Diana Trilling, March 25, 1965

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NORMAN MAILER’s Letters
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
March 25, 1965

Dear Diana,[1]

It’s perfect, but after all our talk about how reliable I am, I now pick up the pen (what a metaphor this has become) to tell you that we must go ahead and make plans for my appearance at Oxford even though I may never get to England at all. (That will touch you, darling, to be so genteel and fucking liberal) but you see, I’m having a disagreement at the moment with my British publisher. I don’t like the jacket, I don’t like the blurb, both of which of course they had to do themselves, and I told them I won’t come to England unless we can agree on the kind of publicity. Knowing Andre Deutsch, he will probably want me to go on a round of television and radio appearances, and since I don’t do that in New York for a book, I don’t see any reason to do it in London. So I have posed other possibilities to him, and now must wait to see if he will agree. Odds are much better than even, however, that I’ll be in England, the main reason being that I want to go. So look, let’s set a date, I leave it to you, any time after the 23rd, except perhaps publication day, which is something like the 26th or 27th—a phone call to Andre Deutsch in London (Langham 2746-9) will establish the day, and then let me know which day you’ve chosen. It will be yours.

Now what I’d like ideally is a dinner for eight at your house and then perhaps a few more people in afterward. One can’t possibly get to talk to sixteen or twenty people at dinner by any method known to man, and the Senior Common Room, while appealing to the novelist in me, and very suitable and exciting if it should come to pass, promises still less in the way of a delight than dinner for eight in the charming small house you seem to possess. Surely even at Oxford people have been known to drop in after dinner. Isn’t that remotely possible? I have only one firm request: you must get Iris Murdoch for dinner. I loved her novel, The Severed Head, and have always wanted to meet her since.[2]

The reception of An American Dream has been—believe it if you can—more schizophrenic than anything of mine which preceded it. I’ve gotten the very best and the very worst reviews I’ve ever received. John Aldridge of all people, writing in Life, of all the places, said in effect that I was doing the most important writing in the country since Faulkner.[3] Stanley Edgar Hyman in The New Leader said it was a dreadful novel. Philip Rahv detested it, so and so loved it. As you can guess, I’ve enjoyed all this secretly very much, because no vice of mine could be greater than my desire to create a sensation and be forever talked about. Sometimes I wonder, beloved, if I am the ghost of some long-dead London beauty. Well, well, I expect the British will give me good whipping with the thinnest strings of leather for the outrages I’ve committed in the name of literature. But when you feel in the mood, you must write me what you think of the book, even if you don’t like it at all, although I suspect you might just like it, it’s an extraordinary novel in its funny fashion, extraordinary, that is, in what it does with the art of the novel, whether for good or ill. It’s as if Gilles de Rais[4] had captured the style of E. M. Forster[5] and was running amok with it. So far of course none of the critics have had even the remotest notion that the real debating ground of An American Dream is precisely on how it does and does not contribute to the grand art of the novel but I get them so poisonous and upset they can’t think straight, and that always tickles my devil, for there is no sight in all the world quite so funny as an intellectual who is too agitated to think. They are then like elephants without a trunk, nothing but hippopotami.

Love,
Norman
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.

Notes

  1. Trilling was a literary critic and wife of the Columbia professor and man of letters, Lionel Trilling. Her 1962 essay, “The Radical Moralism of Norman Mailer,” which appeared in Encounter in November 1962, is perhaps the most intelligent examination of Mailer’s work through Advertisements for Myself.
  2. Mailer did meet Iris Murdoch during his visit to England.
  3. William Faulkner was then and now considered to be one of the greatest novelists of the century.
  4. Gilles de Rais was a Marshall of France during the Hundred Years’ War. Accused of satanic beliefs, he confessed to torturing and killing over 100 children and was executed.
  5. E. M. Forster wrote a series of novels of English social life in a crisp, ironic style.