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  • Originally published 08/21/2013

    George Orwell’s letters fill out a complex personality

    In a life that was relatively brief but exceedingly active, George Orwell was, among other things, a police officer in Burma, a dishwasher in France, a tramp in England, a combatant in Spain, a war correspondent in Germany and a farmer in the Hebrides. Like many people of his era — he was born in 1903 and died in 1950 — he was also a prolific letter writer, and a particularly captivating and thoughtful one at that, thanks partly to the wealth of experience he had acquired.“George Orwell: A Life in Letters” is a judiciously chosen selection of some of the most interesting of these casual writings, from a 20-year period that included both the Great Depression and World War II. Peter Davison, who selected and annotated the letters, was also the lead editor of Orwell’s 20-volume “Complete Works” and has sought here to distill Orwell’s essence, as man and thinker, into a more manageable size and format.

  • Originally published 04/25/2013

    The young Salinger, mordant yet hopeful

    On Nov. 18, 1941, a struggling Manhattan author wrote to a young woman in Toronto to tell her to look for a new piece of his in a coming issue of The New Yorker. This short story, he said, about “a prep school kid on his Christmas vacation,” had inspired his editor to ask for an entire series on the character, but the author himself was having misgivings. “I’ll try a couple more, anyway,” he wrote, “and if I begin to miss my mark I’ll quit.”He ended the letter by asking for her reaction to “the first Holden story,” which he said was called “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” and signing, simply, “Jerry S.”The writer was J. D. Salinger, then just 22, with works like “The Catcher in the Rye” still ahead of him and his literary success hardly assured. When Salinger died in seclusion in 2010, at the age of 91, he remained a mystery to his millions of readers, having shared little of himself with the world beyond the few fictional works he had published....

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