Sign in  |  Register

The New Criterion

Quite simply, the best cultural review in the world
- John O’Sullivan

Books

February 2012

Shorter notice

by Roger Kimball

A review of The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy by Michael Foley

A review of The Acceptance of Absurdity. Anthony Powell & Robert Vanderbilt Letters 1952-1963, edited by John Saumarez Smith & Jonathan Kooperstein.

No general collection of Anthony Powell’s correspondence has yet been published, but this charming sliver of letters between Powell (1905–2000) and Robert Vanderbilt, a New York bookseller, provides an elegant hors d’oeuvre. The prime mover of the book is John Saumarez Smith, the well-known London bookman, who, in 2005, was invited by Vanderbilt’s wife to inspect the decade-long correspondence between the rising novelist (the inaugural installment of the twelve-volume A Dance to the Music of Time appeared in 1951) and his enthusiastic American booster. Vanderbilt first wrote Powell in the winter of 1952, proposing to publish an American edition of some early novels. In due course, Venusberg (1932) and Agents and Patients (1936) were brought out in a single volume, with amusing jacket illustrations by Osbert Lancaster. The Acceptance of Absurdity chronicles the dual evolution of that enterprise and a quickly ripening epistolary friendship.

In February, “Dear Mr. Powell” is “very sincerely” thankful for “Dear Mr. Vanderbilt’s” interest. By autumn, when Vanderbilt had married and paid a honeymoon visit to Powell and his wife, we’ve moved on to “Bob” and “Tony.” Vanderbilt cracked the ice with “Dear Anthony Powell.” Powell broke it by responding “Dear Bob (if you don’t feel this odiously familiar after our rather brief acquaintance in the flesh).” Vanderbilt apparently didn’t, since he replied “Dear Tony,” recalling the afternoon he had read “all the turgid way through an article in Psychoanalytic Quarterly called ‘The Use of First Names and Penis Identification.’” “The subject,” he confesses,

was difficult for me then and has gotten more so. My mother-in-law must be called Greta; it is impossible. Virginia [his wife] can’t say Bob, and I am consequently “You,” or nothing at all. Just the same, I like to be called by my first name and am able to type other people’s, since my blush goes unseen.

Powell responds that he, too, finds the “whole Christian name question fraught with danger, though I did not know it had such alarming implications as those you mention.” What the editors rightly call a “literary kaleidoscope with London and New York equally represented” is freshly animated after Powell becomes literary editor of Punch and the correspondents plot, plan, and conspire to engineer reviews and publicity for books and authors they admire. Along the way there is gossip, gambits, and gifts (whisky, sides of beef). In 1961, Vanderbilt (who died in 2009) sold his two New York bookshops and he and his wife decamped to Gstaad, ending not only a business but also a period-piece literary association. Jonathan Kooperstein has graced this agreeable volume with a discreet multitude of intelligent and informative who’s-who footnotes.

Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. His latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press).


more from this author

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 30 February 2012, on page 76

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Shorter-notice-7291

E-mail to friend

add a comment

Leave this field empty
Name:
Email:
Website:
Verification:

The New Criterion

By the author

Guilt trip: Versailles, avant-garde & kitsch

by Roger Kimball

John Maynard Keynes’s revisionist history of World War I has had enduring—and harmful—consequences.

Introduction: Reagan, Thatcher & the “Special Relationship”

by Roger Kimball

An overview of “Reagan, Thatcher & the future of the ‘Special Relationship,’” a symposium organized jointly by The New Criterion and London’s Social Affairs Unit

Introduction: the age of discussion

by Roger Kimball

On Walter Bagehot and the progress of civilization.

You might also enjoy

A life of writing

by Ernest Hilbert

Review of Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall

Most popular

view more >

Subscribe to our newsletter!

* indicates required

Events

December 18 2014

Friends, young friends, and authors event: Holiday Party 2014


Webcasts

The Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity
On May 5, 2014, The New Criterion and PJ Media presented the second Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity. The award is given to highlight egregious examples of dishonest reporting. Also awarded this year was the Rather, a new award for lifetime achievement in mendacious journalism.
The Duranty Prize is named after Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow corresponded in the 1920s and 1930s who whitewashed Joseph Stalin’s forced starvation of the Ukrainians (the Holodomor) and many other aspects of Soviet oppression. Duranty was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his efforts. It has never been revoked.
Audio copyright Ed Driscoll, www.eddriscoll.com.


Introduction to The Kennedy Phenomenon
Roger Kimball introduces The Kennedy Phenomenon, a conference presented by The New Criterion on Tuesday, November 19.


The Kennedy Phenomenon: "Watching the Kennedy Train-Wreck"
Roger Kimball reads Peter Collier’s paper on oft-overlooked unsavory details of the Kennedys' lives. Much of the paper is drawn from Collier’s book, coauthored with David Horowitz, The Kennedys: An American Drama.