in the end decided to accept the appointment.

As Ron Chernow writes, “Adams had asked McHenry to sound out Washington on his preferred officers without realizing that Washington would regard his advice as binding. . . . Here lay the dilemma in a nutshell: neither Hamilton nor Washington would serve without Hamilton being the main deputy, while Adams found this intolerable.” Washington thus indicated that his chief officers should be, in order, Hamilton, Charles Pinckney, and Henry Knox—even though the latter two outranked Hamilton, who was merely a colonel during the Revolution. In addition, Adams simply detested Hamilton. As he later wrote, “His origin was infamous; his place of birth and education were foreign countries; his fortune was poverty itself; the profligacy of his life—his fornications, adulteries, and his incests—were propagated far and wide.” And so Adams exercised his prerogative as President and recommended to the Senate that the order of the ranking be reversed.

That decision whipped up Washington’s indignation, and he sent a harshly worded letter to Adams in late September. In the face of his predecessor’s anger, Adams was left with little choice but to acquiesce. And so Washington, with Hamilton as deputy, traveled to Philadelphia in November to direct planning of the new army. By December 19 he was back in Mount Vernon, and the easing of rancor between France and the United States the following spring allowed him to return semi-permanently to retirement. Most of the command duties were carried out by “General Hamilton,” who almost singlehandedly created the new army—which only increased the belief by some civil leaders that he meant to spearhead some “mischievous plot” against Adams.

For this week’s selection, we present three pieces of correspondence that detail this story: Adams’s short missive informing Washington of his appointment, followed by Washington’s gracious acceptance and, two months later, his angry follow-up letter upon learning his assignment of officers had been countermanded.

There was a sequel to this kerfuffle: After Washington’s death on December 18, 1799, Adams refused to elevate Hamilton to commander of the Army and instead left the position unfilled. Still saddled with the responsibilities—yet still without the honor—Hamilton saw what was coming and wrote to an ally that it was “certain that my present station in the army cannot very long continue.” In May 1800, to Adams’s relief and with his encouragement, Congress disbanded the army that Hamilton had built over the previous two years—an act that unleashed Hamilton’s fury toward the President and cemented a mutual antipathy that carried over into the next election and beyond.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

A Pair of Silk Stockings

Kate Chopin (1850–1904)
From Kate Chopin: Complete Novels & Stories

1906 advertisement for Onyx-brand hosiery sold at Lord & Taylor, New York, with illustration by F. W. Read. Image courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections.
In the introduction to a previous Story of the Week selection, we discussed how Kate Chopin began to meet with resistance from American editors to the themes in her stories—especially to what literary historian Richard Gray has recently called her “subversive streak.” Her tales were increasingly informed by her reading of the French writer Guy de Maupassant, as she explained in the draft of an autobiographical essay she wrote in 1896 for The Atlantic*:
About eight years ago there fell accidentally into my hands a volume of Maupassant’s tales. These were new to me. I had been in the woods, in the fields, groping around; looking for something big, satisfying, convincing, and finding nothing but—myself; a something neither big nor satisfying but wholly convincing. It was at this period of my emerging from the vast solitude in which I had been making my own acquaintance, that I stumbled upon Maupassant. . . . Here was life, not fiction; for where were the plots, the old fashioned mechanism and stage trapping that in a vague, unthinking way I had fancied were essential to the art of story making. Here was a man who had escaped from tradition and authority, who had entered into himself and looked out upon life through his own being and with his own eyes; and who, in a direct and simple way, told us what he saw. When a man does this, he gives us the best that he can; something valuable for it is genuine and spontaneous. He gives us his impressions.
The influence of Maupassant’s stories on Chopin’s writing is substantial—particularly their emphasis on psychological character development. The mammoth Oxford Book of Women’s Writing in the United States avers that her “accurate portraits of Victorian and turn-of-the-century women have never been equalled for the depiction of women’s interior conflicts.” And, like Maupassant, Chopin often employed the surprise or disconcerting ending. Yet Maupassant’s naturalism had a reputation among American readers for being “racy,” and the earthy or sensual elements that found their way into Chopin’s prose made editors nervous.

In spite of Maupassant’s influence and Chopin’s embrace of the new realism, she found a home for her short fiction at Vogue, which would publish nineteen of her stories during the 1890s. Around the time she worked on the Atlantic essay, Chopin also wrote “A Pair of Silk Stockings,” one of the “subversive” selections that would end up in Vogue and still one of her most well-known stories. The critic Robert D. Arner shares the view of earlier critics that it is one of Chopin’s best stories—and further contends that it is one of the best pieces in turn-of-the-century American literature by anyone. Arner urges readers to consider the larger meaning of this brief account of a single day of Mrs. Summers’s life and argues that “A Pair of Silk Stockings” is “not only a story about a particular woman who is economically on the margins of society but also a story of that entire society”—a society caught between traditional ideas of feminine roles and the newly emergent American “culture of consumption.”

* Only a small part of Chopin’s essay, in a heavily revised version, was published in the January 1899 issue of The Atlantic, under the title “In the Confidence of a Story-Writer.” The above excerpt is from a surviving manuscript version reprinted in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin (1969).

Note: Blue-points, mentioned on page 819, are oysters from Long Island, NY, usually served on the half-shell.

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Little Mrs. Sommers one day found herself the unexpected possessor of fifteen dollars. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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