Monday, April 26, 2010

Literary Snobbery

The new ATLANTIC (or maybe it's the one before that) has a very interesting article about Norman Mailer written by his widow, Norris Church Mailer. She was his fifth wife, and apparently a saint -- she was willing to mother all nine (nine!) of his children from previous relationships, and to do so quite successfully. She is frank about Mailer's infidelities, as well as how much she loved him, but what most caught my attention was a tiny incident on an airplane.

Norris was reading a novel by Mary Renault. Mailer asked her to leave it at home: "I can't have people see you reading things like that!" My blood boiled.

First off, who was he to tell her what she can read where? But more germane to this blog, Mary Renault was a fantasy writer, and an extremely good one. Her novels (THE KING MUST DIE, THE BULL FROM THE SEA, THE PERSIAN BOY, THE LAST OF THE WINE, etc.) combine a scrupulous rendering of ancient Greece with some magical elements as she retells the stories of Theseus and other mythological Greek heroes. Her prose is evocative, her characters, strong, and her recreation of the ancient world remarkably vivid. But of course she was a fantasy writer and hence beyond Mailer's approval no matter how well she wrote.

I shudder to think what Mailer might have said had his wife been reading Harry Potter.

8 comments:

Frank Böhmert said...

Reminds me of those pics of Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce's ULYSSES.

*with Bambi eyes* "Yes, darling!"

(Were they printed in Mailer's Monroe bio, too?)

LJDaly said...

"Expelliarmus!"

Kendall said...

A bit hypocritical, or was this before he wrote Ancient Evenings?! (eyeroll)

Kendall said...

P.S. Of course, from that short quote, I don't know if Mailer dissed Renault for other reason than it simply being fantasy.... (So, perhaps not totally hypocritical.)

RexTemples20144 said...

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bluesman miike Lindner said...

I've read a lot of Mailer. The only book I really liked was THE FIGHT, and, oh boy, did he want to be Ali. (To be fair, OF A FIRE ON THE MOON wasn't too shabby.)

While I hate to criticize those who do well what I can't do at all, maybe Mailer's opinion of his genius outran his talent.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I've read a lot of Mailer. The only book I really liked was THE FIGHT, and, oh boy, did he want to be Ali. (To be fair, OF A FIRE ON THE MOON wasn't too shabby.)

While I hate to criticize those who do well what I can't do at all, maybe Mailer's opinion of his genius outran his talent.

Pebble Texture said...

Wasn't Mailer famous for being a controlling sexist ass? Maybe it didn't have much to do with Mary Renault... maybe that was just a pretext. I'd bank on it.