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1841, 1942, 2014: The writer’s life changes little

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, design, History, journalism, life, US, work on January 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s oddly comforting, when you earn your living as a writer, to read the words – the pleas, the moans, the rants! -- of other writers long gone, writers whose names are still hugely famous decades, centuries later. The arguments with publishers, the ego-wars of criticism, the fight to earn a living, the “I’ll start my own magazine instead.”

All too familiar, even today.

Yesterday I went to the Pierpont Morgan Library, a tiny, small, lovely museum on Madison Avenue at 36th. Street, across from 200 Madison, where I had my very first NYC magazine editing job, back in 1990.

The show about Edgar Allen Poe closes tomorrow — Jan. 26 — so if you’re in or near NYC, it’s worth a visit. There are lovely artifacts, like original letters and manuscripts, photos of him and of others he inspired.

But I also enjoyed him describing the “magazine prison-house” of paid journalism he longed to flee, back in the 1840s. I can relate!

And then, eager for fame “at once” he writes a fawning letter to writer Washington Irving. Sounds familiar, too.

A gorgeous new show examines the American roots of The Little Prince, the legendary book written by French aviator Antoine de St.-Exupery, first published in 1943 and available now in more than 250 languages. If you haven’t yet read it, I urge you to!

prince

The links between his book and NYC are quite amazing.

He worked on the book in the studio of Bernard Lamotte on 52d St., now the site of the classic French restaurant La Grenouille. He also rented a house on Long Island and wrote there.

Ann Morrow Lindbergh, writing in her diary, finds the work deeply moving.

The show includes a list of all the discarded phrases he chose along the way for one section; I loved seeing his thought process. Not to mention the sheet of onionskin paper, clearly crumpled and tossed, here flattened and smoothed and framed.

Who among us has not crushed and tossed?

And I loved the three-page typewritten fit of pique, from Nov. 9. 1942, from George Davis, an editor of the era, furious to learn that his translation from French to English has been discarded in favor of another’s:

I let me gentility carry me away in the presence of the exalted aviator -writer and set no price on my services…since the honeymoon is over I suppose the time is here to take the cash.

No contract? No set fee? Overwhelmed by celebrity?

Yup, that too.

Here’s The New York Times’ review of the show.

  1. I LOVE the Pierpont Morgan library! Definitely a NY must see! I loved learning the detail that his personal librarian wore Chanel to work. She said something like, “I may be a librarian, but I don’t have to look like one!”

  2. Great minds think alike! :) I just went to the Morgan for the first time on Wednesday. It would have been fun to go together. Did you go inside the library itself or to the Poe exhibit only?

    Here was my post: http://jacquelincangro.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/the-one-with-washingtons-face/

    • Oh, let’s make a date! We still need to re-sked skating, as the rink closes soon.

      I want to see the show of Spanish drawings. I saw the Poe and Prince shows and the Leonardo da Vinci drawings upstairs. That was a lot for me in 2 hours!

  3. Ooh, I would love to see the exhibition on The Little Prince! *jealous now*

  4. the more things change the more they stay the same. so interesting to read this -

  5. I LOVE this book. For my senior recital in classical guitar, I did a series of pieces based on the chapters of this book. And I had the illustrations projected overhead. It was incredible. I own one of the original versions. I am not a big fan of the modern English version. It seems to lose some of it’s poetry. I recently read an article about this exhibit on NPR’s blog and it made me wish so much that I could attend. But you are right, the history is fascinating.

    • What an amazing use of that material! Wish I could have heard and seen what you did.

      The exhibit is small, but emotionally quite powerful. I’m grateful I live close enough to see it.

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