I met Glenway Wescott in the fall of 1970. Richard Howard and I were spending a weekend with Coburn Britton, the founding editor of Prose, a thick, beautifully produced “little” magazine that was publishing reminiscences and meditations by Wescott. “Coby” had an old apple farm in New Jersey where we were staying, not far from Haymeadows, where the whole Wescott clan was living. Glenway’s handsome brother Lloyd had married a banking heiress, Barbara Harrison, and they’d bought the property. Lloyd and Barbara were in one house; Glenway was in another with his lover, Monroe Wheeler. Glenway and Lloyd’s parents lived in yet another house. There were cooks and farmhands everywhere, though the atmosphere was casual and friendly.
In those days I was a resentful young man since I was very poor and though I’d written several books I hadn’t managed to get any of them published. Richard Howard had already won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and had translated dozens of the most important modern books in French. Coby was rich from his Cleveland industrial family and in the winter lived in a house on St. Luke’s Place in New York City. Although the Wescotts had started out as subsistence-level farmers in Wisconsin, they now lived in luxury, thanks to Barbara’s generosity. Glenway was nearly seventy but still tall and handsome and tweedy and celebrated in his own elite world. He was perhaps best known for his novella The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story, which was sometimes ranked as one of the best American short novels along with William Faulkner’s The Bear, Katherine Anne Porter’s Noon Wine, Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.
When I met him I hadn’t yet read anything by him and he struck me as intolerably urbane and amiable, someone who had lived in France for ages and who had dashed off a few books but then fallen into a silence that had already lasted decades and that was broken only by occasional belletristic essays. He seemed most concerned with his social schedule and his activities connected with the National Institute of Arts and Letters (now called the American Academy of Arts and Letters), where he was an officer for years. He entertained foreign writers at his East Side apartment. He might have lectured on topics such as “Whither the Novel?” Everything I loathed. He wasn’t a real writer—he was a clubwoman! Moreover, though he’d touched on homosexuality as a theme he was pretty much in the closet in his published work, I gathered.
A bad first impression, perhaps all the worse because I could see myself giving up writing before I’d even started and substituting committee work for painful hours at my desk, though I supposed you had to publish something before you could retire. He had …