Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘love’

20 AUGUST, 2013

E. B. White’s Love Letter to His Wife on the Occasion of Her Pregnancy, “Written” by Their Dog

By:

“White has been stewing around for two days now, a little bit worried because he is not sure that he has made you realize how glad he is that there is to be what the column writer in the Mirror calls a blessed event.”

E. B. White — beloved author, celebrator of New York, champion of integrity, upholder of linguistic style — topped the ranks of literary history’s famous pet-lovers as he made room in his home and his heart for a dozen dogs of various breeds over the course of eight decades. Indeed, dogs, alongside literature and his wife Katharine, whom he married in 1929 and loved until death did them part in 1977, were the love of White’s life. E. B. White on Dogs (public library) gathers his finest letters, poems, sketches, and essays celebrating his canine companions in a soul-quenching compilation by his granddaughter and literary executor, Martha White, who believes her grandfather was able to “observe and express his own childlike wonder at the natural world around him” through his furry friends and their boundless eccentricities.

Among the collection’s greatest gems is a letter to Katharine that White penned in the spring of 1930 on the occasion of her pregnancy with their first and only child together, Joel. What makes the missive extraordinary, however, is that it was “written” by Daisy, Katharine’s beloved Scotty. More than a quirky delight, the choice was also a sentimental wink — Elwyn had met Katharine, a literary agent, at the New Yorker in 1925, where she had taken a job to distract her from the problems of her collapsing first marriage; shortly after she finally divorced her husband, she and White eloped and got married, with only Daisy as their witness; they were back at their desks the next day.

Katharine S. White with infant Joel in the pram and Daisy on a leash, New York City, 1931

Dear Mrs. White:

I like having Josephine here in the morning, although I suppose I will get less actual thinking done — as I used to do my thinking mornings in the bathroom. White has been stewing around for two days now, a little bit worried because he is not sure that he has made you realize how glad he is that there is to be what the column writer in the Mirror calls a blessed event. So I am taking this opportunity, Mrs. White, to help him out to the extent of writing you a brief note which I haven’t done in quite a long time but have been a little sick myself as you know. Well, the truth is White is beside himself and would have said more about it but is holding himself back, not wanting to appear ludicrous to a veteran mother. What he feels, he told me, is a strange queer tight little twitchy feeling around the inside of his throat whenever he thinks that something is happening which will require so much love and all on account of you being so wonderful. (I am not making myself clear I am afraid, but on the occasions when White has spoken privately with me about this he was in no condition to make himself clear either and I am just doing the best I can in my own way.) I know White so well that I always know what is the matter with him, and it always comes to the same thing — he gets thinking that nothing that he writes or says ever quite expresses his feeling, and he worries about his inarticulateness just the same as he does about his bowels, except it is worse, and it makes him either mad, or sick, or with a prickly sensation in the head. But my, my, my, last Sunday he was so full of this matter which he couldn’t talk about, and he was what Josephine in her simple way would call hoppy, and particularly so because it seemed so good that everything was starting at once — I mean those things, whatever they are, that are making such a noise over in the pond by Palmer Lewis’s house, and the song sparrow that even I could hear from my confinement in the house, and those little seeds that you were sprinkling up where the cut glass and bones used to be — all starting at the same time as the baby, which he seems to think exists already by the way he stands around staring at you and muttering little prayers. Of course he is also very worried for fear you will get the idea that he is regarding you merely as a future mother and not as a present person, or that he wants a child merely as a vindication of his vanity. I doubt if those things are true; White enjoys animal husbandry of all kinds including his own; and as for his regard for you, he has told me that, quite apart from this fertility, he admires you in all kinds of situations or dilemmas, some of which he says have been quite dirty.

Well, Mrs. White, I expect I am tiring you with this long letter, but as you often say yourself, a husband and wife should tell each other about the things that are on their mind, otherwise you get nowhere, and White didn’t seem to be able to tell you about his happiness, so thought I would attempt to put in a word.

White is getting me a new blanket, as the cushion in the bathroom is soiled.

Lovingly, Daisy

This missive is without a doubt among history’s most beautiful love letters, joining those exchanged between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Charles and Ray Eames, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. The remainder of E. B. White on Dogs is equally fantastic, imbued with White’s warm wit and expansive heart.

Thanks, Kaye

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

02 AUGUST, 2013

Bedroom via Kitchen: What Food Preferences Reveal about You and Your Romantic Partner

By:

“You can learn a lot about a person from the way he or she eats.”

The shared meal, Michael Pollan noted in his altogether fascinating exploration of how cooking civilized us, is where we “learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization.” But, beyond the mere mythology of aphrodisiacs and anti-aphrodisiacs, the careful observation of our relationship with food during those shared occasions can also reveal our rawest nature, most unfiltered preferences, and least civilized psychological tendencies. So argues Mimi Sheraton in The Seducer’s Cookbook (public library) — her charming 1962 guide to the lost art of seduction, illustrated by MAD’s Paul Coker — where she presents this curious culinary anatomy of romantic and sexual archetypes:

You can learn a lot about a person from the way he or she eats — about the extent of his physical appetites and the way they are satisfied. There are those who will try anything offered to them, no matter how new or exotic, while others refuse to accept any but the most familiar fare — obviously not the adventurous type to new experiences.

Sheraton argues that dietary preferences reveal a great deal about how good a dancer someone is in the intricate dance between abandon and restraint, so essential in intimate relationships:

Women who are diet-conscious should, when some tempting morsel is presented, throw caution to the wind and eat without a thought for tomorrow. An air of abandon must prevail sometimes, and if not at the table, then probably not in bed either; while a man who appears to be turning into one of Circe’s swine after dinner may display the same propensities when satisfying his other physical urge.

The act of ordering itself, Sheraton counsels, is remarkably revealing of a person’s overall authenticity:

While ordering in restaurants, you should be able to tell a great deal about someone’s tastes, sensitivities and pretensions. A man or woman who is completely honest and without airs, and already knows good food, will recognize it whether it be a hot dog at Nedick’s or a páté en croute at Pavillon. Beware of anyone who seems to recognize good food only when served in a currently fashionable restaurant. Such a person may be given to passing fads and is not to be trusted.

Sheraton goes on to offer a kind of gastronomic phrenology of personality types based on dietary preferences:

If a woman consistently orders sickeningly sweet, overelaborate whipped-cream desserts, she may be given to equally sticky goodbyes, and a man who overeats on one course and then has to pass up the rest of the meal doesn’t know how to pace himself and could be a problem later in the evening. And should you find yourself with a girl who orders a pastrami sandwich on whole-wheat toast with lettuce and Russian dressing (a meal I actually heard someone order in a New York delicatessen), you’d best be off before the waiter returns with the check.

The rest of The Seducer’s Cookbook similarly oscillates between the delightfully outlandish and the surprisingly insightful, and remains an absolute treat from cover to cover. Sample more of it here and complement it with unbeknownst gastronome Alexandre Dumas on the three types of appetite.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

02 AUGUST, 2013

How Much Edna St. Vincent Millay Loved Her Mother

By:

“Almost all people love their mothers, but I have never met anybody in my life, I think, who loved his mother as much as I love you.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of the most extraordinary creative icons of the twentieth century — beloved poet, eloquent lover of music, delinquent schoolgirl, writer of passionate love letters and playfully lewd self-portraits, literary gateway drug for children, the recipient of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, only the third woman to win the award. But one of Millay’s most exceptional qualities is the rare relationship she shared with her mother, Cora B. Millay, whom Edna loved profoundly enough to make any daughter jealous of this deep bond and whom she frequently addressed with terms borrowed from the vocabulary of romance — “dear,” “dearest,” “sweetheart,” and even “my Best Beloved” — to imbue this great platonic union with the intensity, if not the nature, of romantic passion.

In a letter from June 15, 1921, found in the altogether wonderful The Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (public library), 29-year-old Edna — who customarily signed her letters to her loved ones as “Vincent,” an oft-discussed preference in the context of her open bisexuality — writes to her mother and two sisters from Paris:

I am always button-holing somebody and saying, “Someday you must meet my mother.” … I do love you very much, my mother.

* * *

It is nearly six months since I saw you. A long time. Mother, do you know, almost all people love their mothers, but I have never met anybody in my life, I think, who loved his mother as much as I love you. I don’t believe there ever was anybody who did, quite so much, and quite in so many wonderful ways. I was telling somebody yesterday that the reason I am a poet is entirely because you wanted me to be and intended I should be, even from the very first. You brought me up in the tradition of poetry, and everything I did you encouraged. I can not remember once in my life when you were not interested in what I was working on, or even suggested that I should put it aside for something else. Some parents of children that are “different” have so much to reproach themselves with. But not you, Great Spirit.

I hope you will write me as soon as you get this. If you only knew what it means to me to get letters from any of you three over there. Because no matter how interesting it all is, and how beautiful, and how happy I am, an dhow much work I get done, I am nevertheless away from home — home being somewhere near where you are, mother dear.

If I didn’t keep calling you mother, anybody reading this would think I was writing to my sweetheart. And he would be quite right.

The following month, on July 23, Edna sends another loving letter to Cora:

Dearest Mother, —

You do write the sweetest and most wonderful letters! They are so lovely that very often I read parts of them aloud to people, just as literature. It was delicious what you told me about the turtle, — you are so gentle and kind to everything, dear — and all the things you write about birds and animals I love. Thanks for the little flower. I never saw one like it, either.

[…]

And, sweetheart, how would you like, in place of the birthday present I did not send you from the 10th of June, sometime in the late fall or winter, depending on how much money I can make between now and then, to come over here, and play around with your eldest daughter a while in Europe? We could go to Italy and Switzerland and to England and Scotland, and, if there are not too many riots and street fights there at the time, — mavourneen, we would go to Ireland! … and then, my Best Beloved, you and I will just have ourselves a little honey-moon.

With all the love of my heart,

Vincent

Millay adds a charmingly self-aware postscript:

P.S. — Do you suppose, when you & I are dead, dear, they will publish the Love Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay & her Mother?

As an aside, as fantastic as The Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay may be in its entirety, it is hard to decide what’s more tragic — that this magnificent volume is long out of print, or that it bears one of the most hideous covers ever designed, belying the spirit of such a beautiful woman and beautiful poet to a degree bordering on travesty. Please oh please, dear overlords of publishing, won’t you consider reprinting this gem and having someone like Chip Kidd, Jessica Hische, or Coralie Bickford-Smith design a fittingly glorious cover?

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.