'Voice' on Literature

Reviews of the last 50 years

Deft Strokes
This book is "about" an American woman who takes a job as a jazz pianist in a Mexican town, away from her husband, because she has felt a widening rift between them. There is a constant and beautiful evocation of the Mexican landscape and the tropical spirit by the use of the most original and always accurate imagery. Characters of surprising solidity are built in a few deft strokes. And the entire mysterious, significant phenomenon of expatriation is explored in a profound yet never heavy way. But the real subject of the book is the soul of the heroine and, through her, the soul of woman today: a supremely important and difficult subject about which the author is remarkably revealing, quietly revolutionary.

I believe that one of the things happening today that affects our lives most and means most for the future is what is happening within women AFTER their emancipation. The noise has been about emancipation, but freedom is meaningless in itself; it is what is done with it that counts; and today it is women, American women I believe, who are doing the most with it—but mostly in silence. Anais Nin breaks that silence. [return to top]


May 24, 1962

The Bearish, Bullish Giant Knew the $10 Words

Portrait of Hemingway
by Lillian Ross
Simon & Schuster, $2.50

by Tom Stoppard

Late in 1949, Ernest Hemingway paused for a few days in New York en route from Havana to Italy. He was "not exactly overjoyed" to be in New York, a "phony town," but he was noticeably happy about finishing the manuscript of a new novel called "Across the River and Into the Trees," which was going to be a "better book than 'Farewell.' "

Lillian Ross, a New Yorker staff writer who had known Hemingway on and off for two years, rode out to meet him at the airport, rode with him and his wife to the Sherry-Netherlands where caviar, champagne, and The Kraut (Marlene Dietrich) were summond to help celebrate the new book; rode next day with him to Abercrombie and Fitch to buy a coat; rode the day after with him and his wife and his son Patrick to the Metropolitan Museum "to see the good Breughel, the one, no two, fine Goyas, and Mr. El Greco's El Toledo"; rode back to the hotel where Charles Scribner was waiting with a contract for the book—and in all this time observed, listened, noted, and finally selected and wrote it the way it was.

The result was published as a Profile in the New Yorker on May 13, 1950, and everybody said what a clever hatchet job Miss Ross had done on Mr. Hemingway, and Miss Ross was very surprised. [return to top]


September 6, 1962

E.E. Cummings, 1894-1962

Edward Estlin Cummings, the poet and painter who became famous for a beautiful celebration of life, died early Monday morning at the old New Hampshire farmouse that since childhood had been his summer home.

He was only 67 and had suffered a sudden stroke, but he had written about death in a love poem to his wife, Marion, more than four years ago:

never could anyone
who simply lives to die
dream that your valentine
makes me happier than i
but always everything
which only dies to grow
can guess and as for spring
she'll be the first to know

Cummings loved the New England country, but Greenwich Village was for a long time his proper home. He came here from Cambridge, Massachusetts, by way of Paris over thirty years ago, and most of his poems were written in a small brick house on Patchin Place.

Cummings was never a "Villager," though: he hated the thought of any sort of public image. During his last years especially, he rarely left the house on Patchin Place, and when he did it was to take a long, solitary walk or meet a poetry-reading engagement. This spring, to his horror, he made headlines in a hassle with the City authorities over an order to install additional plumbing on his second floor. As soon as it was over, he fled out of sight again for the last time.

Cummings' work began at college when his father, with the fathers of seven other classmates—among them S. Foster Damon and John Dos Passos—stood their sons to the publication of an anthology called "Eight Harvard Poets." Cummings said later that it was Damon who in fact introduced him to poetry when, by the accident of an alphabetical seating plan, the two met in Freshman English.

Cummings wrote steadily after that, and when he died he left twelve volumes of poetry, two "non-novels," six "non-lectures," three plays, plus an anthology of essays and unfinished prose works. And he painted, too, leaving behind the thousands of fresh, impressionistic paintings of which he was so proud.

Too many people will remember the poet as that mad, lowercase cummings and forget that, when all the intricacies of his style are said and done, Cummings remains, essentially, a poet of faith, writing as he once said, to give joy and wonder back to an atrophying world. His remarkable run-on style was always at the service of faith.

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