Friday, February 17, 2012

Dinner Party with Dead Authors

JAN BROGAN - As I've been mentioning as of late, I've been reading Moby Dick and developing a huge crush on Herman Melville even though he is dead. Quite dead. By crush, I do not mean that I am loving the book itself. Although I AM LOVING the book itself, the prose, the adventure, the romanticism. The complete genius. What I mean by developing a crush on Herman is strictly personal. I feel as though, if I couldn't marry him, I'd at least want to sit next to him at a dinner party and monopolize his time.

And not just to get a blurb!

I am enthralled by his observations about life, people, even the whales. I think he's got an awesome sense of humor, and that I could banter with him for hours. And of course, it's totally, maniacally presumptuous, but I sort of feel like he and I would understand each other. (I am also picturing him tall, handsome and alpha male, but I won't go into all my delusions.)
And I've felt the opposite about male authors, even while liking the books. For example, when I read the Witches of Eastwick by John Updike, I felt that no matter how great an author he was, I just really didn't like that man. I was convinced that he had only a egocentric view of women (and I'm pretty sure that was the book he wrote to address criticism by feminists.) Even though one of his short stories is my all time favorite, I am sure that if I had to listen to him talk about himself at dinner party, I'd get up and move my seat.

So Reds, what dead authors would you like to sit next to at a dinner party. And who would you like to avoid?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I guess one of us should say Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers but I'd rather sit down with Robert Graves who wrote, among other things, I,Claudius and Claudius, the God. I was addicted to that television series and read both books and since then a biography of Augustus and one of Livia. What an incredible time. And how Graves humanized them. I'd want to know how much was fact and how much was fiction!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Jan, now I have to put Moby Dick on my to-read list!!! Can't believe I never have. But then I was always reading those English authors...
I'm going to cheat, and pick not one, but three, with the occasional fourth: C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien (and sometimes Dorothy Sayers.) The first three were part of an Oxford group of writers who referred to themselves as The Inklings. They met for regular discussions about their writing at a pub in Oxford called The Eagle and Child (affectionately known as The Bird and Baby.) Sometimes Sayers would join them.

From the time I was in my teens I wanted more than anything to be an Inkling, to have that sort of intellectual support and camaraderie. My first trip to England, I went to Oxford, and of course made my pilgrimage to The Bird and Baby. I'd still give anything just to sit and listen to them talk.

Avoid? Too many to list. Mostly having to do with American literary male angst.

RHYS BOWEN: I think I'd find most dead male authors pretentious and patronizing to a woman who dares to write books. They'd mention my "little scribblings" then ignore me,I suspect.It would be fun to sit down beside Jane Austen because I bet she could give some lovely witty and bitchy asides about the other people at the dinner table. I'd also enjoy being with some of those 20s and 30s women--Gertrude Stein. having adored Midnight in Paris, or Virginia Woolf.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Edith Wharton. Can you imagine the scathing dinner-table conversation? I'd add in Dorothy Parker and Patricia Highsmith. We could be all catty and socially superior and talk about living abroad and the failings of American society. Dorothy would drink too much and Patricia would smoke too much and Edith would point out how sadly lacking the wait service was. Nothing like it had been when she was a girl.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, absolutely. Edith Wharton. Number one choice. Then-Truman Capote. And Thomas Wolfe. And Shakespeare. F. Scott and Zelda, for sure. And Agatha Christie. Love this idea! (Hallie will cook, right?)

JAN: Definitely F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I think Zelda would annoy me. She was always diving into pools as I recall.

HALLIE EPHRON: Are we having dinner? Then most definitely Julia Child. And to make sure I mind my manners, P. L. Travers (Mary Poppins). And Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Little Princess and The Secret Garden and a gazillion other titles). And Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables.

LUCY BURDETTE: I just want an invitation--you all have done such a good job. But I don't think we should have Hallie cook if the women are likely to complain about the help....

JAN: How about the rest of you, which dead authors would you invite to our dinner party and who would you shun?


  1. I've always had a huge crush on Hemingway. I wouldn't want to be his girlfriend, or God forbid his wife (I knew that even before I read The Paris Wife), but he'd be fun as hell to dine with and maybe hit a club or two with afterwards. And maybe that way I'd also get to meet Picasso and Fitzgerald?

  2. Bram Stoker, Raymond Chandler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and, of course, Ian Fleming. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald might be too dangerous to hang out with, but the conversation would be amazing.

  3. You guys have it all covered for me. Dorothy Sayers, Agatha, Julia Child, Virgina Woolf, Dorothy Parker! Fun post.

  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and Ellery Queen (Frederick Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) -- but not all at the same dinner! I'd want to give each my undivided attention. :)

    Cathy AJ

  5. Excellent planning Cat Basket!

    Shizuka, did you like The Paris Wife? I have friends who loathed it and friends who adored it.

    William, I'm pretty sure Hemingway and Fitzgerald would require a LOT of drinking. And that's why I don't like Zelda, she seemed to like danger as a means of attention.

  6. Edith,

    But who would you choose from that group to sit RIGHT next to?


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  8. Hallie, I just finished reading My Life in France, and I totally agree with Julia Child. We can each sit next to her! She seemed like great fun.

    Mark Twain could be on my other side, please, for when Julia and Hallie are deep in conversation about food and France. What a fun meal that would be!

    I swear I'm not a robot. Too bad that's not enough. Sigh.

  9. Karen,
    I forgot about Mark Twain, EXCELLENT CHOICE!


    Thank God, because as far as I known, none of us are DEAD! :)

    I can't even read the capshaw word this morning.

  10. Dorothy Parker! Did I mention that I met her once? She knew my parents from when they were all writing in NYC, and she once came to the house where we lived in California. I have this memory of her actually holding my baby sister Amy... which of course could be made up. She wore dark glasses. Inside. That part I'm sure I didn't make up.

  11. Ro, Robert Graves is not so far off Agatha Christie. They were neighbors. He was a huge fan of her work, and she dedicated one of her books to him.

    I would choose my beloved Charles Dickens. the man was supposed to be a brilliant conversationalist, as well as a novelists--and he had a heart for the poor.

    Second choice would be Virginia Woolf. (I couldn't have her at the same table with Charles because she criticized him mercilessly.)

    Avoid? Above all others, Hemingway, who is the model all those "great" male BSD novelists are trying to emulate and who was the biggest self-promotion machine and bullsh*t artist in the world.

    This captcha is the worst ever. I guess we're going to have to learn to read through inkblots. Eek! It changed on me as I tried to hit submit.

  12. But I would never leave my beloved Reds, so bring it on captcha!

  13. YESTERDAY"S WINNER! Michelle--ma belle :-) you are the winner (in a random drawing) of Kira's book!

    Please send me your
    h ryan at whdh dot com


    ( captcha words were very easy. Hmmm.)

  14. Ladies, ladies did you forget Oscar Wilde? If we kept him away from the Absinthe he'd be the wit and life of the dinner party. My fave quote of his 'Be yourself - Everyone else is taken.'

  15. Kurt Vonnegut so we could talk about short stories and Phoebe Gilman because I'd like to hear what it was like to write and illustrate her books.

    Hey, my word is didedit. And I did this morning!

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  19. Cara! How could we forget..perfect!

    And Darlene..whew. Kurt Vonnegut. My father was in the war with him. You're so right .That would have been pret-ty interesting..

  20. Ian Fleming, definitely! And Andre Norton. I'd love to be at the same table as Will Rogers. OMG! Will and Mark Twain at the same table? I'd be all over that conversation.

    Oh bizarre! I just look down at my capcha and Andre is one of the words! LOL

    Okay. Who else? Well, pretty much everyone else mentioned. If I can't actually be an invitee, I'll volunteer to wait tables. Edith can complain all she wants. I have a thick skin. ;-)

  21. You know what this reminds me of? Did any of you ever watch the wonderful old Steve Allen show, "Meeting of Minds?" He'd have several significant historical figures join him at a round table and the sparks would fly. Such a great piece of television.

  22. Evelyn Waugh, because I loved his brand of satire; CS Lewis,because he made me think, Barbara Pym for so MANY reasons. The first time I read one of her books (Excellent Women),I immediately began to reread it after finishing the last page. I just did not want to leave those characters. That was around thirty years ago. My copy of that book is falling apart and I am constantly mending it. I need to buy a new one.

    No time to list any others. The captcha people no longer allow me to post from my work computer before work or on breaks - that is,they let me TYPE a comment but do NOT give me a "Publish your comment"option. So I'm rushing to type this at lunch on my Kindle and leaving myself time to try to read you-know-what ***words. Sigh... I do not want to leave JRW but it is so frustrating to try to participate. I hope I can master this change!

  23. Sending this info to our web people, Deb.hang on..xoo

  24. Linda,
    In the rush of passion for Melville, I also forgot about Charles Dickens, who I love, which just goes to show I must be a LITERARY FLOOZY.

    Deb, I LOVED BABARA PIM books and think I read every single one of them.

    Evelyn would be quite charming. Our table is FASCINATING.

  25. Anyone seen "Midnight in Paris," the Woody Allen movie? This discussion reminds of that movie. The Owen Wilson character running around all dreamy-eyed because he's hanging out with glitterati. That would be me, for sure.

    Here's a bizarro notion: Ayn Rand. That woman was half-cracked for sure, but she'd be interesting and would probably get the likes of Updike huffing and puffing. (Also not an Updike fan, nor Hemingway for that matter.)

  26. My choice would be F. Scott Fitzgerald (a popular choice, from reading the comments) because I was eleven when I read The Great Gatsby, and it made me secretely wish I could be a writer. Plus,it would be a long,fun night of partying.

  27. A LOT of drinking Clare. And a lot of ego if we have them all there! But I also loved The Great Gatsby and everything else he wrote. Especially his short stories.

    Lisa, I loved that movie. And also think Ayn Rand would be an excellent addition, even if she is a bit strident and whacked. But then, I'm thinking a lot of them will be a bit strident and whacked.

    Someone order more absinthe

  28. I loved Midnight in Paris, in fact I've seen it twice and might buy it, because it's my ultimate fantasy too.

  29. I would like to be a fly on the wall at all of your dinners. I'd be too shy and overwhelmed to partake. Andd I promise to stay out of the soup.

  30. Great idea, Jan! I'd name almost anyone to taste Hallie's cooking! ;0) My first thought was Edward Gorey (though not a novelist), I had already interviewed him. Richard Yates? He taught one of my classes, no. Besides, he might spoil the party with his overindulgence in drink. Ah, Mark Twain! Not really for his tales of the Mississippi, but for Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and his wonderful essays about society and religion. Julia, have you read J J Murphy's Murder Your Darlings, with Dorothy Parker and other Algonquin Round Table members? I'm reading it on Kindle and really loving the comedy of it and what I imagine to be the Algonquin atmosphere. Deb, I would have loved to be an Inkling, too!

  31. I'm afraid I'd be tempted to slap Ayn Rand silly. A food fight would ensue.

  32. Jan, I was torn about the Paris Wife.
    The setting and the lifestyle were vivid, but the protagonist (wow, can't even remember her name) got on my nerves. Hemingway was her entire life and she had no ambitions for herself.

  33. OFF-TOPIC for Downton Abbey fanatics.

    Check out the "variance" in emotional expression on the Dowager's face.

    Sorry, everyone else. Don't worry captcha will punish me.

  34. Shizuka,
    I was actually in France for a part of the summer nd my friend was reading A Paris Wife and every morning she'd come downstairs and complain about the protagonist and what a self-centered dolt she was.

    Although another friend there absolutely loved it, I still couldn't make myself read it.

  35. Food fight, food fight! I want to sit across from Julia Child as her sides are taken.

    Lil, you must sit with us. We'll introduce you around--and stay away from the egotistic men who don't want to hear from the likes of us anyway:).

    We missed Midnight in Paris when it was playing so must rent it asap...

    ps if you can't read the captcha, you can click on the little circle and get a new one...

  36. Linda,
    HYSTERICAL. And I've wasted more time reading her back column on the amnesia double twist plotline.

    But she is A RIOT

  37. Julia Child! Mark Twain! Ayn Rand? Julia Child might slap her silly. And I think if we have Julia, we must have Paul Child as well.

    Julia (our Julia), I LOVED Steve Allen's Meeting of Minds!!!! Do you suppose it's available anywhere? Brilliant brilliant telly.

    And if I can include a live author (does an autobiography count?) I want Craig Ferguson:-)

  38. Lil,we can sit together! I'm WAY too shy to participate in conversation with more than a couple of strangers in one sitting. Anyway, I'm a much better listener as a result. Then you and I can privately discuss our impressions of The Dead Authors.

    As a Connecticut Yankee, I might like to sit in on a discussion led by Mark Twain.

    Jan, I own all of Barbara Pym's books. I "discovered" her about a month after she died. I remember thinking "she's so wonderful - and she's GONE? That's not fair!"

    I have never read Moby Dick,and with all that I have read here and elsewhere about it recently I am beginning to think I owe it to Melville to at least borrow the book from the library. One of my neighbors -sadly, he died just last month -always told me that he reread it annually.

    Going back into my childhood, I would love the opportunity sit down and talk to Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy/Tacy books. A lot of the books I read while growing up were books mentioned by her characters. I once wrote a letter to her but was too shy to mail it. I will always regret that!

    Now I will request a second set of captcha words because I cannot read mine. One of them is a long number. Oh!They just all of a sudden changed on their own, and I didn't even do anything! The first word in the new set is -I am not joking - "exasperating"! I need to try to decipher the second word. Here goes...

  39. Sigh..Reginald Hill! Boohoo I would have loved to meet him while he was still alive. He's one of the few I'd actually like to meet. Most of the previous authors are too tortured and suffering for me. and "Dead White Men" novels were never my favorite. Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters, even though the Bronte sisters were none too stable either...

  40. Jan, sorry to be so late. Had to rest my hands due to captcha abuse!

    Deborah, The Bird and Baby is wonderful. Don't you love their sign?

    I will be at The Crown with Mr. Shakespeare. I have to talk political intrigue in writing with him. Well, maybe I don't.

    Maybe I just want to find out if he and the innkeeper's wife got it on, and Sir Whosey there is really his son. He was a writer, too. Hey I could meet with both of them!

    Oh wait a minute... can you get killed in the crossfire of dead poets? Would the dead innkeeper's wife wield a nonlethal meat cleaver? So many questions.

    I like the pub across from Tom Gate, down St. Aldste's from Cornmarket. I think Lewis Carroll hung out there. I am fascinated with the fiction writer who was a mathematician by day.

    I would love to know if the small door set into the Tom Gate oaks was there in his day, and did it influence the small such in Alice. It struck me odd one night when headed out of ChCh, that the huge oak gate was locked shut, but you could get in and out of a small door carved into it-- about a foot off the ground... really odd and fun... really fun-- unless you were too late and were locked out and had to wake the porter to let you in. That part was not fun. You can guess I did it a couple of times.

    Oh see... the evil captcha knows what it's doing. Here's mine: Consists chcheth. But how does it know before I start to write? See? It is mad and evil. Damn wicked. And I don't mean wicked-good, as they say back home.

  41. Ann,
    I agree with you, I'm not a big fan of his tales of the Mississippi, but love pretty much everything else Twain wrote.

    Deb, you have to read Moby Dick the way you read poetry, actually listen to it, and in no rush, otherwise, it could drive you crazy. Althought there is a great plot, its really about language. And of course, about what a cool guy Melville is (remember, I'm smitten. We've got a crush going on here.)

    Reine, you are taking these people away from the dinner party to pubs and other places, so you are way ahead of me on the imagination front!

    And captcha has started to do something weird today. You can hardly read it.

  42. Jan, it was a dinner party? Oh sorry. Did not mean to be antisocial! Just thought I'd eat and drink with them in their own territory and whoever came along would join us. More to pick up the tab that way. I mean-- the more the merrier!

    I read Moby Dick in when I was a girl in Marblehead. Was required reading there, at least back then. Can you imagine? Mm... so long ago. Remember that song, Poetry in Motion? That book is poetry in motion. Jan, it was a dinner party? Oh sorry. Did not mean to be antisocial! Just thought I'd eat and drink with them in their own territory and whoever came along would join us. More to pick up the tab that way. I mean-- the more the merrier!

    I read Moby Dick in when I was a girl in Marblehead. Was required reading there, at least back then. Can you imagine? Mm... so long ago. Remember that song, Poetry in Motion? That book is poetry in motion.

  43. Don't know what happened to my post. Captcha was pissed off, I guess.

  44. Well, if we're going to pubs. I'll have to say let's bring Walt Whitman along. He was a big customer of Pfaff's (sp) in New York. He can throw his barbaric yawp at Edith Wharton and Oscar Wilde, Hemingway and all the rest of those effete types. :-)

    Captcha gave me a perfectly legible David, and something in a language that doesn't even use the Roman alphabet. I think I'll try for another.

  45. Linda, you are so funny. I love your comments.