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The Binghams

In response to:

Breaking Up from the April 28, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

I am writing to protest a misconception which your reviewer, Nicholas Lemann, expressed in his recent review of House of Dreams: The Bingham Family of Louisville by Marie Brenner [NYR, April 28].

Lemann states that a substantial portion of Marie Brenner’s book is based on my perceptions or conclusions about the Bingham family’s behavior: “Brenner has artfully incorporated a good deal of Sallie’s analysis of the family into her book…”

I have attempted in vain to persuade Random House to make it clear in their advertising that Marie Brenner only interviewed me for one hour and a half at a time when she was in Louisville to write an article for Vanity Fair. Since she did not at the time reveal to me that she was in the process of negotiating for a book contract, I felt that it was not in my best interest to continue to talk to her. It is very painful for me to find that her conclusions, with which I disagree, are assumed to be mine. They are indeed only Marie Brenner’s.

I also would like to point out that David Chandler’s book, The Binghams of Louisville, was hardly “one of Sallie’s projects.” David Chandler had begun this book independently of me. It sprang from his earlier book on Henry Flagler.

I feel it is important to make it clear that Lemann’s conclusions, like Marie Brenner’s, have nothing to do with either my statements, my feelings, or my ideas about what happened to the Bingham family. My own book will be published next winter by Alfred Knopf.

Sallie Bingham

Prospect, Kentucky

Nicholas Lemann replies:

Sallie Bingham has misrepresented what I said in my review. I did not say “that a substantial portion of Marie Brenner’s book is based on [Ms. Bingham’s] perceptions or conclusions about the Bingham family’s behavior.” I also did not call David Chandler’s book “one of Sallie’s projects.”

In the first case, Ms. Bingham makes a too-great leap when she concludes that the line from my review that she quotes—where I say that Brenner “artfully incorporated a good deal of Sallie’s analysis of the family into her book”—implies that there had been a long series of interviews between Ms. Bingham and Brenner that became the basis for a substantial portion of the book. A reporter can get someone’s basic analysis of a situation from one long interview, and anyway, Ms. Bingham has made her views about her family abundantly available even to people who have never interviewed her at all, through the article she wrote in Ms. magazine in 1986 and through her quotes in articles about the Binghams in other publications and on television. If Ms. Bingham wanted to keep her thoughts about the family a mystery until her own book came out, she should have kept a lower profile at the time that the Bingham papers were sold.

In the second case, what I said was, “One of Sallie’s projects has been to revive the Mary Lily Bingham scandal…. She has set up a Mary Lily Bingham Trust Fund, and she strongly encouraged David Chandler.” This is quite different from saying that the book itself was one of her projects. Ms. Bingham did encourage Chandler. She is the first person he thanks in his acknowledgments (he writes, “the assistance and courtesies began in the summer of 1984 with Sallie Bingham, granddaughter of Judge Robert Worth Bingham, who shared information, scrapbooks, family tales, and photographs”). When the original publisher of the Chandler book, Macmillan, canceled it under pressure from Barry Bingham, Sr., Sallie Bingham sent a scorching letter to several book review editors and to the ACLU, and her accusations of censorship against her father were extensively covered in the press. For her to say now that “David Chandler had begun this book independently of me” in no way refutes what I said about her encouragement of Chandler.

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