In response to:
A Version of Pastoral from the March 23, 2006 issue
To the Editors:
In his review of John McGahern’s All Will Be Well: A Memoir [NYR, March 23] Denis Donoghue points out that when this book was published last year in England it was simply titled Memoir. Donoghue suggests that “the change must have some point,” and states that “the new title has as its immediate source the passage in Little Gidding in which T.S. Eliot writes: ‘And all shall be well and/All manner of thing shall be well.'”
This source identification is ingenious, but incorrect. The more immediate source is, surely, the letter from McGahern’s terminally ill mother to his father, which ends, “I place my trust in God knowing all will be well” (emphasis added; see page 84 of All Will Be Well: A Memoir). This letter is characteristic of the piety, self-possession, and graceful readiness to reassure others that distinguish McGahern’s mother, the figure at the center, and heart, of this book. It is appropriate that her words were used for the title when it was published here. The only drawback is that it suggests a more positive and optimistic account of life than is found in this disturbing, yet quietly and profoundly moving, memoir.
New York City
November 16, 2006