William Styron to Norman Mailer: Two Letters

styron_1-102512.jpg
Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty Images
Rose Styron, Bill Styron, Norman Mailer, and Norris Church Mailer at the party for the tenth anniversary of Poets & Writers, New York City, 1980

Of the following two letters from Bill Styron to Norman Mailer, the first, dated March 4, 1953, was in response to Mailer’s fan letter about The Long March, Bill’s novella published in Volume 1 of Discovery, edited by Vance Bourjaily, in which Norman also had a piece.

Recently reading this letter—Bill had written it at the American Academy in Rome, where he was its first novelist fellow—I was intrigued, and a bit dismayed by Bill’s comments on James Jones as a writer.

Intrigued, because Bill had spoken so often of his good times in New York with Mailer and Jones, three World War II soldiers and newly successful novelists in 1951. They were all close, but after the Mailers joined the Styrons in Connecticut in 1956, Bill and Norman fell out and didn’t speak for decades.

Bill and Jim—and soon Gloria and I—became inseparable friends: we visited annually in their Paris apartment, traveled together in Europe and to Haiti (the famous Hotel Olafson), and shared holidays in Connecticut, Martha’s Vineyard, and Long Island for at least eighteen years until Jim died. Bill loved Jim and valued his later work highly, especially The Thin Red Line. I was surprised by his assessment of the author of From Here to Eternity, because Bill wrote a brilliant introduction for a later edition of the book.

Norman’s letter of March 3, 1953 (which was published in full in these pages on February 26, 2009) must have encouraged the self-doubting Bill, since he called The Long March “certainly as good an 80 pages as any American has written since the war and I really think it’s much more than that. You watch. It’s going to last and last and last.” He goes on to say that it is almost as “marvelous” as Heart of Darkness, of which it reminded him. His one “humble criticism,” which Bill refers to in his reply: “your tendency…to invert your story and manner your prose just slightly might come from a certain covert doubt of your strengths as a writer, and you’re too good to doubt yourself.”

—Rose Styron

March 4, 1953
Rome, Italy1

Dear Norman:

Your letter, of course, certainly flattered me—elated me, indeed, about as much, or more, as any compliment I’ve ever received, and we won’t turn this into a mutual admiration society by my wondering if you know how much or often certain shades and nuances from Naked have crept into, from time to time, my own work. However, they have, much and often—I don’t know how visibly—and we’ll let it go at that.

I appreciate, too, your comments concerning certain things which I do to my prose every now and then which seem to reveal that I don’t know how…



This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Subscription — $79.95

Purchase a print subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all articles published within the last five years.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.

Copyright ©2012 by Rose Styron