The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom, and Surprising Life of James Thurber

The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom, and Surprising Life of James Thurber

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by Harrison Kinney

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Though he died more than forty years ago, James Thurber remains one of America's greatest and most enduring humorists, and his books -- for both adults and children -- remain as popular as ever. In this comprehensive collection of his letters -- the majority of which have never before been published -- we find unsuspected insights into his life and career.



Though he died more than forty years ago, James Thurber remains one of America's greatest and most enduring humorists, and his books -- for both adults and children -- remain as popular as ever. In this comprehensive collection of his letters -- the majority of which have never before been published -- we find unsuspected insights into his life and career.

His prodigious body of work -- fables, drawings, comic essays, reportage, short stories, including his famous "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" -- all define Thurber's special and prolific genius. Like most good humorists, he was prone to exaggeration, embellishment, and good-natured self-deprecation. In his letters we find startling revelations about who he really was, and why the prism through which he viewed the world could often be both painfully and delightfully distorting.

For the first time, Thurber's daughter Rosemary has allowed the publication of many of the extremely personal letters he wrote early in his life to the women he was -- usually hopelessly -- in love with, as well as the affectionate and hilarious letters that he wrote to her. In addition, Harrison Kinney, noted Thurber biographer, has located a number of Thurber letters never before published. The Thurber Letters traces Thurber's progress from lovesick college boy to code clerk with the State Department in Paris and reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, through his marriages and love affairs, his special relationship with his daughter, his illustrious and tumultuous years with The New Yorker, his longstanding relationship with E. B. White, his close friendship with Peter De Vries, and his tragic last days. Included in the book areThurber drawings never before published. His candid comments in these personal letters, whether lighthearted or melancholy, comprise an entertaining, captivating, informal biography -- pure, wonderful Thurber.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Taken together, these letters span most of a lifetime and amount to an unofficial autobiography. Harrison Kinney, who edited the collection along with the writer's daughter, Rosemary A. Thurber, has already written James Thurber: His Life and Times, but his subject's own voice is incomparably revealing. A sizable cache of letters not previously published, this collection is fascinating for both its range and its candor. The man who made a career out of packaging his tart, witty personality can be seen here in a very different light. — Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
Let it be readily acknowledged that there is much herein to be treasured, some of it not to be found in the previous anthology. This is, after all, Thurber, and though the task of making one's way through its nearly 800 pages can be daunting -- more so, perhaps, for the reviewer under deadline than for the reader with time to browse at leisure -- the rewards most surely are there to be savored. It is especially nice to have for the first time Thurber's letters to his daughter, Rosemary, who helped put the book together; he was a difficult man but a loving and attentive father, which shines through in touching and amusing ways. — Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
This new edition of Thurber's (1894-1961) correspondence to friends, family, lovers, fellow writers and, of course, New Yorker colleagues runs almost three times the length of the Selected Letters. A maturing portrait emerges, from bumptious young State Department code clerk during WWI to the man behind Walter Mitty, and the milieu of the old New Yorker comes similarly to life. The early letters to his Ohio State fraternity pal and college sweetheart are both sophomoric and romantic. After being posted to Paris and returning to the U.S. at the height of the Roaring 20s, Thurber's stylistic craftsmanship has begun to catch up with his sophisticated wit, which comes to fruition when he joins Harold Ross's New Yorker to edit, write, and rewrite "Talk of the Town" and draw dog cartoons. Thurber employs comedy adeptly and variously to woo several objects of affection and infatuation, to spar with the editorially prickly Ross and to construct droll personae to deal with life's predicaments and to amuse his recipients. The letters hit their peak of hilarity and exuberance in the late 1920s, just before he achieves unexpected fame as a bestselling author, with E.B. White, of Is Sex Necessary?. The chief pleasures here are the free and uncensored jokes (and drawings) and the occasional glimpses, behind Thurber's authorial mask, of a disappointed lover, discontented spirit, Civil War buff and Henry James devotee. For all the padding with prosaic entries, this carnival of correspondence, edited by Thurber's daughter and his biographer, fulfills its promise of wit and wisdom. 16 pages of b&w photos, 15 line drawings. Agent, Barbara Hogenson. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
An essayist, short story writer, humorist, and artist, Thurber remains one of the 20th century's central literary figures. Although best remembered for his work with The New Yorker and for stories like "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," books like Is Sex Necessary?, and plays like The Thurber Carnival, Thurber was also a prolific letter writer. This collection of very personal and amusing letters that he wrote to his daughter, Rosemary, and others-including E.B. White, Harold Ross, and John O'Hara, to name a few-provides an invaluable look into his love affairs, his turbulent relationship with The New Yorker, his professional triumphs, and his personal failures. Arranged chronologically and divided into five major periods of his life, the text features revealing photographs and Thurber's original drawings, as well as a splendid introduction by editor Kinney, who previously authored a definitive biography of Thurber (James Thurber: His Life and Times). Recommended for literary collections and essential for Thurber fans.-Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A jackpot of Thurber correspondence-from light entertainments to pure vitriol, with the fascination of an evolutionary timeline. Thurber "never allowed language to stand still," writes the tireless Thurber-phile Kinney (James Thurber, 1995), and readers of these letters, written in language that jumps, are invited into Thurber's head to witness the changes in the man that came with the years-from fusspot to peeve to curmudgeon-and the steadiness of his convictions to romanticism ("the blow that cools James is the Hope that Spouts eternal about the One Girl"), brevity ("getting the atmosphere of the style to fit . . . takes . . . longer than to make a Manhattan, about as long as to make a Martini"), and his writing, which he defended. As he wrote to an editor at the New York Times Book Review: "I rarely use the ugly word 'grew' and I have changed it back to 'was'. This is not only good English, it is the way I write, and this is my piece." Thurber's words frequently snap like dangerous teeth: "Why shouldn't I be sarcastic if I wish? Do you think it is a simple matter to give one's whole heart away," he writes to an unrequited love. And editors at the New Yorker got bitten time and again: "I must object to a recent manifestation of the hyper-precisionists on your magazine." Then there are the many letters that serve to lift the spirits in their cheer and humor-to his daughter, fellow writers, friends, family-and those that chart his health or the life of a relationship, particularly that with the E.B. Whites or, more particular still, with Katherine White, to whom he goes from writing, "don't worry about having to edit my stuff. . . . I'm not worrying" to "the results . . . were littleshort of complete disaster." Like sampler chocolates: it's possible to consume in one sitting, which says much about its quality, considering its length. (Illustrations)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.64(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.71(d)

Meet the Author

Harrison Kinney is the author of James Thurber: His Life and Times, published by Henry Holt in 1995. A reporter for The New Yorker from 1949 to 1954, he is also the author of another book of nonfiction, a novel, and two children's books. His writing has appeared in many publications. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom and Surprising Life of James Thurber 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didnt enjoy it a lot. I was going to read it for a school paper. It didnt help that much
AnneMMFeltz More than 1 year ago
I would like to see you put all off his works on ebook my hard copies are disintegrating .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought the ebook version for nook. There is an annoying glitch that always returns me to the title page when I reopen the book. The nook is supposed to return me to where I left off reading. It does so for every book I have except this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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