LETTERS TO A FRIEND: The Correspondence Between T. H. White and L. J. Potts by FranÇois--Ed. Gallix

LETTERS TO A FRIEND: The Correspondence Between T. H. White and L. J. Potts

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This collection of the surviving letters from the improbable modern Arthurian to his Cambridge tutor and lifelong friend will be treasured by Whiteans along with David Garnett's edition of their almost equally illuminating correspondence (The White-Garnett Letters) and Sylvia Townsend Warner's splendid T. H. White. (Mere fanciers should be advised, however, that Warner quotes generously from the correspondence.) Here is White, post-Cambridge, as a dissatisfied schoolmaster, extracurricular novelist, and imperfectly reconciled homosexual. (Once, at the advice of his analyst, White attempted to take up with a presumably therapeutic barmaid--rushing from each session to the pub like ""A sort of Stop Press newsboy between Harley Street and the Fitzroy Arms."") There ensues a brief hunting-and-falconry epoch (recorded in the recent England Have My Bones, p. 129, and clearly mined in The Sword in the Stone), followed by a retreat to boggy and benighted Ireland for the duration of a war that White--then in the throes of the Matter of Arthur--never did bring himself to take part in. ""I could do more for Civilisation at present than fight for it, since I could make it."" There are the final 17 years of eccentric eminence on the island of Alderney, capped by the very different glitter of the Andrews-Burton Camelot. Throughout these bizarre mutations, White seems to have found a center of stability in the happy family life of L. J. and Mary Potts and their three children. The story, in toto, is irresistible--but the editorial handling leaves something to be desired. Gallix's chapter-introductions, though generally plain and to the point, are sometimes oddly childish (""The surest way to make White furious!"" he writes of a girl, in compromised circumstances, who named her son Terence); the headnotes to individual letters, or groups of letters, are often platitudinous and unnecessary (a letter about a tonsillectomy, we're apprised, shows ""White's ability to turn any experience into a creative opportunity"") and sometimes fail, meanwhile, to explain a topical reference. But there is no doubt about the value of the letters themselves as a chronicle of White's personal and literary preoccupations over more than 30 years.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1982
Publisher: Putnam