Updike, an Archive

A wow recent article by Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Times about “an enormous archive fashioned as meticulously as one of his lathe-turned sentences,” that John Updike left to Harvard. It won’t be cataloged and open to scholars for a couple of years yet, but Tanenhaus, editor of the Times Book Review, writes that it contains “the keys to Updike’s literary universe,” and then goes on to give scrumptiously enticing examples.

My favorite is this one, written home from Harvard at age 19 in what the family called “Letters to Plowville”:

“We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled…. This age needs rather men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic…. Whatever the many failings of my work let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born.”

At age 19.

A terrific article, and a wonderfully written one.

And now, my obligatory link to Updike’s famous 1960 New Yorker baseball essay, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.

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