You Can Look It Up

R. Veness, reply by Gore Vidal

To the Editors:

While I hesitate to take issue with so eminent a writer, I must point out that Gore Vidal [“Everything Is Yesterday,” NYR, February 28] is mistaken in thinking that New Harmony was founded by Robert Dale Owen. In 1824 Robert Dale’s father, Robert Owen, purchased Harmonie from the Rappists, who had founded it, after moving from Pennsylvania, in 1815. Robert Owen renamed it New Harmony. It really isn’t surprising that neither Owen had taken to heart The Blythedale Romance given that it was first published in 1852.

Intrigued by the command to look up “halcyon” and “avatar” in the dictionary, I did so. The definitions in the Oxford Dictionary agree with what I have always understood the words to mean. If well-paid journalists have been misusing them for years, I have been misunderstanding the intended meaning. I wonder what that could have been?

R. Veness
Hastings, East Sussex

Gore Vidal replies:

I must confess that I have never had very much interest in the Owens, father and son, other than their connection with Grace Zaring Stone, a descendant who was much fêted by Italian Communists for her brio as well as ancestral links with American communal living. I am thrilled to learn that Mr. (Miss? Ms?) Veness finds that the definitions in the OED “agree with what I have always understood the words to mean.” Now we need to know what, dear sir or madam, you have always understood.