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Where’s Mama?

In response to:

The Outlaw from the April 6, 1978 issue

To the Editors:

Reviewing Dylan Thomas: A Biography by Paul Ferris (NYR, April 6), Karl Miller writes: “In recent years, Houdini has been imagined as an escaper who could not escape from his mother, and the early poems of Dylan Thomas can be imagined as the dark, secret verse of the romantic victim, alone with his senses, and with his dreams of a mother and of his death. The predicament is summarized in his story ‘One Warm Saturday.’…”

Professor Miller is, of course, wholly entitled to his opinion. But in imparting it to the world, why stray so far from the facts? No matter how one stretches Freud, one cannot find a pursuing mother or escaping son in this story without distorting its meaning beyond recognition. The young man in the story is entranced by an erotic image of a woman who may be a prostitute—that is never made clear—but who is certainly not his mother (“Though her frock was long and the collar high, she could as well be naked there on the blistered bench. Her smile confessed her body bare and spotless and willing and warm under the cotton…”). The fact is that he pursues her, not she him, as Professor Miller implies. And it isn’t so much that he can’t find his way back to the room—the room simply doesn’t exist, like so much else in the story that appears and then vanishes, and we are left uncertain about what is real and what is hallucination for the drunken young hero.

Perhaps Dylan Thomas was a kind of magician, but there is no sense in pushing the comparison too far.

Leo Hamalian

Department of English

The City College of CUNY

New York City

Karl Miller replies:

I do find a son in the story. I had in mind that the writer of the story is a pursuer who pursues a form of comforting death which he is unable to attain, and that some pursuits may be a form of escape. These are deep waters, and I was trying to be tentative. No doubt more should have been said, or less. I was pleased to see that, in writing to object, Professor Hamalian was able to confine himself to the statutory minimum of insulting sarcasm.

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