Books by Dorothea Straus

THE PAPER TRAIL by Dorothea Straus
Released: March 28, 1997

The wife of publisher Roger Straus collects her ``scrapbook'' shorts on the literary luminaries of her acquaintance. In her memoirs of T.S. Eliot, Lillian Hellman, Edmund Wilson, Jerzy Kosinski, and Carlo Levi, among other formidable authors of the century (most associated with Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Straus (Virgins and Other Endangered Species, 1993; Under the Canopy, 1982; etc.) is quick with the gay or telling detail: Jean Stafford, we learn, had a ``no-welcome'' sign prohibiting misuse of the word ``hopefully'' on the premises of her home. And with the elegant turn of phrase: Aging Partisan Review cofounder Philip Rahv, delighting in the presence of his much younger new wife, is ``like someone nipped by frost who finds himself in front of a warm hearth.'' Born to the stylish German-Jewish New York society whose offspring have now all but disappeared, Straus is ever haunted by time's passing, and by increasing loneliness. (``We are obliged,'' she writes, ``to remember the dead in disconnected tableaux set into utter darkness.'') Her reminiscences of Marguerite Yourcenar, entitled ``A Master,'' and of Rahv (``Many Mansions,'' the longest, most complex and convincing portrait in the book), are of particular interest. To Straus's credit, she is conscious of the genre's limitations, and of her own limited perspective; as a patchwork quilt comprises scraps of material stitched together to create a whole, a memoir must necessarily conjoin hearsay and fact. And as she discovers, during her pursuit of Colette through the writer's daughter Colette de Jouvenal (or Little Colette), it is always best to keep an author's books separate from one's image of the author. A diverting but occasionally repetitive volume, mingling some perceptive work with less original observations. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1993

Wispy memoirs of growing up in the cultivated German-Jewish milieu of N.Y.C., which take on more heft as Straus—widow of the late publisher Robert Straus—recalls with verve writers like Lillian Hellman and Jerzy Kosinski. Born into a world of wet-nurses, French maids, and annual trips to Europe on great liners, Straus describes these and other now-antique phenomena. Her prose is as languid and baroque as the past she evokes recalling family and friends: her father, a celebrated man about town until his marriage; her mother, for whom music was never compensation enough for the tedium of running a large household; the family doctor, brother of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, on whose apartment wall pictures by Georgia O'Keeffe and others ``became a type of family portraiture''; the innovative founder of the Dalton School, which Straus attended; and ``old maids''—a now extinct species—who visited the family home, grateful ``for the hospitality dispensed by a member of the privileged order of matrons.'' Straus's comments on her writer friends are pithy and to the point: There's Lillian Hellman—whom Straus last saw a few weeks before the playwright's death, ill but still ``witty and wicked,'' who ``would gladly have traded all her success in exchange for the pretty kitten features of a belle, a white pillared mansion, and an indigenous Southern lineage''; Jerzy Kosinski, whom Straus had invested with a ``supernatural invincibility'' but who probably found his memories of the Holocaust too heavy to endure; Margaret Yourcenar, who had ``the beauty of perfect control''; and Bernard Malamud, the voice of the Jewish immigrants that ``continues to resonate.'' Better only to nibble at the early recollections—and then feast on the literary reminiscences: They really make the book. Read full book review >