Navigate the blog with this calendar:
Subscribe to Feeds
To subscribe to one of our feeds, please click the appropriate button below.
Subscribe by Email
If you would like to have each of my blog entries delivered direct to your email inbox, please subscribe here:
Biology of the Worst Kind
The Book Depository Editor's Corner
Buzzwords Blog: 3AM Magazine
Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant
The Elegant Variation
John Baker's Blog
the Literary Saloon
MadInkBeard - Updates
The Midnight Bell
The Reading Experience
splinters: books, authors, literature, travel, politics
Tales from the Reading Room
University of Nebraska Press
Weblog - A Don's Life - Times Online
Weblog - Peter Stothard - Times Online
Powered by Bloglines
One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"
The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"
Friday 05 January 2007
More on Tillie Olsen
I mentioned the sad passing of Tillie Olsen back on Wednesday, but I know little about the writer herself. Happily, Anne has written a wonderful appreciation of Olsen over at Fernham.
Good friend of RSB, the publisher and writer Anthony Rudolf, contacted me when he heard of Olsen's death. Anthony knew Tillie and had recently written to the TLS championing her work in a letter that they didn't print but I reproduce below:
Two missing titles so astonished me in Claire Harman’s review of Myles Weber’s Consuming Silences – “a study of famously stalled or one-hit writers” -- that I reread the piece to make sure my eyes had not skipped a few sentences. No, I was right first time. I am referring to Tillie Olsen’s wonderful but supposedly unfinished novel Yonnondio: from the Thirties (Faber, 1975) -- the confused manuscripts turned up in the early 1970s and she reworked them nearly forty years after writing the book (1932-1936) -- and to Ralph Ellison’s second novel Juneteenth, also unfinished (he lost years because part of the manuscript was consumed in a fire) and which received a mixed critical reception. For me, Yonnondio is no more unfinished than Schubert’s symphony.
Unfortunately, there are two possibilities concerning these omissions: either Myles Weber did not mention the two books, which raises severe doubts about his research and his conclusions, or Claire Harman herself has failed to mention them. If Weber did not mention them, Harman should have rebuked him, assuming she knew of their existence. If he did mention them, perhaps she was unconsciously seeking to improve the story of silence on the part of two prose fiction writers who, on the strength of their first books, Tell me a Riddle and Invisible Man, count as major figures in American literature. As indeed does Henry Roth, whose late and prodigious flowering after decades of silence – although he wrote essays -- surely muddies the waters of Weber’s thesis more than Harman allows.
As for Ellison, not only did he write a second novel, he also wrote many extraordinary essays. Since when is a writer obliged to write only in one genre? To judge by Harman’s account (or her account of Weber), you would think Ellison did nothing for decades but worry about Invisible Man. In respect (or rather disrespect) of Tillie Olsen, Claire Harman vilifies and ridicules Silences, a classic work about creativity and its associated problems. Finally, Harman (or Harman’s Weber) is simplistic when it comes to Olsen’s class politics, which have to be read and understood alongside the legendary long silence of a great poet, her near contemporary George Oppen.
This is a good opportunity to ask your readers if they can help me concerning the provenance of a brilliant and appropriate phrase Tillie Olsen uses in Silences, namely ‘trespass vision’, as applied to Rebecca Harding’s Life in the Iron Mills, and which she herself puts in quotation marks. This suggests she has borrowed the phrase from another writer, but unusually she does not give a reference.
Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: authors, deaths
PermalinkComments (1)Related PostsEmail to Friend
The Book Depository
Please let us know about any literary-related news -- or submit press releases to RSB -- using this form.
Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.
At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)
-- View archive
October's Books of the Month
||The New Spirit of Capitalism
||Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
-- View archive