Sunday, September 2, 2007

Letters from a prisoner by James Blake

Ever since I started this challenge some of the selected authors have been popping out at me. Elizabeth Bowen was apparently a friend with Ivy Compton-Burnett and I spied a J.B. Priestly book (a nominee who didn't quite make the cut) on a used book store's shelf. James Blake mentioned Bowen and a more popular author, D.H. Lawrence, in two out of series of letters published in the 13th issue of the Paris Review in 1956. I've posted excerpts of each below.

"...James Blake, a night club pianist by profession, was a convict in a southern county jail. The Mr. X to whom a number of the letters are addressed is a well-known American author."

DEC.9, 1951
Dear X:
This week I finished a book that Jack O. sent me, Elizabeth Bowen's Heat of the Day, and for a couple of days, impressionable ass that I am, I was clipped in my speech and moodily English. That kind of performance needs a discerning audience, though, and if my colleagues noticed it at all, it was to give me a brief, dimly suspicious glance and dismiss the matter, the way a cow does when she looks at you.

--My work out on the road has brought me into contact with quite a number of cows lately, and I've never seen anything to beat the way they can convey quiet contempt. It may be that one brief glance tells them I'm not a bull and therefore beneath notice -- Still, you can't tell. A number of the funloving lads on the gang give vivid and explicit accounts of illicit relations with cows, and it may be that the harrassed and confused animals have put down the whole human race as warped, or inconstant, or at the very least impotent... I think I shall leave all that to the admirable Kinsey.

Thank you ever so much for the deuce and the stamps and postcards. I was able to get a haircut, buy some tobacco and writing paper, and some food that wasn't drowning in glutinous gravy. Our cook is a con who was a merchant mariner and he seems to believe that if it ain't afloat it ain't digestible. As a result, I am awash most of the time.

I have the published versions of four plays I'd like to send you, if you care to send me about forty cents in stamps, and if you're interested. Not hawking anything, I just would like to reciprocate in any way I can. They are Rose Tattoo, King and I, Moon is Blue and Gioconda Smile. If you don't read plays yourself, you might know someone who does.

JAN. 13, 1952
Dear X.:
Of the books you sent, I've enjoyed re-reading Huck Finn very much and D.H. Lawrence's hotsy-totsty opus The Lost Girl, new to me. Some rather shrewd and delightful humor in this Lawrence book, though, something I've encountered in his other things.

One thing I have noticed about Lawrence, though (said the mountain, proudly bringing forth a mouse). I ran across Lady Chatterly not long ago and re-read it. To my intense disappointment, most of the "hot parts" were deleted, and it was spangled with asterisks -- but in both books, it seemed to me that his descriptions of scenes of passion, or bedroom bouts, were almost womanishly fervent. That is, the viewpoint seemed to be female. Curious.

However, maybe it is all "in the eye of the beholder", and instead of being penetrating, I am merely tipping my mitt. The hell with it.


Eva said...

This was very interesting, although a little spooky. Thanks for posting!

Sora said...

Good words.