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Pique

In response to:

Betrayals from the April 6, 1972 issue

To the Editors:

I am more than a little puzzled by Michael Wood’s review of my book in the April 6 New York Review. As intelligent a critic as he appears to be must know that Balzac, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Dumas (father and son), and many other writers are guilty of doing what I have done; that is, incorporating old work into new. Shakespeare went even further. He lifted plot and character wholesale from another’s work. Yet we hardly accuse these writers of fraud.

Over sixteen years ago, my biography Modjeska was published in a small edition by a little-known publishing house. It received very few reviews and a tiny sale. I myself bought most of the first and only printing. This book has now been out-of-print for sixteen years and I control all the rights to it.

In writing An Orange Full of Dreams I did indeed use some sections of Modjeska as well as parts of an unproduced play Greta which shared emotional similarity to the career of the principal character of the book. I interwove realistic passages with romantic ones, and the literary style of the nineteenth century with that of the twentieth century. I mixed tenses and I mixed dialogues. I played the psychology of normal people off the pathology of unbalanced ones. In such a way, I tried to fashion a surrealistic novel about the creative spirit of a great actress.

The manuscript was given to a few important critics whose opinion I respect. They gave me an extremely flattering appraisal. After such positive encouragement, I submitted the manuscript to the publisher. The book was accepted and published on January 17, 1972.

I am always reworking the text of my manuscripts and even revising my published works. The fictional characters in my work are in a continuous state of evolution and development. I am never content with them. They do not present themselves the way I should like to see them. My Modjeska, if someone knows her real life, is also practically fiction. She was reincarnated in An Orange Full of Dreams, and, after much work, An Orange Full of Dreams is nearer to the kind of literary effect I desire.

Although I would hardly wish to compare my literary achievements with Yeats’s, my attitudes toward my published work as well as my methods of selection of material are similar in certain respects. Time and time again, Yeats, dissatisfied with the original printed versions, withdrew them to rework and then resubmitted old poems with new lines, and new poems with old lines. So did Thomas Wolfe. Was he a fraud?

Anyway I am surprised that the central thrust of Mr. Wood’s attack is not the work itself, but rather its sources, which are, after all, 100 percent my own. I am mystified, then, as to what his pique has to do with literary criticism. The job of a critic is to judge a work on its merits. It is his privilege to like it, dislike it, or ignore it. To accuse someone of fraud, on the other hand, is a criminal offense. A sincere apology is in order.

Antoni Gronowicz

New York City

Michael Wood replies:

I’m sorry if I sounded piqued when in fact I was amused. Of course I was not seriously accusing Mr. Gronowicz of actual fraud, since I knew the material he was rehashing was his own, and said so in my review. My mistake, then, was to attribute to Mr. Gronowicz a more playful imagination than he turns out to possess, and if that is offensive, I do apologize. An Orange Full of Dreams itself is perfectly insignificant, pace the important critics who thought otherwise, and I do agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Gronowicz about one thing: I wouldn’t want to compare his literary achievements with those of Yeats either.

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