MAX PERKINS: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg

MAX PERKINS: Editor of Genius

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Since the glory days of Scribners' Max Perkins, the editor has loomed, prospectively, nearest to God: did he not discover Scott Fitzgerald, take a flyer to secure the young Hemingway, virtually put together Tom Wolfe's first books? That and more, we learn from Berg's scouring of the Scribner archives, which amplifies-without significantly altering--the long-familiar picture of Max's aid-and-comfort to his gifted, erratic, self-indulgent, agonizing ""literary sons."" (The phrase is, predictably, Fitzgerald's--the gallant among them.) More impressive as instances of editorial acumen, he proposed to Churchill a history of the British Empire, encouraged Douglas Southall Freeman to write volumes about Lee, steered Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings toward The Yearling, shaped Rochester matron Marjorie Reback (""I do love a death with thunder and gestures"") into the best-selling Taylor Caldwell--and, and, almost persuaded Ring Lardner to take himself seriously as a writer. What Berg accomplishes is to loosen the particles: his few general observations are banal, his one analytical insight (the war in Perkins between Puritan and Romantic) is borrowed from Van Wyck Brooks, his method--restatement or paraphrase without specific citation--makes it impossible to assess his use of the mostly inaccessible sources, his vision is bounded by Perkins' immediate contacts. But the geniuseditor (or ""editor of genius""--Berg's no writer of discrimination either) who told Malcolm Cowley that the man he'd most like to resemble was General Grant's ""nearly indispensable"" (DAB) aide-de-camp remains an intriguing figure--who raises some still more intriguing questions about the reaches and bounds of the editor's role. At one time or other--and often simultaneously--Perkins functioned as censor, confessor, mentor, moneybags; and except for fear of his ""sons'"" defection (realized in the case of Wolfe), he clearly enjoyed every powerful, self-effacing moment.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1978
ISBN: 042522337X
Publisher: Dutton