SEXTET: T. S. Eliot & Truman Capote & Others by John Malcolm Brinnin

SEXTET: T. S. Eliot & Truman Capote & Others

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Poet-biographer Brinnin (Dylan Thomas in America, The Third Rose) has been keeping a journal through 40 years of literary hobnobbing; and here he converts some of those jottings into outrageously gossipy yet terribly civilized sketches of his acquaintanceships with the Sitwells, Elizabeth Bowen, Alice B. Toklas, Eliot. . . and his rather more intense involvements with Capote and photographer Cartier-Bresson. The Toklas piece is tiny--Brinnin visited after Stein's death, discovering a ""tough, spirited, quick-witted, biting"" Alice B.--and the Eliot portrait is almost as thin: Brinnin invited him to read at N.Y.'s YMHA Poetry Center, saw him a few times in London (including an encounter in the Hotel Connaught lev), and found him ""gentle and open, with a slow-fused kind of humor and a slightly wicked sense of conspiracy he seemed to want to share."" Also flimsy is the much longer Sitwell section--chiefly a gathering of eccentric habits (ill Osbert hurtling himself through doorways) and quotable remarks. (Edith on Ethel Barrymore: ""An enchanting woman but, my dear, a breath you could trot a mouse on."") The brief visit to legendary Elizabeth at Bowen's Court, however, has the shapeliness of a very short story: Elizabeth gallantly keeps up appearances as her dying husband intermittently screams from the second floor. And the long, cosmopolitan record of Brinnin's ""vaguely avuncular"" friendship with the young Capote is, if a bit gushy and a trifle self-serving (Brinnin foresaw TC's celebrity/artist woes), a gossip-monger's delight: TC's catty words on Gore, Noel, Mary McCarthy, Auden; coy allusions to his liaisons (including one with John Garfield); his decadent, yet dashing, credos. But best of all is Brinnin's funny, bitter account of his mad 1947 auto tour of the US with speed-happy, ruthless Cartier-Bresson--who photographed every celebrity and every eyesore in sight. . . and wound up by forcing Brinnin out of their supposed book collaboration. Three losers, three winners--a fairly entertaining sextet for devotees of wry literary sideshows.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Delacorte