Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald
|Editors||Suzanne Marrs, Tom Nolan|
|Publication Date (initial)||July 14, 2015|
|Formats||Hardcover, Kindle, Nook, iBooks|
In 1970, Ross Macdonald wrote a letter to Eudora Welty, beginning a thirteen-year correspondence between fellow writers and kindred spirits. Though separated by background, geography, genre, and his marriage, the two authors shared their lives in witty, wry, tender, and at times profoundly romantic letters, each drawing on the other for inspiration, comfort, and strength. They brought their literary talents to bear on a wide range of topics, discussing each others’ publications, the process of translating life into fiction, the nature of the writer’s block each encountered, books they were reading, and friends and colleagues they cherished. They also discussed the world around them, the Vietnam War, the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan presidencies, and the environmental threats facing the nation. The letters reveal the impact each had on the other’s work, and they show the personal support Welty provided when Alzheimer’s destroyed Macdonald’s ability to communicate and write.
The editors of this collection, who are the definitive biographers of these two literary figures, have provided extensive commentary and an introduction. They also include Welty’s story fragment “Henry,” which addresses Macdonald’s disease. With its mixture of correspondence and narrative, Meanwhile There Are Letters provides a singular reading experience: a prose portrait of two remarkable artists and one unforgettable relationship.
The Clarion-Ledger by Jim Ewing ” the heart of the book is their relationship”
The Paris Review by Margaret Eby “will they or won’t they?”
The Wall Street Journal by Wes Davis “they lived at the P.O.”
Los Angeles Times by Susan Straight “a grand love affair with words”
The Washington Post by Michael Dirda ” they quickly discovered that they were, in many ways, soul mates”
The Washington Times by Martin Rubin “you can often sense them chafing against the frustration of waiting for replies”
The New York Times by Louis Bayard “conjoined by a torrent of words”
The Wall Street Journal by Brenda Cronin “a friendship born of letters”
Austin American-Statesman by Charles Ealy “the letters are rather extraordinary”
Pasadena Weekly by Bliss Bowen “the letters are as poignant and beautifully written as the relationship between their authors was unlikely”
The Guardian by Sarah Weinman “the affection between Macdonald and Welty grew deeper with every letter.”
Mystery Writer by Jon L. Breen “in effect, Macdonald and Welty have collaborated on a posthumous epistolary novel”
Goodreads by Bill Kerwin … reprinted in full, with the gracious permission of the author
When Kenneth Millar (detective novelist “Ross Macdonald”) read in a New York Times interview that Eudora Welty had once almost sent him a fan letter but then refrained because she feared to do so might be “icky,” he sent her a fan letter of his own. Thus began a correspondence that would last twelve years, from 1970 to 1982, only ending six months before Millar’s death from the complications of Alzheimer’s.
The times they met face to face could be counted almost on one hand, yet their first meeting—a year plus a week after the letters started, in the lobby of Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel—established a close bond that grew more intense with each year. Although Welty was a maiden lady in her early 60’s, conventional in her morals, and Millar was a man in his late 50’s committed to his marriage (he was the husband of mystery novelist Margaret Millar), yet their epistolary romance—nuanced, deliberate in its purity, yet filled with an intense personal regard—is a testimony to human love just as moving as the letters of Heloise and Abelard or Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.
I have heard it said that intense flirtation is tantamount to adultery, and I will concede that, in this age of instant messaging and Snapchat, this statement is usually true. But not here. Not in these letters.
Welty and Millar refuse to create any sort of mutual fantasy world. What they do instead is to share and explore the particular details of each others lives, their likes and dislikes, discovering in otherwise insignificant connections—a mutual friend, the joint affection for an obscure novel, a city they both once visited (or plan to visit), a shared literary contact or political opinion, a recent bird sighting, a few strikingly similar (or dissimilar) days of weather–a confluence of correspondences that may serve to bring the great rivers of their two selves together. (It is a metaphor that Welty would explore in her Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), where she speaks of the union of the Mississippi and the Ohio at Cairo, Illinois: “All they could see was sky, water, birds, and confluence. It was the whole morning world.”)
This can be a sad book, and it gets even sadder toward the end. The reader feels each writer’s desire for the other’s presence in almost every line, a desire more poignant as Millar’s disease progresses. His letters grow more laconic and less frequent, until at the last it is just Welty who writes, conjuring the particular connections they share in an ever continuing litany, desperate to keep the confluence flowing even as it ebbs away.
Both are long dead now of course. But—thanks to biographers and editors Marr and Nolan—“there are letters.” And although they may not be “the whole morning world,” these letters are certainly a resplendent piece of it, a reminder of how two people—through the magic of their words and their chaste and ardent imaginations—once contrived to make “the whole morning world” shine.