12 October 2007

One of the cultural highlights of Jersey is the collection of Sylvia Beach letters at Princton University, though her correspondence with Joyce is mostly at SUNY Buffalo. Recently I was perusing the collection and I’m looking over my observations:

  • Reverdy’s poem Mao-tcha in the June ‘17 issue of Manifestation Sic, which had works by Jacob and Cocteau and a front cover by Picasso.

  • ‘Talk to Mr Joyce about coming down here (to Cannes) to spend a month. It’s cheap, and I have a rosy tan on me that makes me looks 20 years old.’

    Robert McAlmon ‘22

  • Poulenc had elaborate paper flowers attached to his stationary.

  • 1927, Kay Boyle writes Beach asking for a job, explaining what makes her a good employee.

    1932 she asks for MacLeish’s Newfoundland, while MacLeish was working for Fortune Magazine.

    Another Boyle letter, with no date other than ‘Friday’:

    ‘We were also using some unpublished work of the Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven and I wished to communicate with Miss Djuna Barnes concerning the reprinting of her page in ‘transition’ concerning the Baroness. I have Miss Barnes’ address at home in Auteuil but as I am again ill and not able to get out of bed, I can’t get at it.’

  • 2 x 3 pages with notes written by Beach during a phone conversation with Samuel Beckett:

    En attendand godot
    Malloy - Malloy Meurt
    option on third


    The Grove Press

    his own translations
    wd pay in advance
    on contract

    (New page)

    on novels $1000

    play $200

    would like to act as
    agent for production
    of play in NY

    (New page)

    agent in London
    Mrs Rosica Colin
    Barney Rosset

    print 2000 copies

    $3 a copy

    if all sold 10% royalty

    otherwise separate
    agreement with a

  • Beckett had absolutely the most unreadable handwriting I’ve ever seen. In English, but completely incomprehensible.

  • 1938 Elizabeth Bishop asks for a copy of Stevens’ Man With the Blue Guitar.

  • Walter Benjamin wrote Beach on October 26, 1939 from the internment camp in Nevers where he was held on account of being a German citizen. He proudly ripped his essay Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire (found in Illuminations; On Some Motifs of Baudelaire) out of Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung (which also included an Adorno essay on Wagner and Horkheimer’s De Juden und Europa, examining the relation between liberal democracy and fascism), and sent it to Beach for her to read. Because the note was handwritten and his imminent fate, it was probably the saddest letter I’ve ever read, with Benjamin railing against Hitler and confiding his despair.

  • Hotel du Pont and Brest
    Near Chartres

    My dear Miss Beach,

    You’re rather hard on me, but perhaps with good cause. I did dispatch the letters to you, but by a not very trustworthy acquaintance and I can assume only - as I also lent him some money - that he got drunk on the way - lost them..

    ...but I never know how much loved my wife until she went to America: I should not have let her go, o it’s been hell... ..But everything’s all right now - She’s all right and we’ll be together again in three weeks. I was past momentarily deranged. So please forgive me really.

    Malcolm Lowry

  • Eliot's Christmas card:

    Fra Filippo Lippi
    Galleria Uffizi, Florence

  • Paul Robeson tries to get Beach to convince Joyce to show up at one of his performances and come backstage.

  • Dear Miss Beach,

    I’m terribly sorry about Friday. A friend of mine got in a jam with the police and I had to spend the day sitting in bureaus and telephoning. I hope you will excuse my rudeness, but I am sure you will understand. Next time I come to Paris I hope we will meet properly.

    yours sincerely
    WH Auden

    Dear Miss Beach,

    Just passing through from USA en route for London and then Germany. Sorry to have missed you.

    yours sincerely,
    Wystan Auden

    (Complete correspondence between the two on file)

  • Dec 7 1955

    I would like to meet with you and speak with you, if you have some time free. I know we have a number of friends in common, not least of all Dr Williams. Perhaps you will be interested in hearing that he has been very much excited by these last poems of Michaux which I’ve sent to him.

    29, Quai d’Anjou
    Paris 1ve

  • Cyril Connolly wrote long-winded letters as can be expected, including:

    “The Sunday Times is having a series of the Seven Deadly Sins and I have done one on covetousness (E. Sitwell on Pride, Waugh on Sloth, Auden on Anger)....

    “I am so glad you liked my piece on Hemingway - I was very upset by his death and felt very near to him - I sometimes think the first thing the dead do is to pay a round of visits, at least I was suddenly conscious of a wave of humility and affection from him and so when I was asked to write a piece I cancelld my engagement in London and spent three days down here with my books....

    “PSS As a poet Ernest Hemingway was too direct - not marinated enough


Andy Gricevich said...

Keenan is back in blogland!

Nice collection here.

What else is new?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Ian,

These notes are fascinating. Please transcribe the Benjamin letter the next time you access this collection. Thanks!


Ian Keenan said...

Hey Andy! I’ve been enjoying Pure Negation. I’m going to Texas for the Eternal Project next month but we’re not finishing up there, alas. I have a list of posts for here, some which require me to think a little.

Thanks Linh; my raison d’etre for checking out the letters is a sculpture I was collaborating on (which didn’t require me to perform any sculptural tasks) that was a Sylvia Beach tribute which is finished and the show it was in is over. But I may return to the collection nonetheless..