Richly rewarding life of The New Yorker's longtime fiction editor, founder of the Onward and Upward Department, and wife of...


ONWARD AND UPWARD: A Biography of Katharine S. White

Richly rewarding life of The New Yorker's longtime fiction editor, founder of the Onward and Upward Department, and wife of famed author E.B. White. Davis spend nearly 10 years writing this biography and the care shows: every page is replete with human warmth. Oddly enough, White herself was often regarded as formidably cool (""a velvet hand in an iron glove""), a portrait she felt was undeserved but which might form naturally about an editor riding herd on such intense stylists as Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, John O'Hara, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop and similar literary notables. It is White who quietly assured the tone of New Yorker fiction over a 35-year-period that began during the magazine's first six months in 1925 (right from the start, she preferred casual fiction, free of heavy plotting): Much later, she became well-known for the charm of her gardening essays. Graduating from Bryn Mawr fourth in her class, White was small, august, intellectual, occasionally humorous, even swore at times (which she picked up from arguments with her boss, Harold Ross, the magazine's founder), and kept her three-foot hair in a bun. She was married and older than White when she first interviewed him in The New Yorker's waiting room. Her first marriage, to Ernest Angell, a lawyer, was marked by unhappiness, two children, quarrels, and Katharine going to Reno with Ross' blessing. Ross, once not very well read, depended heavily on Katharine's taste and ideas and discovered that with her and ""Andy"" (E.B.) White, he had found the urbane, and sometimes dotty, wit that became his magazine's greatest treasure. The pair, however, often felt that the magazine was poisonous and took vacations at their farm in Maine. For 15 years, she reviewed children's books, rarely finding a good one. Anyone who has ever received a written (rather than printed) rejection letter from The New Yorker will be delighted to study White's talents at this special art. When she announced her retirement as fiction editor, she received saddened farewells from Updike and her other writers. Her own greatest disappointment was her failure to publish part of Lolita. The story of the White's marriage is heartwarming, indeed, but the onset of the couple's later illnesses turns her into something of a pill. Even so, this is a book that may well win some big prizes.

Pub Date: June 17, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1987