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Letters by Dawn Powell to Edmund Wilson.

Dawn Powell and Edmund Wilson enjoyed a long and comfortable friendship from the early 1930s until Powell's death in 1965. It remains unclear how and when they met --perhaps at the Brooklyn Heights home of Powell's patron, Margaret De Silver and her anarchist lover, Carlo Tresca; perhaps at what Wilson later referred to as one of Powell's own "knock down and drag out" parties.

Powell and Wilson shared many qualities --staunch independence, voracious curiosity, catholic and wide-ranging interest in the arts, political skepticism (Wilson's curious regard for the Soviet Union notwithstanding), and a taste for good food and liquor. Wilson was one of three people to whom Powell wrote her most specifically "literary" letters; the other two recipients were John Dos Passos and her cousin John F. (Jack) Sherman, a businessman and educator in Shelby, Ohio, who became the guardian of her son and, later, the person who provided the familial authority to free the Powell estate from a long limbo.

Wilson admired the wit and spirit of Powell's novels. But he often found them unfinished--an "all but final drafts," as he put it. When Wilson wrote a perceptive, affectionate but decidedly mixed review of My Home Is Far Away for The New Yorker in 1944, the friendship barely survived and Powell believed he had done her "real harm." Perhaps he thought better of this tender quasi-autobiographical novel of childhood as time went by; in any event, Wilson never reprinted his review in any of his collections, and, in 1962, wrote another New Yorker review, this time of The Golden Spur, that proved to be far and away the most thoughtful and appreciative summary of Powell's work published during her lifetime.

Selected Letters of Dawn Powell, which will be published this month by Henry Holt, is unapologetically a reading edition. Spellings have been corrected (with the exception of obvious and purposeful derivations such as "Pewlitzer"), and I have tightened or abridged letters in several places. The complete known correspondence may be found in two locations: Dawn Powell's letters, cards, and sketches to Wilson are at the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Edmind Wilson's all-but-indecipherable letters and cards to Powell are at the Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, Columbia University. It is possible that some additional correspondence still exists in the collection of Jacqueline Miller Rice, Powell's original executrix, who has been only partially forthcoming in relinquishing Powell-related materials.

35 East Ninth Street April 11, 1945

HEADQUARTERS FOR MOBILIZATION OF THE DEAD PELVIS

Dear Bunny,

I was asked to call on Latouche,(1) who was sick in bed with strep, and there he was reading a large solemn German tome called The Function of the Orgasm.(2) I was particularly struck with a chapter heading called "The Mobilization of the Dead Pelvis." I decided to recruit and do my bit. Imagine my delight when I dined with the Murphys to find your friend Esther Murphy(3) there, heady with statistics and her long unmated legs flung around each other so that the left one was right and no pants on. She fixed me at once with the old beady, puffed at a cigarette butt (she is one of those smokers who are never seen with the whole cigarette but always the last eighth-inch--I believe she buys them that way) and swung right into the flaws of the Second Empire, but my horrified gaze kept being drawn to this vast length of nudity leading to what George O'Neil referred to as the Blue Grotto, where something was winking away like a Buddha's orb. This, I cried, is the Dead Pelvis at last. I am unable to work today for this haunting, grisly image. I decided she doesn't know she is female, and if she should glance down in the shower and see a set of balls she would only think--dear, dear, how dusty things get in New York.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I DO NOT ADMIRE HER MIND.

I have heard no hide or hair of your family's doings so have nothing to add to your worries. We hear that Dos(4) is supposedly on his way back and that he had two or three accidents in addition to the one reported before, i.e., the airplane wing clipping him.

Your name has been coming up in reviews, mostly in reference to your detective story position,(5) Sterling North puts in as a "as Edmund Wilson has said" so your lofty pronouncements on past participles are not forgotten.

I have been whizzing along on my novel but am now in a state because George Abbott asked me if I had any play ideas around that would do for ZaSu Pitts.(6) I did have one that I had the good sense to keep from writing but sent him a few notes on it whereupon he signed a contract for it with advance payment and instructions to have it done by June 1. So here I am looking out the window over a stack of notes on a novel and then a sister stack of notes on a play. The best feature of Abbott is that he is the only person I ever met in the theater who leaves me alone and doesn't want to confer. It's the blab, blab, blab of the stage that I hate. I do not want to chum up with editors, producers, critics, Teacher or Boss in any form. That is the enemy and any pretense of equality, socially or any other way, is poppycock. I admit their right to vote and spawn, however.

Oh yes, I did see the Philip Rahvs one night in a restaurant, soon after you left, and Nathalie said she was very upset over being called to sign or testify something or other for Mary against you, and that she would not have done so if she hadn't been on the spot as she was equally fond of you.(7)

The Dwight Macdonalds(8) asked Margaret De Silver to share their home in Truro this coming summer as she was lonely, they felt, and it would be nice to have someone they could leave the children with. (She nixed this.)

Other old buddies of yours, the Herbert Solows,(9) are in Cuba for Fortune, studying the sugar plants, as only Herbert can.

Today the Drama Critics awarded their solid china plaque to Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie in which Laurette Taylor(10) gave a Duse-like performance of muted emotions and also unmuted ones to be on the safe side. Esther Murphy, my monitor, declares it a fine play and a great performance. It has a chance of getting the Pulitzer, too. As you know--you secretive old gossip, you--Miss Taylor's stage career has been checkered. Opening in plays in the past to rave notices in or out-of-town, the show closed next day because of the star's remaining in an alcoholic stupor. Choosing between the two careers she elected alcoholism and has been beavering away at it for many years.

Then Mother Love saved her. Her son Dwight a year ago took her to a doctor in Hollywood because she was disturbed about her great weight. He found the entire trouble was glandular and treated her for this condition. She thinned out, stopped drinking, opened last week to unanimous raves, wins prizes, stands on her head, is interviewed about her abstinence, declares with a mouchoir held to her deep tragic eyes that she only drank because her heart broke when Hartley Manners passed away, however she will have a little medicinal triple Scotch if the reporter can get the waiter fast enough because she is so emotionally upset now over the possibility of Hartley's coming to life again. Mr. [Walter] Winchell then writes mysteriously, "What famed star of what new hit has cast trembling for fear said star can't appear?" So it may be too late.

It reminds me of Shaw's sour remarks on the school of acting that based its technique on the inadvertent fumbles of a former generation of drunken actors. That is, in the old days when all actors were drunkards, the choked hoarse voice, the fumbling at the door, the lurch across the sofa, the sudden sinking into a chair were not subtle ways to express terrific emotional conflicts, but the actor's struggle to get through the act without falling down. The new actors studied this and, drinking less or not at all, adopted these drunken manifestations as proper for great emotional acting. (I cannot find this passage now and I want to fling it at Esther Murphy very soon; it is in the "Dramatic Opinions" somewhere and I must memorize it or she won't take it.) Anyway, it may be that all the praise now and in the past flung at Laurette Taylor's emotional acting may be explained this way.

Rosamond Lehmann's book got raves as literature. It seemed to me an engrossing old-time sort of "Wife in Name Only" kind of novel, about as literarily important as Rebecca or Gone with the Wind. I reviewed it this way for PM and imagine my fury when they cut out all disparaging remarks and in fact all points, but even so leaving it the only feeble dissenting voice. I wrote a letter advising them to pursue their practice of attacking only unsuccessful firms and writers, and buttering the big advertisers, but for God's sake stop pretending they didn't. They are always running a severe boycotting series about a little merchant down on Second Avenue who is a racketeer because he charges eight cents per wooden button when he should give them away, so please all PM readers don't patronize this fellow, and see that the bill for bugging your potatoes instead of worming them passes Congress, and buy PM tomorrow, the Only Paper that Isn't Afraid to be Afraid of saying anything. I made irreverent references in the review to the Book of the Month Club's Cholly Knickerbocker droolings over Miss Lehmann's beauty, financial and social and noble connections and said that surly subscribers would be won over at once on discovering all these points were above reproach. (I think they selected the book to retrieve their prestige after palming off a nigger writer on their club. Goodness knows, the subscribers must have cried--"I don't believe in slavery but imagine having them come into your club!"). Mr. Pippett of PM has tried to appease me, not for my value to PM but for my loud mouth and their queasy practices.

Gerald Murphy said he had a note from Scotty Fitzgerald(11) saying she had met me and was very disappointed to find my morale sagging. The only time I met her was in your office that day and I am baffled by my morale being out in those few moments. Or do you think this was Gerald's tactful way of saying something that was on his own mind?

I saw Don Elder(12) again and he seemed very pleased with your book(13) but anticipated Pa Doubleday and censor trouble, at least in Boston. This may help. Your successors on The New Yorker seem spotty and that department seems disorganized so I hope you get it for next year or are you going to settle over there with Martha Gellhorn and the Talented Girls? Everybody over here is going crazy again, following the period when they were all alcoholics. It makes a nice change. Why don't you write a play, too, so as to draw fire away from my Broadway retreat?

love, Dawn

(1) The lyricist John Latouche (1917-1956) had become Powell's friend during the disastrous miscreation of the 1942 revue The Lady Comes Across.

(2) The Function of the Orgasm (1927) was an unorthodox and still controversial psychological study by Wilhelm Reich 1897-1957).

(3) Esther Murphy (1898-1962) was Gerald Murphy's sister. Wilson thought her remarkably brilliant.

(4) The novelist John Dos Passos (1896-1970) was a close friend of Powell and Wilson.

(5) Wilson's recent attack in The New Yorker on the vogue of the detective story, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?," had made him a figure of national controversy.

(6) ZaSu Pitts (1898-1963) was an American actress, best remembered for her extraordinary performance Erich von Stroheim's Greed. She appeared in Stroheim's Hello Sister!, an ill-fated 1931 film rendition of Powell's Walking Down Broadway. Abbott's plan for her to appear in a Powell play never came off.

(7) Wilson was then in the midst of a violent divorce from the writer Mary McCarthy (1912-1989). Nathalie Rahv, the wife of the author and editor Philip Rahv (1908-1973), had testified that Wilson "appeared to take a delight in scolding and upbraiding his wife for petty matters."

(8) The writer and social critic Dwight Macdonald (1906-1982) and his wife, Nancy, were regular visitors to Cape Cod, where both Wilson and De Silver generally spent their summers.

(9) Herbert Solow (1903-1964) was an American journalist and editor, active in the fact-finding committee that investigated the Stalinist charges against Trotsky. His wife, Sylvia Salmi, was a photographer for whom Powell sat on several occasions.

(10) Laurette Taylor (1887-1946) was a famous actress as a youth, and made a phenomenal comeback in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie in 1945. Williams (1911-1983) would have to wait until 1948 for his first Pulitzer, for A Streetcar Named Desire.

(11) Frances Scott Fitzgerald, later Lanahan (1921-1986), known as "Scotty" or "Scottie" the only daughter of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

(12) Donald Elder was a senior editor at Doubleday who worked with Wilson on the publication (and, later, on the legal defense) of Memoirs of Hecate County. The two fell out for a time in 1947 and Wilson left the firm.

(13) The Ballad and the Source (1944).

35 East Ninth Street June 4, 1945

Dear Wigmore.(1)

[...] It was a breath of spring to find you escaped from the book department into the wide wide world in last week's New Yorker. Everyone is very pleased, except possibly Mollie Panter-Downes. Philip Barry, viewed at East Hampton at the Murphys' last weekend, spoke highly of your London article-saying it was the first fresh point of view on the Situation--and in town bruised authors can smile again ...(2)

Dos and Katie have been on hand, Dos looking not too well after his foreign travels where, it seems to me, he saw exactly what he intended to see. Katie is all chatter since her book with dear Edie and exposes her hitherto subtle hand openly now.(3) They were staying at the Murphys' last week and naturally Edie was in town and Gerald said they were phoning each other from 8 a.m. till midnight and the rest of the time locked together in the bathroom to Dos's intense embarrassment. They say the book is doing splendidly, but rumor says that the two ladies used up Dos's goodwill at Houghton Mifflin so if he should want to rest up with a little volume of verse he may find stern faces....

I have lost 20 lbs. through strange assortments of pills of such a mysterious nature that they actually change the nature of my mind, so I was obliged to give up writing. If I don't write for five years I may make quite a name for myself and if I can stop for ten I may give Katherine Anne [Porter] and Dorothy Parker a run for their money. I did a television script for Gilbert Seldes (it was outlined from the current Mademoiselle magazine, so you can imagine the deep thoughts involved). The scripting itself for television is 1000 times more limiting than movie-writing since no one can move extensively on the set, and so literal and exacting that it is like a complicated game. To watch is more boring than radio and not to be compared to the old magic lantern. But the shooting is much more fascinating than a movie lot. I think the thing is a big bust --television, I mean--but then I said that about technicolor, too. (I was right.)

Bomby Hemingway(4) (Ernest's 21-year old son by Hadley) was liberated from prison and is here on leave. He had spent the night at the Murphys' on his way to visit Ernest in Cuba. His prison was the height of German efficiency, for the torture devices were very methodically arranged and suited to the Geneva rules superficially. That is, arms and legs of Allied prisoners were inevitably found infected and ordered amputated. Bomby's arm was saved only by a Polish doctor who gave him shots every week when his amputation time was due and these shots made him frightfully sick. Medical rules prohibited any surgery during fever and upchucking so he saved his arm, but is still sizzling with the drugs. Also the prisoners were given elaborate metabolism and allergy tests as soon as they came in and then carefully deprived of whatever the tests said their systems required, or else given whatever they were allergic to. It seemed a splendid example of German efficiency, with the papers all in order....

Downtown New York is as depressing as ever, the only change in the routine being that Coby(5) has been on the wagon for two months due to back pains. As is usually the case, a clear head makes for seeing life in its true grisly aspect, so he is grim and literary. Also, sobriety makes one an easy prey to catastrophe. Last night as he gloomily ate a salad at Margaret De Silver's, Canby Chambers's horrible spaniel modestly chewed up half Coby's jacket. It was a new suit he had been saving up to buy for a year. No, no it didn't make a bit of difference, he laughingly assured Canby, but suddenly took a mighty swig of whiskey.

I think it must be very confusing to find yourself obliged to wave a flag and defend your native soil, as you found yourself doing in England. Maybe you will sell yourself the idea that all you want in life is a farm out next to Louis Bromfield's or a bog potato ranch in Bucks County next to George and Bea [Kaufman]. George Kaufman is in again. The theater is lousy with Pinafores. George Kaufman's Hollywood Pinafore is, according to report, brilliant with the master's wit and genius. Willella Waldorf, in the Post, raised a minor voice to say that it was not as sidesplitting as it was meant to be. Sally Benson and somebody else did the colored Pinafore Memphis Blues with Bill Robinson and this too is Superb. A real Pinafore is now hotfooting to town and it looks as if we were going to be hemmed in again by a D'Oyly Carter Nightmare. As an old Gilbert and Sullivan lover-hater, I am not happy. On Spivey's roof, View magazine's surrealist puppeteer is. presenting skits by Jane Bowles and other self-styled avant-gardists every evening. Archie MacLeish is Not Happy in the state department and may creep out. Philip Barry is Not Happy with the Theatre Guild, now that the Guild is taking off his play. He is very discouraged about writing, having barely made a quarter of a million this season, and after all there are two mouths to feed.

Alec Brook(6) had a cover on the SatEvePost, being paid highly and then selling the original (a child portrait) to the parents. It seems the Post is following Lucky Strike and Abbott Chemicals in discovering art....

I see that the View puppeteer's name is John Myers, the puppets are designed by Kurt Seligman, the music is by Paul Bowles, a number is by that oaf, Charles Henri Ford, and no doubt the check is signed by Peggy Guggenheim....

With fondest regards, Dawn

(1) Powell played an on-going game with Wilson in which he was "Professor Ernest Wigmore" and she was "Mrs. Humphrey [sic] Ward."

(2) Philip Barry (1896-1949) was a highly successful American playwright. Wilson had begun sending back jaundiced and rather pessimistic articles about London at the end of World War II.

(3) Katy Dos Passos and her friend Edith Shay had written a novel together, The Private Adventures of Captain Shaw (1945).

(4) John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway (1923-), Ernest Hemingway's oldest son. Powell liked and admired John Hemingway enormously.

(5) Coburn "Coby" Gilman 1894-1967) was Powell's favorite drinking buddy for more than thirty years.

(6) Alexander Brook (1898-1980), the American artist, was married for a time to Powell's on-again/off-again friend, Peggy Bacon (1895-1987).

35 East Ninth Street July 3, 1947

Dear Wig old boy--

I want you to be the first to know I am having such a strange reaction to dear Mr. Perkins's(1) death that I can only describe it as psychological. In fact that is the very word. I am suddenly career-mad (not in any way overshadowing my soft feminine side) aggressive, odetsish, contacting, bigdealing, memoing, bigshotting, goingoverpeople'sheading, putthatinyourpipeandsmokeiting, as if all that had ever stood in my way before had been Mr. Perkins. I will send a telegram now to Hollywood as follows: I LAUGH UP MY SLEEVE AT WHATEVER SUM YOU MAY OFFER SIGHT UNSEEN FOR MY NEXT TOME HA HA. I jump on the editor's knee and then on his neck. I pull beards or if cleanshaven wattles. I make mountains out of motes. I am working myself up to sending cables. That is why I want you to tell me a name of a Frog publisher for me to send my works to and address if possible. Can this be arranged? Preferably a mythological character.

Everything is pursuing itself here splendidly. I met a strange Gatsby-like character at the Murphys' last week, named Dr. Hinton. He has an orchid house and a pool of tropic lilies and papyrus, a fabulous collection of Americana, he hates women due to having had a wife, and sweeps in and out of the Hamptons with a retinue of strange servants mostly stolen from the older Hampton families. Do you suppose Murphys generate Gatsbys?

I broke olives on the Brevoort terrace with Herbert Solow, now engaged in experimenting with separate life from Sylvia. He was in a dark and morose greenish mood. Joie de telaviv. I hope I don't say that. Peggy is coming in this aft and I have a fine Portuguese crackling on the hob.

best to elena and rosalind and Reuel(2) Dawn

(1) The famed Maxwell Perkins (1884-1947) had been Powell's editor for the last eight years.

(2) Wilson's wife, daughter, and son, respectively.

The Cherries, NY June 22, 1948

Dear Wig:

Why don't you write your foreign correspon-despondent nose-for-news piece on the strange life in New York as gleaned by the ads in our newspapers, such as Dr. Murray Banks and Dr. Sperling, the Sex Psychologists with dancing, coffee, Freud, Marx and bebop. The contours of these gala but dialectical sexical balls must be blueprinted in Moscow. In fact there is no iron curtain as iron as the one between the American Way of today and the accepted American idea of the American way. I am already laughing ha-ha.

I see Evelyn Waugh has done the glamour mortician(1) after Huxley but I did him first in The Happy Island with the concert pianist (broke) getting his free sleeping quarters in a Bronx funeral parlor where he practiced the organ nightly and guarded the stiffs from his own marble slab and painted the corpses with his nice artist's touch until the bereaved husbands were so seduced (what with the special temptation perfume) that they flung themselves on the coffin shrieking, "Becky, come back, I want you, do you hear, want you want you want you."

I was terribly flattered to find on my first visit to Eddie Condon's jazz house that the drummer, no less than the famed George Wettling, had a copy of my book under his arm.(2) I do enjoy the intelligentsia pretending they know a horn from a harp while the musicians pretend they know a book from a bookie. This is a very interesting place, much to my embarrassment, and the improvisations have the classic pattern of a basic creative formula. Goddam it I think I'll outclement greenberg with my aesthetic nifties.

Spivey(3) would like a profile of self for New Yorker and no reason why not except she is better and better known than their usual subjects, and her background and observations are more interesting. Why don't you do that? My brilliant agents asked if I would do a biography of Fanny Brice. Signed, they cried proudly. I couldn't have been more excited if it had been George Jessel or Westbrook Pegler. Shall I suggest you for this? All you do is keep out anything that might be interesting and then state that she is a good wife and mother.

Dos appeared briefly and disappeared faster.

Others beside you have spoken of the publishing family in my book being Scribners so there may be some reason for their restraint in advertising it. That's what comes of my foxily disguising a wholesale druggist dynasty and newspaper publisher family into a book family. It comes out my own publishers.

This pretty paper (called "Temptation Notes") is all there is left for me to charge at Scribner's Book Store. I've got about all the leather-edged blotters, quill pens, calling and playing cards that I can bear.

I have been asked to write "What's Wrong With the Younger Generation?" for Harper's Bazaar. I must find one and see what's wrong--I mean, outside of them being younger. So far this is the only future I see learing ahead. The Fight is off tonight so I don't have to go to the television party and look at it. I hate having my sport ignorance sullied. Do you think these poems are translatable? Or good? Marcelin(4) is the Canapes Verts Man and I am now so involved in my gracious offer to find him publishers that my phone rings with threats from his other friends. I see what you mean. I mean I see what Slater Brown meant with his homely motto, "Never lend a man an axe after sundown."

best to the eggnog set Humph

(1) Waugh's The Loved One had just been published.

(2) The jazz drummer George Wettling (1907-1968) was one of Powell's admirers and she left some funny stories about him in her diaries.

(3) The pianist and singer Victoria Spivey (1906-1976) was then at the peak of her career.

(4) The Haitian poet and novelist Philippe Thoby-Marcelin (1904-1975), whom Powell had met during her stay in Port-au-Prince, was also a great friend to Malcolm Lowry.

September 16 (year uncertain) PROFESSOR ERNEST WIGMORE'S TRIUMPHAL TOUR OF ALL THE AMERICAS AND MORE(1)

Not having visited the Americas (New York, Oak Bluffs and Fourth Street) since my lecture tour with Mrs. Trollop [sic] in 1814, I was prepared for certain changes but hardly for those which greeted me upon my arrival. The change, I find, lies mostly in the women, who are older than they were (mostly dark-haired though different-colored at the roots), extremely bossy though abysmally subservient to the ideas of other men. The women (contrary to the men, who dine in a body at Longchamps) eat at Luchow's which they pronounce through the sphenoid bone so that it comes out on your cheek instead, and spend their time "hammering their noddles for a jeste" as they call it. They are all five feet three ranging up to 140 lbs. when they begin to be five feet one and a quarter. They are found in the quarters of an invisible little people they call "husbands," who are also different-colored at the roots, laughing a good deal at the waggery of visiting lecturers found in their women's beds. This tendency to excessive merriment results frequently in what they call "dropping their choppers." I found, on questioning a Mrs. Z, that this was a compliment to their national profession which is dentistry. All American men are dentists and are paid for their work by oil paintings, gouaches, drypoints of large dogs and pastels of little girls with poor "bites." While being measured for a night-cap in a leading hattery called "Wiggins Grotto" I met what I was told was the "top drawers" of the profession. Their attitude toward the prevailing political leaders or "orthodontists" as they call them and toward artists or "plastic denturists" was characteristic of the men in all the countries I visited.

"As you say, Prof. Wigmore," was the general complaint in so many (three) words.

Streets and homes are completely emptied by nightfall which in some cases occurs as early as 11 A.M. On questioning a Mrs. Z, a woman of large "proportions" as they call them in America, I found that at this time the radicals take to the bars where in periods of unrest they plot subversive activities such as musical comedies, little magazines, Gilbert and Sullivan revivals, as well as making arrangements with each other for cornucopias (a small present given by females of any age on feast days or in moments of lethargy). These, of course, are kept in an excellent state of preservation by applications of vulcanite, novocaine and regular drilling. At national orgies or trade routs the men in full regalia present a typically primitive picture as they lock cornucopias in ceremonial dances.

I made a special point of mingling with two prominent women who, for purposes of confusion, I will call Mustard Seed and Podsnapper, to find secret customs of the sex as it exists in the Americas since Mrs. Trollop's time. These women at the time of my mingling were on what they termed the "wagon" or "merry-go-round" or "bandstand." (Ed. note: "to be on the wagon": that is, to drink in the kitchen, in the dark, behind the rose, as we put it.) It was their practice to put cheerful records on the phonograph and take turns engaging in goodnatured solo dancing during my talk. Everyplace I went I found people in tremendous unrest lulled only by opportunities to soliloquize aloud. For the most part I mingled with one person at a time, since in groups of two or more I found a careless tendency to interrupt or disagree with me, which would give my readers a wrong impression of the country.

I had the foresight to purchase a basket of the native bridgework to take home to Mrs. Trollop (who, by the way, has lived to a ripe old insolvency). She was as delighted as an old woman and donned them at once.

"Oh Urnith" thee whitthled. "Itthent America thwell?"

It was so like her.

ERNEST WIGMORE. FELLOW AM. GEOG. SOC. BROWN UNIVERSITY CLUB

(1) The circumstances behind this parody remain unclear, as does its exact date. The references to Mrs. Trollope would indicate that it was written in the late 1940s, when Powell's passion for Domestic Manners of the Americans was at its peak.

Paris ca. Nov. 17, 1950

Dear Wig ...

I just cashed my last ten dollars and was economizing on lunch at the same time disposing of--alors, let us say I am the Count of Monte Cristo and the world is mine, at least it feels as if somebody had bashed it over my cars like an old silk hat. Anyway, it would be a hangover in any other country, though in any other country what I drank would be regarded as mere civilized drinking and I wouldn't be having a hangover--so the waiter shortchanged me a hundred francs. With that hundred francs I could have lived like a prince for as long as I cared to in my present mood.

The mood is due to three amer picons with M. Jolas (who cleverly was having martinis), an Alsatian beaucoup wine dinner at a brasserie on Champs-Elysees with both Jolases, myself longing for less raw French meat and eternal French fried, souffleed, allumetted pommes--who would have dreamed that they really did have French fried potatoes in France?--and finally a delicate grog with Maria [Jolas] at Deux Maggots(1) (I never dreamed decent people went there anymore, either), Gene having left. The reason he left was my remark that Sartre was the Hopalong Cassidy of France, and he said I should be more humble before French letters, though he himself is not a Sartre admirer. I returned that this view was not--as he held --the stupid view of America toward France, but my own and based not on my brief but not brief enough stay in Paris but on Sartre as a commercial enterprise like cornflakes or Shirley Temple--that is (and he does make the trains run on time) restaurants, hotels, magazines, theatres, real estate thrive on his okay, just as our Hopalong Cassidy boots, breakfast foods, etc. Furthermore, he might be the big frog in Boston but Elyria would still believe Louis Bromfield was the country's leading mind, Carolina would be astounded to learn there was anybody but Paul Green, New Orleans would have or have had Roark Beadford, and of course there is a group that calls Ben Hecht Ben. Anyway you can sec those Uncle Sam pants getting too long....

Margaret probably told you Koestler came with Jim Putnam to my deportation party and gave me his wife's address then as he thought I should look her up. Maria says she's been very sick with asthma. I cannot look anybody up till my finances get more financial. I knew exactly what this would be like but rather fancied my fortunes might change with an ocean voyage.

I would like Paris better if I had any deep feeling for what they like, but I really dislike the pallid, watery-eyed, churchly old-whore sentimentality of their limpid pastoral novels--Maurois, Hemon and that school. I find Sartre's work (novels) cut-outs from Colette, Aragon, Roger-the-Thibault's-man, and every other leading novelist, and I hate the rather insanitary tidiness of the people --the newspapers folded just so, their enjoyment in all their little chores, their fixed ideas--the way the newsman is horrified that I want different newspapers every day, and more than one. "But Madame took Le Figaro yesterday and so she is a Figaro reader, how can she take Humanite and Paris-Presse too?" Also, I cannot get anyone to admit that rue Jacob is a continuation of the rue de l'Universite or Boulevard des Italiens is a continuation of Boulevard des Capucines. No. These streets have nothing to do with each other. No, madame, it is not the same street under a different name, it is an entirely different street. And Fourth Avenue is not the lower end of Park Avenue. It is, on the contrary, completely different, in fact it leaves off at 34th Street, whereas, you must admit, Park Avenue only begins at 34th Street. Good God, Madame has put her stamps on the letter upside down. The Post Office will not accept. Madame must buy fresh stamps and put the blue one here, so, the red one there, so, and the other one here. This is the order in which it is done.

I do love the tiny little noises in the morning, the autos squeaking oui oui, the birds peeping oui oui and the whole hotel oui oui. The radios go on and I have such a good ear for language that I have picked up one favorite song I hear. It goes:
 LAUNDREE--come you to me once more
 Laundree--what did I pay you for
 (parlando) You went away
 (sing) one summer day
 Occur this way, s'il vous plait
 Laundree, come sleep with me ce soir.


Maria says Joyce's son comes in from Zurich only to get Pop's checks to drink up. She also states that many Americans who entertained Sartre and Beauvoir lavishly in America and rather expected some return favors here have been surprised to find them rather grudgingly given one cassis at de Fiord cafe and briskly shoved off. Maria said that French were really very hospitable, only their hospitality consisted in allowing people to have as many men in their hotel as they liked or allowing them to bring their pets into restaurants.

Most people here seem irritated and surprised that America has so much war talk. However, Gene, who has been on the Frankfurt Zeitung for some years (now through with it) says a new war seems certain ...

The New Yorker almost bought a story of mine but unluckily decided it would be dated by the time I had made some changes they wanted. I enjoy walking from one end of the Right Bank over bridges and under and over the Left Bank and I like the newspapers and little bakeries. I don't like the cafes because a gentlewoman can't go prancing around alone in them unless she's expecting her group, and the stores have an enormous amount of junk at high price, and in the main I think this is a good place to study to be a dope fiend. I haven't been so abysmally sunk (though I did expect it) since I was making $1000 a week in Hollywood. I have found that money does not bring happiness but neither does the lack of it. (Doesn't that have the old Gallic touch, though, my brave?)

My best (which hardly seems good enough) to Elena and Rosalind and tell the Givenses to get over here for Halloween. Tell everybody and I will meet them at the boat with my hat in my hand. (French courtesy.)

Fondly, Dawn

(1) Powell had much sport with the name of the famous cafe Les Deux Magots.

35 East Ninth Street August 27, 1954

Dear Wig--

In the night (watches of) I composed a song--
 I'm sick and tired of getting drunk
 Of gin I'm tired and sick
 If wagons took me anywhere
 I'd board one good and quick.


I hope to build this into something fine later. I hear Saroyan's cousin has a new song called "All I Want is All There Is and More." Will it ever replace "Dearie"?
 I hate the pals with whom I drink
 The drinks that make us pals
 I'm tired of chopping ice and mint
 To keep up our morales.


I thought your play reviews were provocative and rather jealous, though the Times was good.(1) Henrietta Holland called me to say your house was utterly wonderful.
 Will I join you on the wag, you ask
 But then I shake my head.
 For I am so conservative and
 The wagon is so red.


No, that won't do. I must search the bottle for a more felicitous climax. Things are settling down here in a most constructive way though I still worry about the outcome. It is pleasant having everybody away all summer though soon all will be rushing back to their analysts, heavy with summer guilt and tanned with insecurity. I went to another party of Liz Dunlap's and found her charming and evidently happier. Have I told you I have busied myself inventing a plastic bidet for shut-ins?

Will you and Elena be on hand for Houghton Mifflin's party on Sept. 9 here? I have not invited my closest chums as I want to feel free to fall down personally without dancing drunk-attendance.

Humph

Now I will write the music. Did you know I write the words before composing the air? Isn't that interesting? It all depends on the performer. I think it should be done by Sophie Tucker all dressed in a wittle-girl ruffly dress, hair in curls, who comes on with her wittle chair and plops it in mid stage and herself on it. She should have a couple of front teeth blacked out and maybe one eye or is that too modern? With her finger in her mouth at the same time stuffing a bean up her nose she sings this haunting little song.

At the end a dozen chorus-men pogo in on retirement pensions dragging little red wagons and throwing her from one to the other and then at the audience of whom I count you a member, leader of the clap section.

(1) Wilson's collection Five Plays had recently been published.

May 10, 1956

Dear Wig--

I had it on my mind to ask if you are at this very minute in town with your Waiting for Godot tickets in hand as it is so wonderful that you should come from all over the world to see Bert Lahr in it....

The Pewlitzer annozments today remind me that nonproduction is the chief requirement. Imagine Elizabeth Bishop,(1) author at 45 of about 30 dowdy little constipated poems, rewarded because she--she what? Well, because she is the recipient of many other prizes. In fact I believe all literary and artistic prizes are given For Industry in Conning and Copping Guggenheims and other prizes and for genteel restraint in setting foot to paper or canvas, thus relieving the judges of tiring labor. In the same way, publishers and editors and film companies pay rates according to the author's penthouses, stables, etc. How embarrassing for Zanuck to offer $5000 to David Schine,(2) for instance, for his first novel if any. What kind of Schnuck does that make Zanuck? He has the gentlemanliness to offer not what the literary property is worth but what the real estate is worth--i.e. $300,000.

I wonder if David Schine whoever he is Is writing a novel.

Have not seen Dos for some time. I have, for about two years, been getting JoJo [Powell's son] on Fridays from the sanitarium at Ward's Island for weekends to condition him for future life but last week concluded that it was merely conditioning me for Ward's instead, so I took the weekend off to see reaction all around and find faint rumblings from a beat-up brain, so may come to some decision.

Virgil Thomson's Mother of Us All(3) was very delightful. Don't miss Godot. It is the great historic triumph of the clown. The great Nordic social worker mind is always horrified that poor people (in literature, that is) laugh or mix their cancers, maggots, hunger and futility with jokes. They SHOULD beat their breasts and say I am Underprivileged and I don't Forget it, thank God. Wipe that smile off my face--

Anyway, Chekhov and Gogol knew better.

Isn't there enough unhappiness in literature without going to real life?

Humph

P.S. Dos just phones and will appear later. I fear my rude remarks about Pulitzer prizes sounds biased by never having gotten any. Is there a better bias?

(1) The poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) and Powell shared some friends in common, especially the artist Loren MacIver (1909-1998) and her husband Lloyd Frankenberg (1907-1975). Powell was not always so bitter about Bishop's work.

(2) David Schine (1927-1996) was then notorious for his close personal association with Senator Joseph McCarthy's chief aide, the lawyer and power-broker Roy Cohn. He never published a novel.

(3) The Mother of Us All was the second of Virgil Thomson's two marvelous operatic collaborations with Gertrude Stein.

Tim Page is the editor of The Diaries of Dawn Powell: 1931-1965 and the author of Dawn Powell: A Biography.3
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Date:Sep 1, 1999
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