Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Heart of the Man, Through His Correspondence

By DWIGHT GARNER writing in The New York Times, Published: December 9, 2008

“Don’t make your books any shorter, please,” Graham Greene implored his friend Muriel Spark in a 1974 letter, “or you’ll disappear like Beckett.”

A Life in Letters
Edited by Richard Greene
Illustrated. 446 pages. W. W. Norton & Company. $35.

(UK - Little Brown pds20)
Times Topics: Graham Greene

Greene himself didn’t want to disappear, even briefly, from anyone’s radar screen; throughout his long life he was determinedly prolific. He published more than 25 novels, among them near-masterpieces like “The Power and the Glory” (1940) and “The End of the Affair” (1951). He wrote four books of autobiography, three travel books, a book of verse and nearly 20 plays and screenplays. Greene also issued, as if he kept a Mini-Me in his attaché case, a relentless stream of other material: essays, newspaper reportage, short stories, film and book reviews. The jobbing writer and the artist in him were sometimes at war with each other (Greene wrote a lot of guff), but just as often they effortlessly intertwined.

On top of all this, it turns out, Greene (1904-1991) was committed to yet another genre: he was among the 20th century’s most obsessive letter writers. He dashed off or dictated some 2,000 letters or postcards each year, posting them to family, friends, lovers, editors, agents and a galaxy of fellow writers, including Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen, Anthony Powell, John Betjeman, R. K. Narayan, Vaclav Havel, Kurt Vonnegut and Shirley Hazzard. The to-and-fro of these letters, a kind of intellectual tennis, seemed to keep his color and spirits high.
The full piece - NYT


Mark Hubbard said...

One pity of the Internet, which I love in every other respect, is that it is effectively the death of the letter. And I don't think it will ever be possible to publish a collection of writer emails, as they don't tend to be as self-contained as letters.

Though of course in the place of the letter we have the blog. The question is simply is that better?

Mark Hubbard said...

Forgot to say in my last post, Greene is one of my favourites.