Thursday, May 15, 2008

Letters To Gustav Hellström

Two years ago, I discovered two letters written by Miller to a Swedish writer named Lars Gustav Hellström, on the HistoryForSale.com website. The following is my own summary of the content of this pair of letters, along with some background information.
SEPT 29, 2008: NOTE -- Thanks to Leo for leaving the following comment in my Comments section. I hope to have asome time soon to make the necessary corrections in this post, but for now I give you his warning: "I'm sorry to say that You have mixed up two persons. Lars Gustav Hellström,1915-1988, was a translator. Gustaf Hellström (1882-1953) was a writer, journalist and member of the Swedish Academy. He lived in New York (1918-21) with his american wife but also stayed in The Maverick Art Colony, Wodstock, founded by Hervey White (1866–1944)."
_______________________________
LETTER TO HELLSTROM - 1949
Henry Miller had been corresponding with poet Hugo Manning since about 1944 [1]. In 1949, Henry received word from Hugo that a Swede named Lars Gustav Hellström had done a translation of one of Miller’s Hamlet letters for a Swedish magazine. On November 28, 1949, Henry wrote a letter to the 62-year old Hellström. Although it seems that permission had not been sought to do the translation, Henry gives Hellström permission to continue to do so, as long as he gets the O.K. from the publisher. “I scarcely ever write anything for magazines,” writes Henry, who is curious to receive a copy of the Swedish magazine in which the translation appears.

This is the actual letter that Miller wote to Hellstrom in 1949. This image is copywritten by HistoryForSale.com, but I hope they don't mind my use of it here, as it draws attention to their merchandise. The original document currently sells for US $ 1, 499.

“How does my 'Air-Conditioned Nightmare' go there?” adds Henry. “Haven't the slightest idea. I rather imagine it doesn't go at all!” With a “Sincerely Yours,” Henry signed his name. As an afterthought, he wrote vertically along the left-hand column, “Presume you've heard that Book I of 'Rosy Crucifixion' is out now in Paris - same publisher.” Henry posted this letter from his home in Big Sur, addressing it to Lars Gustav Hellström at Östervägen 25 in Solna, Sweden.

Gustav (or Gustaf) Hellström was born in Sweden in August 1882 [2]. He worked as a foreign correspondent for a Swedish newspaper until 1935, reporting from the big Western cultural centres of Paris, New York and London. As a novelist, he worked in a realist style, including his 1927 “masterpiece,” a saga of a provincial Swedish family called Snörmakare Lekholm får en idé (Lacemaker Lekholm Has an Ideafull text). According to the Nobel Prize website, Hellstrom was member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and had deleivered Nobel presentation speeches for T.S. Eliot and William Faulkner. It is said that Hellström’s wife was a friend of Marcel Duchamp and Carl Van Vechten (who took the photo of Henry found on the Wikipedia website).

LETTER TO HELLSTROM - 1951

The second letter from Henry to Gustav was written on April 24, 1951, again from Big Sur. In it, Henry asks if Gustav received a book he sent him, which implies that a correspondence existed beyond these two letters. Here is the text in full, followed by notes on the references:

“The rights to 'Picodiribi' belong pro tem to James Laughlin, New Directions, 333 6th Avenue, N.Y.C. Have not sold rights (in English) for the book yet. It will be published in French by Corréa, Paris. Can't believe Girodias has no copies of the 'Tropics'. Will write him to send you them. Must be some mistake. That experience at Döme - reminds me of the unique occasion when I was in a book store and some one asked for one of my books. Have you seen the February and March issues of 'The World Review' (London) which contain chapter from my new book about books - this chapter on Blaise Cendrars? Haven't heard a word about Patchen. Did you get the Hart Crane book I sent you?”

Above: An excerpt of Miller's letter from April 1951.

Picodiribi: Miller actually meant Picodiribibi, which was a portrait he wrote about an “Italian who used to visit our speakeasy in the Village—circa 1925 or ’26—an extraordinary conversationalist, a buffoon, and cultured to the fingertips” [3]. The piece originally appeared as “The Robot Picodiribibi” in the July 1950 issue of World Review magazine (Shifreen & Jackson, C233), then again in December of that year in New Directions 12 anthology (Shifreen & Jackson, B69). It would be incorporated into Plexus in 1952.

James Laughlin: founded the New Directions imprint in 1936, and became one of Henry’s publishers.

Corréa, Paris: Henry’s French publisher, which had released the first edition of Plexus in 1952 (Shifreen & Jackson, A83a), amongst other things. When Henry refers to “the book,” I’m not sure if he means Plexus, or if he’d had planned to release the short “Robot Picodiribibi” as a booklet.

Girodias: Maurice Girodias, heir to the Obelisk Press, which had first published Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

Döme: Le Dôme is a café in Paris which became Miller’s prime hang-out during his early days in Paris. The way he mentions it here, I get the impression that Henry is referencing Hellstrom’s own experience at Le Dôme from a previous letter.

February and March issues of 'The World Review': “Blaise Cendrars” (Shifreen & Jackson, C239) and “More about Blaise Cendrars” (Shifreen & Jackson, C241) were published in the February and March issues of World Review, respectively.

my new book about books: Miller’s The Books in My Life was first published in October 1952 (Shifreen & Jackson, A86a). Henry had been working “feverishly” on this book since January 17, 1950 [4]. At the time of writing this letter, Henry was struggling with coming up with a better title for this book than what it became [5].

Patchen: Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) was an American writer/poet, who had made a strong impression on Henry (see Miller’s homage to him, “Patchen: Man Of Anger & Light,” which originally appeared in 1946, and was re-published in Stand Still Like The Hummingbird). After five years of living in a little cottage in a small town in Connecticut, Patchen moved to San Francisco in 1951 [6]. Perhaps Miller is referencing his relocation.

Hart Crane: Hart Crane (1899-1932) was an Ohio-born poet who lived one of those tragic poet’s lives, ending with suicide off of a steamship at age 32. Miller was not particularly fond of Crane’s work. Writing to Wallace Fowlie in 1944, Henry wrote: “I can’t read Crane. I mean I don’t find anything in him that others see. My fault doubtless” [7]. (Miller is perhaps being kind because Fowlie had written an essay on Crane). Crane’s suicide is mentioned in passing in Books in My Life (p.217) [he was referenced in a letter written by Sherwood Anderson, which Miller had read]. I’m thinking that Henry unloaded his Crane book on Hellström because he didn’t really care for it. The favour must have been returned by Hellström, because Henry included his name in an appendix in Books in My Life, entitled “Friends Who Supplied Me With Books.”

Lars Gustav Hellstrom died in Sweden less than two years later, on February 27, 1953.

_______________________________________

[1] Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, U. of Texas. Hugo Manning Papers - "Biographical Sketch."http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/uthrc/00083/hrc-00083.html . [2] The bio of Hellstrom has been mostly cobbled together from info drawn from Encyclopedia Britannica and the Hellstrom website (which is in Swedish, but I translated through Translation Guide). [3] Durrell, Lawrence (ed.). 1959. The Henry Miller Reader. NY: New Directions; p. 83. [4] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 246; [5] Wickes, George, ed. 1996. Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, p. 85; [6] Smith, Larry (ed.) "Kenneth Patchen Places." http://members.aol.com/smithcours/Patchen/KennethPatchenPlaces.htm ; [7] Miller, Henry, and Wallace Fowlie. 1975. Letters of Henry Miller and Wallace Fowlie (1943-1972). NY: Grove Press; letter dated March 1, 1944, p. 41.

13 Comments:

Blogger Cristian said...

Hi,

Excellent blog. I read Miller for the first time when I was 18 (Tropic of Cancer) during a train trip in Italy.

I write in spanish but live in New York.

Best,

12:44 am  
Blogger LEO said...

Hallo, I'm sorry to say that You have mixed up two persons. Lars Gustav Hellström,1915-1988, was a translator.

Gustaf Hellström (1882-1953) was a writer, journalist and member of the Swedish Academy. He lived in New York (1918-21)with his american wife but also stayed in The Maverick Art Colony, Wodstock, founded by Hervey White (1866–1944).

Yours sincerely

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