ILB Brief Encounters: Literary Figures Appearing in Interesting Situations

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Either encountering other such figures or other interesting minds, in situations you may or may not have been aware of but make you happy all the same.

Alternate thread purpose: juxtaposing 'near misses', 'coincidence-OR IS IT?'

Inspired by a recent perusing of the Penelope Fitzgerald bio and rereading of some David Markson.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 19:25 (six years ago) link

So, in WWII Walter M. Miller, Jr., author of A Canticle For Leibowitz, participated in the bombing and destruction of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, outside of Rome, which experience traumatized him, perhaps contributing to both his religious conversion and his eventually taking of his own life.

In 1942, Penelope Knox married Desmond Fitzgerald who participated in the siege of Monte Cassino with the Irish Guards. He was also traumatized- "He would wake up in the night, screaming. He could never bear fireworks'" and after the war went into a long downhill slide which led to Penelope having to be the sole source of support for the family.

During the previous, "Great," war in Europe Austrian artillery officer Ludwig Wittgenstein was taken prisoner by the Italians and held in the Abbey Monte Cassino, where he finalized the manuscript of Tractatus ­Logico-­Philosphicus, which he had in his rucksack upon capture, and which, while still a prisoner, he sent to Bertrand Russell through the "good offices" of John Maynard Keynes for eventual publication.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 19:48 (six years ago) link

Penelope Fitzgerald became friends with L. P. Hartley in the 1950s- she spent some time in the late 1970s working on a biography of him which "came to nothing" - with whom she would occasionally dine including one memorable occasion with the "exceedingly nice Veronica Wedgwood."

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 19:55 (six years ago) link

(Some funny stuff about visiting Anthony Powell to interview him for the Hartley bio that I may post later on)

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 19:56 (six years ago) link

During the "grande affaire" of the earlier twentieth century debate on The Theory of Relativity between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson, Paul Valéry, the French poet, diarist, and general man of ideas and letters, who corresponded with both on friendly terms, acted as a middleman on at least one occasion, accompanying Einstein on a visit in 1922 to Bergson's home.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 20:12 (six years ago) link

And back to the PKF bio by Hermione Lee:

Mavis Batey, who worked at Bletchley with Dillwyn Knox and whose husband was a Christ Church don, said that Penelope liked being taken round the college, talking about Lewis Carroll and Tenniel.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 20:24 (six years ago) link

Which leads to

Her uncle Dillwyn, now terminally ill, wanted her to drop the BBC and the journalism and go to work at Bletchley. Her friend Rachel Ollivant was working there, and Dilly had already asked Mavis Lever to persuade Penelope to join. He summoned her to Courn’s Wood to talk it through. “ ‘You don’t share the family pretence of not understanding mathematics?' he asked anxiously.” It was their last conversation. And she did not go to Bletchley—which might have been a perfect setting for a Fitzgerald novel.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 20:27 (six years ago) link

I'm not entirely sure whether this is what you're after, but I was delighted by this paragraph on the later life of Djuna Barnes (from wikipedia):

During her Patchin Place years, Barnes became a notorious recluse, intensely suspicious of anyone she did not know well. E. E. Cummings, who lived across the street, would check on her periodically by shouting out his window, "Are you still alive, Djuna?" Bertha Harris put roses in her mailbox, but never succeeded in meeting her; Carson McCullers camped on her doorstep, but Barnes only called down, "Whoever is ringing this bell, please go the hell away."

emil.y, Monday, 4 July 2016 20:33 (six years ago) link

Yes! That is exactly the kind of thing I am after here.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 20:36 (six years ago) link

Isn't there a book or a movie or something about Buckley Jr. vs. Vidal? V/Mailer so much more gratifying, because I like both well enough, and here's a couple more worthies along for the show:

dow, Monday, 4 July 2016 21:13 (six years ago) link

But wrassling aside, though still w zings:

dow, Monday, 4 July 2016 21:18 (six years ago) link

Wish I could find the interview where he says, "I thought (whoever it was) was throwing Mailer at me," Mailer being much shorter ysee.

dow, Monday, 4 July 2016 21:19 (six years ago) link

There is some good stuff about a Mailer beef in Leiber and Stoller's memoir, Hound Dog.

My City Slang Was Gone (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 4 July 2016 21:28 (six years ago) link

I really want to go back and finish PF's The Knox Brothers and read xpost Lee's PF bio, having greatly enjoyed James Wood's take, especially when "James is gettin' upset!", as they say on Seinfeld (well George says it about himself, but still)

dow, Monday, 4 July 2016 22:09 (six years ago) link

Some funny stuff about visiting Anthony Powell to interview him for the Hartley bio that I may post later on

Please do!

Foster Twelvetrees (Ward Fowler), Tuesday, 5 July 2016 09:33 (five years ago) link

Oh! Here's a fact that completely made me go WUT when I found it out: Ann Quin, my beloved tragic experimentalist, had an affair with... the guy who wrote Tarka the Otter. Who was 39 years older than her. And a weird army dude who hung out with Oswald Mosley.


emil.y, Tuesday, 5 July 2016 12:59 (five years ago) link

that would be the unapologetically fascistic henry williamson (whose son was involved with gong and hawkwind!)

& speaking of fascists, pretty sure gottfried benn shows up in george grosz's autobiography in his role as a doctor.

no lime tangier, Wednesday, 6 July 2016 00:55 (five years ago) link

Two entertaining books in this vein: One on One by Craig Brown (the review at explains the conceit well)

and 'February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn' by Sherill Tippins, which is full of weird stories from a deeply unusual sharehouse

if i remember right, anna kavan was also a resident there? she also has a few brief appearances in biographies of various forties era nz writers due to her war-time stay in auckland... not aware of any of their works featuring a fictionalised version of her, though. also brings to mind john mulgan and adorno conversing while sharing either a train journey or ferry trip to somewhere or other.

no lime tangier, Wednesday, 6 July 2016 06:20 (five years ago) link

In a similar vein again, A Ring of Conspirators by Miranda Seymour, about Henry James' final years in Rye and his encounters with local rivals like Rudyard Kipling and Stephen Crane.

Foster Twelvetrees (Ward Fowler), Wednesday, 6 July 2016 06:25 (five years ago) link

This is all good stuff, but please please please no fan fic team ups in which Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche join forces to solve crimes etc.

Hare in the Gated Snare (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 6 July 2016 09:20 (five years ago) link

Ha, exactly

Hare in the Gated Snare (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 6 July 2016 09:37 (five years ago) link

three years pass...

From the Julie Phillips Sheldon/Tiptree bio:

It was true: writers did like it. Answering an admiring note from Tiptree in 1970, Italo Calvino wrote, “A letter like yours is actually the best present a postman can put down in my mail-box. It is for the unknown reader that any author writes, but it is a rare chance to meet him, even by letter, and to discover that he is such a nice and witty person.”

Ask Heavy Manners (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 14 July 2019 18:49 (two years ago) link

As they set off in Odilon's taxi Joyce obliviously opened a window and lit a cigarette, and Sydney Schiff hurriedly shut the one and asked Joyce to throw away the other. Joyce complained of his eyes, Proust of his stomach. Did M. Joyce like truffles? He did. Had he met the Duchesse de X? He had not. 'I regret that I do not know M. Joyce's work,' remarked Proust. 'I have never read M. Proust,' replied Joyce. When they reached 44 Rue Hamelin Proust said to Schiff, politely but firmly: 'Please ask M. Joyce to let my taxi drive him home.' Thus the two greatest novelists of the twentieth century met and parted.

jmm, Sunday, 14 July 2019 19:00 (two years ago) link

one year passes...

The one and only exchange between Michael Dummett and Ludwig Wittgenstein, recounted in Williamson's "How did we get here from there? The transformation of analytic philosophy":

Dummett was going for a tutorial at Anscombe’s house. She kept the door unlocked. As was the practice, Dummett went in, and sat down to await her summons. An elderly man in a dressing-gown came downstairs and asked ‘Where’s the milk?’; Dummett replied ‘Don’t ask me’. That was the extent of his conversation with Wittgenstein.

jmm, Monday, 21 December 2020 16:25 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

TIL that Shizuo Kakutani was the thesis advisor of Saul Bellow's fourth wife, Alexandra. I wonder if this created a conflict of interest for Shizuo's daughter, Michiko.

(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Razor (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 3 January 2022 15:30 (six months ago) link

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