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Half-Full Use

In response to:

The Perfectionist from the November 30, 1995 issue

To the Editors:

I have often sympathized with an author obliged to write an editor and begin by saying how pleased the author is with a favorable review, but…. I am now in the situation myself.

In a review article of William Morris, under a head suggesting it is a review of Fiona MacCarthy’s William Morris: A Life for Our Time and Volumes III and IV of The Collected Letters [NYR, November 30, 1995], Richard Dorment does indeed refer to “Kelvin’s magnificent edition of the correspondence.” He also writes however that Fiona MacCarthy is the first biographer of Morris “to have had access to all four volumes of Morris’s letters.” Coupled with the headnote’s billing of Volumes III and IV as “forthcoming” (true) the quoted words suggest that Ms. MacCarthy consulted III and IV before they were even in page proofs, an impression that will be even stronger in England where her biography was issued nearly a year ago by Faber and Faber.

Fiona MacCarthy never asked to see Volumes III and IV of the Letters and has still to see them. In her book she generously praises the already published volumes and graciously speaks of her debt to them. But as her biography—indeed a splendid book—makes abundantly clear, she is a fine research scholar in her own right. Her references to late letters are the result of her own archival research. It was inevitable that she would come upon and use some of the same materials I did.

I am sure Ms. MacCarthy will want as much as I do to have the error corrected. I feel equally certain that when she does see Volumes III and IV, issued by Princeton in January, she will be the first to say they encompass much more material relating to 1889–1896 than her own book was able to use. This was of necessity, since Ms. MacCarthy deals with Morris’s last years in a book that covers his entire life, while the annotated letters of the same years require the 1,000 pages that comprise Volumes III and IV.

Norman Kelvin
New York City

Richard Dorment replies:

In the introduction to her biography of William Morris Fiona MacCarthy writes: “We do at least have easy access to his letters, in the…edition of Professor Norman Kelvin of New York City College and University has been amassing since 1965. I am, I think, the first biographer of Morris to have made full use of this resource.” Since the typescripts of Kelvin’s Volumes III and IV were available for review at the time her biography was published in England, and since Volume III is cited in the bibliography as “in preparation” it was not clear to me that the phrase “full use” referred only to Volumes I and II. Sorry for the error.

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