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The Shock of Recognition

In response to:

A Lost World from the December 18, 1997 issue

To the Editors:

Gore Vidal’s account of the meeting of Edmund Wilson and Isabel Bolton [NYR, December 18, 1997] was ingenious, but fanciful. His intuition that there was a meeting was uncannily correct, and in the dream world of Jamesian fiction it would have happened much as he described it, with Wilson fainting into the figure in the carpet. In the real world, the pseudonymous Isabel Bolton did not wish to reveal herself as Mary Britton Miller, perhaps because the illegitimate birth described in her novel was too close to the truth and she was already the black sheep of the high and mighty clan she came from. But after Wilson’s repeated importuning to her editor, John Hall Wheelock, for a meeting, she did consent to meet him on a bench in Central Park. On approaching the bench at the appointed hour Wilson saw, instead of Isabel Bolton, the lovely creature of his fantasies, a dignified, elderly Mary Britton Miller, and experienced the shock Vidal so perceptively describes. But rather than fainting into the carpet, he masked his disappointment as best he could, though it was clear to the sharp eye of the lady who ever after regaled her friends with the story.

Edward Field
Tobias Schneebaum

New York City
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