Archive for December, 2008

Striking the Stage-Set of a Life

In 1957, E. B. and Katharine White left Manhattan to live year-round on their farm in Maine. In Good-bye to Forty-Eighth Street, EBW wryly compares the process of packing to:

“…trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to disperse and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly possessions to go out into the world again. I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all…would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach.

He later returns to the tidal image, observing with resignation:

It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow.

Particularly challenging is the disposal of awards and trophies, which he calls “leeches.” His trademark wit is at its sharpest here:

…I sat for a while staring at a plaque that had entered my life largely as a result of some company’s zest for self-promotion. It was bronze on walnut, heavy enough to make an anchor for a rowboat, but I didn’t need a rowboat anchor, and this thing had my name on it. By deft work with a screwdriver, I finally succeeded in prying the nameplate off; I pocketed this, and carried the mutilated remains to the corner, where the wire basket waited. The work exhausted me more than the labor for which the award was presented.

I imagine that the nameplate was later disposed of Sopranos-style in a New Jersey dumpster where no trash-picker would make the connection.
Continue reading ‘Striking the Stage-Set of a Life’

Would E. B. White Have Blogged?

Unquestionably, yes. I am certain that if EBW were beginning his career as a writer today instead of in the mid-1920s, he would have become one of the English language’s most adept and respected bloggers. He lived to see himself acclaimed as one of the last century’s great literary voices, but he recognized that his favorite genre, the essay, made him as “a second-class citizen” among writers. What a pity that he did not live to see blogging re-invent the essay and find it more practitioners and broader audiences! Read how he describes the “essayist,” in the foreword to his 1977 collected essays, and substitute “blogger:”

The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.

Continue reading ‘Would E. B. White Have Blogged?’

Christmas in Florida

In the essay What Do Our Hearts Treasure (January 1966), E. B. White captures the sense of “unreality” that a New Englander feels spending Christmas in Florida. He and his wife, Katharine, have motored south from Maine to Sarasota, where they will spend the holiday alone together. His description of their rented house perfectly fits so many Florida houses built in the era of my own Florida childhood:

Our pleasure palace was built of cinder blocks and was painted shocking pink. The principal tree on the place was a tall power pole sprouting transformers; it stood a few feet from the canal and threw a pleasant shade across the drive.

EBW describes his wife’s growing depression with the holiday approaching:

I would find her weeping quietly in what seemed like elegant, if uncomfortable, surroundings. ‘It’s Vietnam that’s making me feel this way,’ she said. But I did not believe it was Vietnam. I knew her well enough, in her December phase, to know that it was something far deeper than Southeast Asia at work.

Continue reading ‘Christmas in Florida’

Salutations!

E.B. White with his dog in the late 1940s (photo from NYT, 10/2/85)

E.B. White with his dog in the late 1940s (photo from NYT, 10/2/85)

I first fell in love with E.B. White’s books as a small child reading Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Later I grew to appreciate his writing for adults in The New Yorker. 

More recently, while boxing up my late mother’s books to donate to her local library, I found a hardcover copy of White’s collected essays, inscribed by me “Christmas 1977,” the year of its publication. I brought the book home, and leafing through it, I discovered that Mom had saved a newspaper clipping of his obituary between its pages. (White died Oct. 1, 1985, at age 86.) Re-reading the essays has reminded me how deeply I admire White, not only for the elegance of his prose and his dry wit, but for the timeless wisdom of his observations about daily life, animals and politics.

“Salutations!” is how Charlotte first greeted Wilbur, and so I dedicate this blog to E. B. White, whose way with words continues to impress and inspire me.


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