The Element of Lavishness

The Element of Lavishness: Letters of William Maxwell and Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1938-1978

Maxwell to Warner, March 15, 1940:

I have all but one foot out of the office, but continue to work a little each day on manuscripts, and will for another month and a half, with the mornings free to work out my own salvation. Your last letter couldn’t have pleased me more if it had been printed on Joseph Smith’s golden plates instead of grey stationery. But you must not grow anxious about The New Yorker. I’ve been eating out of Mr. Lobrano’s hand for years, and always with pleasure. I’m sure you have nothing to worry about.

The view you asked about, the view from my window, consists of treetops, ailanthus tree-tops, a courtyard, and a six-story box factory with fire escapes that descend in alternating musical scales, and with windows that I know the way I know my own face. There is also a drain that all the alley cats in the neighborhood pass in and out of, sooner or later. My apartment is cheerful and bright as a birdcage, and seems a good enough place to write in, with no dogs, no friends, no relations, no refugees. Only a straggling pot of ivy to worry over.

I wrote slowly and it may be years before there’s a new book to send you and so I’m shipping under separate cover an old one [They Came Like Swallows]. It was published in England but for some strange reason they put the first line of every chapter in caps, big ones, so that chapters begin: “THE GRASS UNDER THEIR FEET WAS trampled …” I’m sending you the American edition. If you find it hard going don’t chew on it. Life is too short to read books you don’t like.


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