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Thursday, 24 September 2020

THINK ABOUT IT #59: Sara Maitland


We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.
      We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms, and yet we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops 'eccentric' habits.
      We believe that everyone has a singular personal 'voice' and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity — solitude.
      We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone…
      We are supposed now to seek our own fulfillment, to act on our feelings, to achieve authenticity and personal happiness — but mysteriously not do it on our own.
      Today, more than ever, the charge carries both moral judgement and weak logic.

How To Be Alone (2014)


Click HERE to visit the website of British novelist and social theorist SARA MAITLAND.

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THINK ABOUT IT #43: Karen Horney
THINK ABOUT IT #38: Laura Riding
THINK ABOUT IT #18: Nancy Jo Sales

Thursday, 17 September 2020

THE WRITE ADVICE #136: John Fowles

 
I have never really wanted to be a novelist.  For me the word carries a load of bad connotations –– like author and literature and reviewer, only worse.  It suggests something factitious as well as fictitious, insipidly entertaining; train-journeyish.  One can't imagine a 'novelist's' ever saying what he actually means or feels –– one can hardly even imagine his meaning or feeling.
      These words have bad connotations because they suggest that in some way writing and being a writer aren't central human activities.
      I've always wanted to write (in this order) poems, philosophy, and only then novels.  I wouldn't even put the whole category of activity –– writing –– first on my list of ambitions.  My first ambition has always been to alter the society I live in; that is, to affect other lives.  I think I begin to agree with Marx-Lenin: writing is a very second rate way of bringing about a revolution.  But I recognize that all I am capable of is writing.  I am a writer.  Not a doer.
      Society, existing among other human beings, challenges me, so I have to choose my weapon.  I choose writing; but the thing that comes first is that I am challenged.
 
I Write Therefore I Am (1964)
 
 
Click HERE to visit the website of British novelist and former teacher JOHN FOWLES (1926–2005).
 
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Thursday, 10 September 2020

WORDS FOR THE MUSIC #19: Laurie Anderson


LAURIE ANDERSON
c 1982





 LET X = X
LAURIE ANDERSON
from the 1982 Warner Bros LP, Big Science





LET X = X



I met this guy
And he looked like he might have been a hat check clerk
At an ice rink
Which in fact
He turned out to be
And I said:
Oh boy
Right
Again

Let X equal X


You know
It could be you
It's a sky blue sky
Satellites are out tonight


Let X equal X


You know
I could write a book and this book 
Could be thick enough
To stun an ox
Cos' I can see the future
And it's a place 
About seventy miles east of here where it's lighter


Linger on over here
Got the time? 


Let X equal X


I got this postcard
And it read
It said:
Dear
Amigo
Dear partner
Listen, uh…
I just want to say thanks
So… 
Thanks
Thanks for all the presents
Thanks for introducing me to the chief
Thanks for putting on the feedbag
Thanks for going all out
Thanks for showing me your Swiss Army knife
Oh and uh ––
Thanks for letting me
Autograph your cast
Hug and kisses
Ex ex ex ex
Zero zero zero zero

Oh yeah
PS
I
I feel
Feel like
I am
In a burning building
And I gotta go
Cos' I
I feel
Feel like
I am
In a burning building
And I gotta go
 
[This YouTube clip includes the next LP track It Tango]



Words and music © 1982 Laurie Anderson
 


The Songwriter:  It is nothing short of incredible that an artist as uncompromisingly non-commercial as Laurie Anderson not only landed a record deal with a major US label but that her debut album for said label –– titled Big Science and released in 1982 –– delivered a hit in the form of O Superman, an ultra-minimalist spoken word piece that clocked in at an unthinkable nine minutesIt defies all logic, economic and otherwise, yet somehow it happened, launching the career of one of the world's most genuinely experimental artists and introducing an entire generation of clueless teenagers, myself among them, to the undiscovered pleasures of avant-garde electronic music. 

To the casual listener it may appear that Anderson is not really doing very much in Let X = X.  It begins as a quirky little tale about a guy who works at an ice rink and ends with what purports to be a direct quotation from a postcard, backed by gently pulsing synthesizers and subtle percussion enhanced by ethereal robotic vocal effects.  Her beguiling vocal performance is a masterpiece of irony, each word carefully positioned and precisely phrased to emphasize its oddity and maximize its sonic impactLet X = X transcends its respective parts to emerge as a compellingly unified whole, part humorous anecdote and part sci-fi prophecy, quintessentially modern even as it seems to be recalling the vanished pre-digital world of North America in the 1950s.  (How many hat check clerks do you ever meet these days?  And if you do meet any, how many of them ever work at ice rinks?)  

This blending of disparate elements may, on the surface, appear to be an easy thing to accomplish but in truth it is the opposite of easy.  Some may argue –– and I used to be acquainted with several people who believed it their solemn duty to do so –– that Anderson's work depends on the listener reading their own meaning into what is essentially the audiophonic equivalent of a blank page.  But I will say to you what I used to say to them –– isn't that the case, not just with her music, but with virtually every piece of music a human being is exposed to over the course of his or her lifetime?  Don't we all project our individual thoughts and emotions into the music we listen to, be it Let X = X or Ride of the Valkyries or Mood Indigo or Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande?  Consciously or not, we value a musical composition for its ability to transport us into the private realm of our thoughts and emotions and keep us temporarily suspended there without provoking unpleasant sensations of ennui, restiveness or both.

Of course, the work of an artist like Laurie Anderson does not just 'happen' as though it's the product of some benign cultural accident.  She had a long grounding in the world of performance art, beginning with her first symphony, written for automobile horns, which received its debut performance in 1969.  By 1981 she was sharing the bill with writers John Giorno and William S Burroughs on the spoken word LP You're The Guy I Want To Share My Money With and establishing herself –– with her waifish persona, trademark spiky hair and glowing electric violin –– as an artistic force to be reckoned with.
 
But it was the release of O Superman, part of an extended stage work titled United States, that introduced Anderson's music to a wider, surprisingly receptive audience.  Originally released on the small independent label One Ten Records, the piece became a breakout hit in the UK following repeated airplay by influential BBC disc jockey John Peel.  So many orders were received for this esoteric electronic curiosity that the buzz it created brought Anderson to the attention of Warner Bros Records who quickly signed her to a seven album contract.  The timing could not have been better, given the changes that were beginning to occur in the ways popular music was recorded, promoted and marketed.  Suddenly, any music that sounded even vaguely futuristic was deemed to be 'cool' by mainstream urban audiences, while the film-clip for O Superman became something of an audio-visual cult object in itself which would go on to become a staple of the early MTV era.


Big Science was an album that reflected its time while simultaneously transcending it to become, in the best sense, timeless.  And I am far from being the only person who holds that opinion.  In her marvellously insightful review of the album posted on Discogs (and her own Bandcamp page), fellow Anderson fan Jenell Kesler does a superb job of capturing what continues to make Anderson's music so fascinating nearly forty years after its original release:

Laurie Anderson’s Big Science touched my heart in 1982. The movie Blade Runner was just out, with Laurie’s music sounding for all the world like some futuristic bedtime stories, designed to make us all feel comfortable in the electronic age… it was accessible, perplexing, intoxicating and dreamy, just listening to these tracks was akin to walking spiraling up through the Guggenheim museum. The album can be a bit scary, due mostly to Anderson’s deadpan delivery, while other tracks often come off as being prophetic and filled with nonchalant wisdom… In the end, Big Science, as the androids in Blade Runner, resounds with more humanity than almost anything you’ve ever, or ever will hear… where if you fall in love with a hat check clerk at an ice skating rink, then there’s actually hope this weary old world might spin on for a few more days. 

If you have not been exposed to the work of Laurie Anderson, you are missing something truly special.  I would urge you to seek out a copy of Big Science at the earliest opportunity, always remembering as you listen to it to keep your mind fully open along with your ears.


Click HERE to visit the website of North American artist, composer, musician and director LAURIE ANDERSON.

You can also click HERE to read the complete review of Big Science by JENELL KESLER on the Discogs music website.  (Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page.)

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to upload music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere. 

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Thursday, 3 September 2020

THE WRITE ADVICE #135: Loudon Wainwright III


When I first began writing, my songs were coming at a rate of two or three per week.  Sadly, almost nothing comes at that rate anymore.  But when you're young, you're full of it and it pours out of you –– piss and vinegar, fire and brimstone, and my personal favorites, Sturm und Drang.  Later, the output slows down, and eventually you're just left with a trickle.  If this is getting a little too urogenital for you, let's switch metaphors.  Fishing.  Writing songs is like fishing.  You sit in the boat and you wait.  It's true you have to know the best spot, time of day, what bait to use, the difference between a nibble and a strike, and most important, how to get the damn fish into the boat.  Talent is essential, craft is crucial, but for me it's mostly down to waiting and luck.  And in my line of work, luck is not random.  It's definite and discerning.  It's invisible, but it's there.  It's mysterious and also obvious.  I don't understand how inspiration works and I don't want to.  Don't mess with grace and divinity.  You can write songs with hard work, sharp pencils, and a rhyming dictionary, but without luck they won't swing.  No luck means no fish.

Liner Notes (2017)

Click HERE to visit the website of North American singer/songwriter LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III.

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Thursday, 27 August 2020

THINK ABOUT IT #58: Elizabeth Palmer Peabody


The perilous time for the most highly gifted is not youth.  The holy sensibilities of genius — for all the sensibilities of genius are holy — keep their possessor essentially unhurt as long as animal spirits and the idea of being young last; but the perilous season is middle age, when a false wisdom tempts them to doubt the divine origin of the dreams of their youth; when the world comes to them, not with the song of the siren, against which all books warn us, but as a wise old man counselling acquiescence in what is below them.

From a letter to her friend Louisa Hawthorne, 1838


Click HERE to read more about the life and work of North American writer, educator and transcendentalist publisher ELIZABETH PALMER PEABODY (1804–1894).

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THINK ABOUT IT #44: GI Gurdjieff
THINK ABOUT IT #38: Laura Riding
THINK ABOUT IT #12: Rumer Godden  

Thursday, 20 August 2020

POET OF THE MONTH #65: Dorothy Parker


DOROTHY PARKER
22 August 1893 – 7 June 1967






INCURABLE


And if my heart be scarred and burned,
The safer, I, for all I learned;
The calmer, I, to see it true
That ways of love are never new ––
The love that sets you daft and dazed
Is every love that ever blazed;
The happier, I, to fathom this:
A kiss is every other kiss.
The reckless vow, the lovely name,
When Helen walked, were spoke the same;
The weighted breast, the grinding woe,
When Phaon fled, were ever so.
Oh, it is as sure as it is sad
That any lad is every lad,
And what's a girl, to dare implore
Her dear be hers forevermore?
Though he be tried and he be bold,
And swearing death should he be cold,
He'll run the path the others went…
But you, my sweet, are different.


from the collection Sunset Gun (1928)



The Poet:  The following biographical statement appears on the Dorothy Parker Society website.  [It is re-posted here for information purposes only and, like the poem re-posted above, remains its author's exclusive copyright-protected intellectual property.]

Dorothy Parker was born to J Henry and Elizabeth Rothschild on August 22, 1893, at their summer home in West End, New Jersey.  The family cottage was on Ocean Avenue; it burned down before World War I. Dorothy’s mother died in West End when she was four years old.

Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, her childhood was an unhappy one.  Both her mother and step-mother died when she was young; her uncle, Martin Rothschild, went down on the Titanic in 1912; and her father died the following year.  Young Dorothy attended a Catholic grammar school, then a finishing school in Morristown, NJ.  Her formal education abruptly ended when she was 14.

In 1914, Dorothy sold her first poem to Vanity Fair.  At age 22, she took an editorial job at Vogue.  She continued to write poems for newspapers and magazines, and in 1917 she joined Vanity Fair, taking over for PG Wodehouse as drama critic.  At the time she was the first female critic on Broadway.  That same year she married a stockbroker, Edwin P Parker.  But the marriage was tempestuous, and the couple divorced in 1928.

In 1919, Parker became a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, an informal gathering of writers who lunched at the Algonquin Hotel.  The 'Vicious Circle' included Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, George S Kaufman, Harold Ross, and Edna Ferber, and was known for its scathing wit and intellectual commentary.  In 1922, Parker published her first short story, Such a Pretty Little Picture, for Smart Set.

When The New Yorker debuted in 1925, Parker was listed on the faux editorial board.  Over the years, she contributed poetry, fiction and book reviews as the 'Constant Reader.'  Parker’s first collection of poetry, Enough Rope, was published in 1926, and was a bestseller.  Her two subsequent collections were Sunset Gun in 1928 and Death and Taxes in 1931. Her collected fiction came out in 1930 as Laments for the Living.

During the 1920s, Parker traveled to Europe several times. She befriended Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy, and contributed articles to The New Yorker and Life. While her work was successful and she was well-regarded for her wit and conversational abilities, she suffered from depression and alcoholism and attempted suicide.

In 1929, she won the O Henry Award for her autobiographical short story Big Blonde. She produced short fiction in the early 1930s, and also began writing drama reviews for The New Yorker. In 1934, Parker married actor-writer Alan Campbell in New Mexico; the couple relocated to Los Angeles and became a highly paid screenwriting team. They labored for MGM and Paramount on mostly forgettable features, the highlight being an Academy Award nomination for A Star Is Born in 1937. They divorced in 1947, and remarried in 1950.

Parker was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959 and was a visiting professor at California State College in Los Angeles in 1963. That same year, her husband died of an overdose.  On June 6, 1967, Parker was found dead of a heart attack in a New York City hotel at age 73.  A firm believer in civil rights, she bequeathed her literary estate to Dr Martin Luther King Jr.  Upon his assassination some months later, the estate was turned over to the NAACP.  Her ashes are interred in a memorial garden at the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

Click HERE to visit the website of The Dorothy Parker Society, a North American organization devoted to preserving and celebrating the work of poet, writer, critic, lyricist and satirist DOROTHY PARKER.  You can also click HERE to read more of her poems at Poemhunter.com.

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JOHN O'HARA Appointment in Samarra (1934)

Thursday, 13 August 2020

CHARLES WEBB Love, Roger (1969)


Penguin Books UK, 1972



The first time I saw Melinda again, or thought I saw her, was the Sunday after Beth had come to Boston.  It was between nine and ten in the morning and Beth and I had walked down from the apartment to buy a newspaper.  At the far corner of the Common is a subway entrance, then a structure where a wide flight of stairs leads down to the subway tracks.  At the top of the stairs is a small newsstand with a newsman standing beside it.  It was just after I had paid him for a newspaper that I thought I saw her.  Beth bent down and picked up one of the papers off a stack on the ground.  The man gave me change, and as I put it into my pocket my head turned, and I looked down the stairs and into the subway station below.  Just as I was looking down into it Melinda, or a girl who I thought was Melinda, was passing through the turnstile.  Two women and a boy went through after her, then she was gone.  I turned to Beth, who was standing beside me with the newspaper under her arm.  'I just saw Melinda,' I said.


The Novel:  Roger Hart is an unmarried, unassuming young man who works as a travel agent in Boston.  He has a sweetheart of sorts named Beth Knudsen –– currently living in Wisconsin where she is studying to be a nurse –– with whom he has been corresponding regularly since they met while she was vacationing with friends in his home city the previous year.

The need to answer Beth's latest, rather confusing letter brings Roger to Filene's Department Store late one afternoon as the store is about to close for the day.  He's come to collect the personalized stationery he recently ordered from its stationery department because he feels that having it may make it easier to compose the reply he has now owed Beth for close to two weeks –– a reply in which he must either accept or reject her unexpected if not entirely unwelcome proposal of marriage.

Roger has his stationery and is on his way to the elevator when the conveyance abruptly shuts off for the evening, obliging him to use the stairs to reach the store's ground floor exit.  He has just entered the stairwell when a dark-haired girl standing on the floor above him faints and tumble down the stairs, her body coming to rest on the landing a short distance from where he's standing.  Afraid that she may be badly injured, Roger carries her to the store's Linen Department and lays her on a bed where he gives her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Happily the girl –– who comes from South Carolina and whose name turns out to be Melinda Gray –– regains consciousness and, after accepting his embarrassed explanation as to why he was 'kissing' her, asks him to fetch her a glass of water.  Roger obligingly returns with the water, uncomfortably aware that they could be locked inside the store all night unless they can quickly find its night watchman and ask to be let out.

They search the store but find no staff anywhere inside it, prompting Roger to remind Melinda that they're trespassing on private property and should probably call the owner or the police to advise them of their predicament.  Melinda, now fully recovered and apparently unfazed at finding herself trapped alone inside the store with a young male stranger, declares she's hungry and offers to make Roger a cheeseburger in its diner –– an establishment she visited, she confesses, before attending the unsuccessful job interview which preceded her fainting spell and subsequent tumble down the stairs.

They eat their burgers and discuss Roger's Beth-related dilemma, the pros and cons of marriage and the additional business responsibilities Roger has been saddled with while his boss Mr Becker has been vacationing in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka).  Their discussion continues while Melinda tries on evening gowns in Ladies Fashions, telling Roger a little about her own life as the neglected daughter of a drunken actress –– admissions which result in him deciding that the best way to resolve his marriage dilemma is to invite Beth back to Boston for a frank discussion about their future.  His mind made up, Roger bids Melinda a grateful farewell and sets off again to locate the night watchman.  Melinda seems content to let him go, requesting only that he tell nobody that she intends to spend the night inside the store.

Becoming concerned after finding Melinda's discarded clothes untidily draped over a chair, Roger picks them up with the idea of returning them to her before he leaves.  Melinda, however, is no longer in Ladies Fashions when he returns to speak with her.  She's back in the Linen Department, making up the double bed that Roger carried her to after she fainted.  She soon peels off her borrowed evening gown, gets into the bed and casually suggests that Roger join her –– a suggestion that results in him stripping off his own clothes so he can make love to her, apologizing afterwards for not having made it plain from the outset that he found her attractive. 

Andre Deutsch Limited first UK edition, 1969

The following morning sees Roger back at work, awaiting Melinda's arrival at the office so he can keep his promise to introduce her to an acquaintance of his who works at an employment agency.  (They hid in the male and female bathrooms of Filene's after awakening side by side in their borrowed bed, then walked out like regular customers once the store opened for the day.)  When Melinda fails to appear Roger telephones her at her hotel, only to be told that she's busy and will call him back in half an hour.  When she fails to do this, Roger closes the office and visits the hotel, entering her room to find it occupied by a man named Sal Hobbes while Melinda, dressed only in a blue bathrobe, dries her hair in its bathroom.  Sal, whom Melinda met on the bus which brought her to Boston from South Carolina, has offered her a job as his secretary at his advertising firm in New York –– a job she's eager to accept because, she explains, she's had enough of New England and is tired of being unemployed and broke.  Roger tries to talk her out of leaving, declaring that he's given up the idea of marrying Beth and will marry her instead if that's what she would prefer him to do.  But Melinda won't be dissuaded from leaving with Sal who, having been surprisingly tolerant of Roger's interference up till now, gives him an angry shove and tells him to go away.  Despite Roger pleading with her to stay, Melinda follows Sal downstairs, gets into his car and soon drives off with him.  'I stood a few moments looking after them,' Roger explains, 'then turned and walked back up onto the sidewalk.  I stopped next to the parking meter beside the empty space.  It was still ticking.  Just as I was standing beside it there was a loud click; I looked down just as a small red sign came up in the other side of the glass reading VIOLATION.  Then I put my hands in my pocket and began walking slowly toward the travel agency.'

The unforeseen loss of Melinda has a strange effect on Roger, causing him to be less diligent about his work and also about small but important daily tasks like keeping the office organized and tidy.  After a call to the New York operator fails to yield a listing for anyone named Sal Hobbes, he decides to drive there to search for Melinda in person, making it as far as the New England Turnpike before arriving at the unhelpful realization that he has no idea whatsoever how to go about this.  He returns home and gradually puts Melinda out of his mind, a task made slightly easier by a call he receives from Mrs Becker, the wife of his boss, who informs him that Mr Becker has suffered a minor heart attack in Ceylon which will indefinitely postpone their return to the United States.  After assuring Mrs Becker that he can continue to run the travel agency in her husband's absence, Roger settles back into his normal if somewhat dull routine.

Roger is in the office, attending to the usual set of mundane tasks, when a man comes in and offers to pay him $10 to display a sign in its window advertising the local dog races.  Intrigued, Roger accepts the money and, a short time later, decides to attend the races in the hope that doing so will be an interesting experience that may have the added benefit of helping him forget about Beth and Melinda.  After a long tedious drive through early evening traffic, he eventually reaches the dog track and manages to place a bet on the first race, only to find himself being accosted afterwards by a racing tout who turns out to be a pimp.  The pimp tries to sell him the services of a nearby red-haired prostitute for $30, lowering the price by $5 each time Roger politely refuses to make a 'date' with the woman, insisting that he's only come to watch the races.  When the dog he has bet on wins its race, Roger decides to spend his unexpected windfall on a long distance phone call to Beth in Wisconsin.

Surprised to hear from him so soon after receiving his latest letter –– a letter in which he deliberately avoided making any reference to her proposal of marriage –– Beth asks him to please forget about it, explaining that it was a mistake caused by the pressure of helping to organize her nursing college's annual Spring Festival.  Instead of being discouraged by this, Roger tells Beth  that he 'needs a change in his life' and, rather than forgetting her proposal, would like them to be married.  Insisting that it would be nothing but 'escapism' on her part if she became his wife, Beth rings off, leaving him alone in the phone booth where his new friend the pimp quickly finds him.  This time Roger agrees to meet the red-haired prostitute who takes him back to her room –– a cheap apartment containing nothing more than a shabby sofa and a single bed –– located across the street from the dog track.  He begins to tell the woman about his call to Beth and his experiences with Melinda, even admitting at one point that the latter may be the true love of his life, not pausing when his new friend, conscious of what they're ostensibly there to do, begins to undress him.  Undaunted, Roger then tells her about his time in the Coast Guard and his life at college and how he became a travel agent, moving on to the subject of his parents while the woman climbs on top on him with the aim of giving him what he paid for.

A week later Roger is sitting in the travel agency waiting for some customers to show up when Beth unexpectedly walks in, tearful and confused after quitting nursing school and flying to Boston via Chicago for the sole purpose of speaking with him face-to-face about their future.  She feels guilty about rejecting him in her last letter, she says, explaining that she wanted them to be married because being together all the time seemed preferable to confining themselves to occasional weekend visits squeezed in between her ongoing nursing exams.  She then shows Roger a few of the books she's been reading –– marriage manuals with which she hopes to expand her rudimentary knowledge of sex –– and suggests they make love behind a filing cabinet where it will be impossible for them to be seen by anybody passing on the street.  They do this and then Beth moves into his apartment, the two of them settling into what passes for normal married life without going to the trouble of formalizing the arrangement in either a church or a registry office.  By this time Roger has come clean about his department store adventure with Melinda, whom he continues to think about from time to time in an abstract 'wonder what she's doing now' type of way.

Bantam Books USA, c 1970

Beth is with Roger when he spots Melinda –– or, at least, a girl he thinks is Melinda –– roaming the streets of Boston early one Sunday morning.  Beth encourages him to approach her but unfortunately Melinda disappears before he can do this.  But all is not lost.  A few days later, while he and Beth are out shopping together, Roger spots his fiancée talking to a girl outside a shoe store whom he immediately recognizes as the frustratingly elusive Melinda.  Although he again fails to speak to her, Beth later reveals that Melinda traveled to Boston from Chicago –– where she had gone after leaving Sal to enquire about an already filled job as a waitress in a nightclub –– on the same plane in which she herself traveled from Wisconsin to Massachusetts.  Beth also reveals that Melinda was on her way to the train station when Roger spotted them chatting because her new plan is to return to her childhood home in South Carolina.

Roger departs immediately for the railway station, boarding Melinda's train only minutes before it's scheduled to pull out.  After finding her in her already paid for seat, he convinces her to disembark from the train and stay in Boston, promising to help her find a job as he promised to do before she ran off to New York with the thoroughly unwholesome Sal.  After leading her back to the platform, Roger calls Beth who informs him that the shoe store needs a salesgirl –– a job Melinda applies for and is offered on the spot.  Lacking a place to stay, Beth suggests that Melinda move in with herself and Roger, insisting that the arrangement, while a little unorthodox, will not upset her.

That afternoon Roger makes love to Melinda in the bedroom while Beth keeps herself busy reading a magazine in the living room.  It's not long after this that Roger hits upon the idea of the three of them pooling their resources to buy a house together.  Convinced they can make a success of their accidental but collectively beneficial ménage à trois, he makes an appointment with a realtor, telling the man as he shows them through a suitably spacious property in the upscale suburb of Brookline that he, Beth and Melinda are 'just friends.'  Although he's a little skeptical at first, the realtor soon accepts this story, inviting Roger to take a look around and keep doing so for as long as he likes.

The charm of a novel like Love, Roger lies in the intriguing ambivalence of its characters and their failure to connect with each other in any way except sexually.  As he did so brilliantly in his debut novel The Graduate (1963), Webb shows us a world dominated by inexpressible feelings of anxiety which find their unsatisfying outlet in a convenient if emotionally empty form of sexual fatalism.  The writing is wryly minimalistic, driven largely by dialogue which seems to conceal as much as it reveals about Roger, Beth, Melinda and the difficulties they encounter in attempting to make their minds up not only about each other but also about themselves and what it is they're seeking from life, love and relationships.  It's this sense of uncertainty –– of coincidence and convenience usurping self-knowledge and undermining their ability to take any form of affirmative action –– that makes the book such an interesting examination of the attitudes prevalent among so many young Americans in the closing years of the 1960s.  Will Roger and his lovers find what they're seeking by moving in together?  Or will contentment continue to elude them, fueled by what is today referred to as FOMO or 'the Fear Of Missing Out'?  Webb is much too clever a writer to provide or even attempt to provide answers to these questions.  Instead, he leaves it to the reader to make up their own mind about Roger, the two not entirely different women in his life and their chances of finding any type of long-term happiness together.


CHARLES WEBB, c 1980
The Writer:  Everybody knows who 'Mrs Robinson' is and who she was trying to seduce in Mike Nichols's award-winning 1967 cinematic adaptation of The Graduate.  What is less well known is that the characters so memorably portrayed by Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in the film were born in the imagination of a young Californian novelist named Charles Webb.  'Although the film wasn't my hit,' he told Britain's Telegraph newspaper in 2007, 'my whole life has been measured by it.  I've no idea how life would have turned out had it not been for this phenomenon, but everything would have been very different.  That's for sure.'

Webb, the son of a heart specialist, was born on 9 June 1939 in San Francisco and grew up in the southern Californian city of Pasadena, ten miles from downtown Los Angeles.  'My early life,' he said in the short documentary Meeting With An Author made about him by Canal+ in 2007, 'was more or less formed in the Pasadena society which, at the time, was considered for the area sort of créme de la créme.'  Pasadena, an affluent town famous for its pristine collection of pre-World War Two bungalows, would later become the setting for The Graduate with several parts of its subsequent Academy Award winning cinematic adaptation also being filmed there.

Webb attended the Chandler School in Pasadena before moving on to the college prep school of Midland in nearby Los Olivos.  After that he departed for Williams College in the eastern state of Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1961.  'College was pretty much a bore,' according to Webb, 'but what I recall was that I studied American history and literature as a major.'  He spent most of his time in the company of friends, with whom he 'moved around and hitchhiked around a lot' while somehow maintaining the grade point average required to keep him in school so he wouldn't have to return to California and the stultifying life his parents had mapped out for him.  It was in college that his lifelong interest in writing –– primarily drama at this stage –– began to assert itself, culminating in him winning his college's annual award for creativity in his senior year.  He spent '…the next couple of years trying to put together a book that would express my feelings and some kind of story.  I didn't think it was too important what the story was, but I wanted to get it out of my system… I had a pretty negative reaction to my educational experience and this seemed like a good way to get rid of it.  And it turned out to be The Graduate.  But for me that was primarily an opportunity just to leave all that behind.'

Signet USA film tie-in edition, 1967
Webb had other reasons for writing the book, not least of which were the difficult relationships he'd always had with his wealthy, socially prominent parents.  Although his father helped him find a publisher for his novel (Edward Burlingame of The New American Library), he was as disapproving of the book and what it said about the people in his exclusive country club world as he was of everything else his son had ever tried to do.  'My father's attitude towards The Graduate was illustrative of the way he was.  When the book came out, he was appalled that I could have brought such shame on the family.  Then when the film was a hit, he kept going, "That's my boy!" '  The book provoked a similarly negative response from Webb's mother.  'She was always reading books,' he remembered in his Telegraph interview,  'so I thought I'd see if I could write one.  I was always looking for crumbs of approval from her.  But it didn't work; she was a very disapproving person.'  

This perhaps explains why Webb turned down a large inheritance from his father and, after marrying a woman named Eve in 1964, gradually divested himself of all his personal property, including a house in Massachusetts estimated to be worth upward of one million dollars.  He always maintained that there was 'no great principle involved' in his decision to do this'We just felt more comfortable living a fairly basic lifestyle.  Afterwards we traveled about doing all sorts of jobs –– as caretakers, fruit-pickers, dish-washers… those sorts of things.'  

He was working in the perfume department of Bullock's Department Store in Pasadena when The Graduate –– the film rights to which he had sold for a flat fee of $20,000 which also ceded ownership of its characters to the purchaser in perpetuity –– was released in 1967, making him an overnight celebrity.  'I'd be going out at the end of the day after work and some guy with a camera would be walking along beside me, taking my picture as I was walking down the sidewalk.  Someone else would be sticking a microphone in my face asking me questions.  It was just very bizarre.'  Unlike the film, which received rave reviews and is now regarded as a classic of twentieth century North American cinema, the novel earned only lukewarm reviews, with several critics being put off by Webb's wry detached dialogue, much of which found its way to the screen unaltered.  Edward Burlingame, however, was immediately struck by the novel's quirky characters and its clearly autobiographical plot.  'I was amazed,' the publisher admitted to a journalist in a 2017 interview.  'Not just because it wasn’t what I had anticipated but because it was so original.  It really was a very original book with absolutely brilliant but somewhat weird dialogue.' 

Webb's life, some might say, became equally bizarre following the publication of his second novel Love, Roger in 1969.  Now a father himself, he refused to allow either of his sons to enter the American school system, preferring to home school them at a time when doing so was illegal in most parts of the country.  He and Eve also divorced in the early 1970s as a form of protest against the institution of marriage.  (They never lived apart and continued to function as man and wife in every respect, something that became increasingly important following the nervous breakdown Eve –– who for many years insisted on being known as Fred as gesture of solidarity with men named Fred who suffer from low self-esteem –– suffered in the early 1980s.)  Somehow, Webb still found time to write, publishing his third novel The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker in 1970 and his fourth Orphans and Other Children five years later despite living what he described as an 'itinerant' life in trailer parks, campsites and cheap, out of the way motels.  The Abolitionist of Clark Gable Place (1976) was followed by Elsinor (1977) and then by Booze (1979) which was the last novel he would publish until 2002This book, his eighth, would be filmed in 2003 under the title Hope Springs starring Colin Firth, Heather Graham and Minnie Driver.   

CHARLES WEBB, 2005
Home School, the novel he has stated will be definitely be his last, was written in 2005 but not published until 2007 due to the complex legal issues surrounding the ownership of the characters he created for The Graduate.  The book, a sequel to his first novel which sees Benjamin and Elaine fighting to have their children home schooled with the help of the elderly but still wily Mrs Robinson, was reviewed unfavorably by the critics, with the Kirkus Review cynically dismissing it as 'A bit of fluff sure to satisfy those clamoring for a Graduate sequel.'  The reviewer may not have been aware that Webb and Fred, who had moved to England in 1999, were practically destitute at the time and living on the dole in a property loaned to them by someone who had heard of their unpromising plight on the radio.  They were still living in Sussex, in the seaside town of Eastbourne, in 2007 when Webb was interviewed to mark the fortieth anniversary of the release of the film version of The Graduate and to promote his final novel.  

According to Edward Burlingame, Charles Webb is still alive and living somewhere in the UK although, to his knowledge, he and Fred have now split up.

Click HERE to read the May 2007 interview with CHARLES WEBB conducted by British journalist JOHN PRESTON which originally appeared in the online edition of The Telegraph.  

You can also click HERE to read the comments made about CHARLES WEBB by EDWARD BURLINGAME in a 2017 story written by journalist ZOE NAUMAN to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the film adaptation of The Graduate.


Penguin Modern Classics UK, 2010


The film adaptation of The Graduate (1967) –– starring DUSTIN HOFFMAN as Benjamin Braddock, KATHERINE ROSS as Elaine Robinson and ANNE BANCROFT as Mrs Robinson –– remains widely available in various formats in most regions of the world.  The novel has been reprinted many times and should also be obtainable from your local bookstore, library or preferred online retailer.

Sadly, every other novel written by CHARLES WEBB is now out of print, although pre-owned copies of some are available to purchase (at what are often exorbitant prices) from online retailers like the Amazon-owned ABE Books.

You might also enjoy:
THE WRITE ADVICE #131: Charles Webb
RICHARD YATES A Special Providence (1969)
JACK TREVOR STORY Live Now, Pay Later (1963)