Saturday, July 09, 2011

Hardly Seems That Long

Just caught up with the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Whittaker Chambers, still capable from beyond the grave of generating that odd mix of triumphalism and hurt.  I still like the vignette of Alfred Kazin:
[Henry] Luce [of Time Inc.] surrounded himself with poets, historians, critics, intellectuals and near-intellectuals.  He ws like Catherine the Great, inviting the philosophes to her court.  .... [D]ownstairs Whittaker Chambers's confession box--his office to which other ex-Communists were encouraged to bare their souls to Chambers, the only American in The Brothers Karamazov.
So Alfred Kazin in New York Jew, page 58 (1978).  I gather conservatives have more or less disowned it, but I still think Sam Tannenhaus' biography of Chambers is a minor masterpiece--a triumph of fair-mindedness and of scholarship lightly worn, in a field where fair-mindedness is in short supply.   But for a comprehensive introduction to the period, you still can't beat Murray Kempton's masterpiece, Part of Our Time, available from NYRB, subtitled "Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties," which is odd because it is the post-war 40s that give Kempton's stories their context and their bite.

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