Friday, March 16, 2012

Letters, Memoirs Roundup

Michael Dirda, "The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank," Washington Post, March 8, 2012

Freud insisted that during the analytic hour, the psychoanalyst should maintain the detachment of a surgeon, staying reserved, objective and unemotional. It’s hard not to find this ironic, given the often soap-operatic lives of the men and women who formed Freud’s inner circle. Doctors sometimes like to be perceived as Olympian gods, but these letters remind us how often gods are venal, petty, jealous and spiteful.>>>

Graham Robb, "Balzac's Business," TLS, March 14, 2011

What does a novelist need? Balzac’s letters suggest the following: a peaceful place to work; a home full of beautiful, expensive objects to create “happiness and a sense of intellectual freedom”; coffee strong enough to maintain the flow of inspiration for two months; debts and publishers’ contracts with draconian penalty clauses to reinforce self-discipline with compulsion; several aliases and hiding places to prevent the creditors’ bailiffs from confiscating the expensive objects; and a constant state of romantic excitation without the time-consuming consequences of love.>>>

The Letters of Henry James (1920),

Colm Tóibín, "A Man with My Trouble," LRB, January 3, 2008 (Colm Tóibín reviews 'The Complete Letters of Henry James)

After the death of Henry James’s father in 1882, his sister-in-law Catharine Walsh, better known as Aunt Kate, burned a large quantity of the family papers, including many letters between Henry James senior and his wife. Henry James himself in later life made a number of bonfires in which he destroyed a great quantity of the letters he had received. He often added an instruction to the letters he wrote: ‘Burn this!’ To one correspondent, he wrote: ‘Burn my letter with fire or candle (if you have either! Otherwise, wade out into the sea with it and soak the ink out of it).’ In two of his stories, ‘The Aspern Papers’ and ‘Sir Dominick Ferrand’, valued letters are turned to illegible ashes – ‘as a kind of sadism on posterity’, in the words of his biographer Leon Edel. James was fully alert to the power of letters, having paid close attention to the published correspondence of Balzac, Flaubert and George Sand, and alert to the power of editors. After reading Sidney Colvin’s edition of the letters of his friend Robert Louis Stevenson, he wrote: ‘One has the vague sense of omissions and truncations – one smells the thing unprinted.’>>>

Michel Martin, "Can I Just Tell You? The Power Of Memoirs, Biographies," NPR, February 29, 2012

Can I just tell you? The stories of other people's lives are the one true remedy of arrogance. When you think about what your forebears went through so you could have the luxury to judge them, it is truly humbling. But it is also exciting because however ridiculous the political campaigns get, however high gas prices go up, however hard it gets to make that mortgage payment, you can be assured that someone has gone through worse.>>>

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