restricted access CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Extreme Outer Edge of Endeavour 1966–1967

From: JG Farrell

Cork University Press colophon
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The sea – once more – as catalyst. Harkness Fellows had to cross the Atlantic by ship and embark on the understanding that no early return would be sanctioned, short of an emergency. The psychological leap of emigration was believed to create fresh attitudes of mind. Jim was resistant to manipulation and doggedly European in perspective. He evaluated the other passengers as Stolidly Dutch or Annoyingly American, the standard of food as below that of a workman’s café in the Portobello Road, and toyed quite seriously with the notion of being back by Christmas. It was the $100 of spending money pressed upon him on arrival that achieved the desired outlook. ‘I shall hope to startle American Express with the enormous efficiency with which I shall try to handle their correspondence,’ he resolved in the Abbey Victoria Hotel on 7th Avenue and 51st Street, where the fifty-four assorted Fellows were initially put up. Harkness House, the fount of munificence, was a beautiful brownstone on the corner of 5th Avenue and 75th Street, entered through a Tuscan portico at the side, and Jim showed up for the introductory dinner impressed by the contrast with his only other visit to New York. By the following year he would be irreverent enough to claim to a newcomer that he had peed in the majestic fireplace , but in a tone of such self-mockery that he was in no danger of being believed. The original Harkness fortune had been made with Standard Oil, and Jim’s knowledge of John D. Rockefeller’s business practices clashed silently with the Ivy League atmosphere that prevailed . Martha English, who was responsible for his welfare, congratulated him upon being the only writer to be selected, and John B. Fox, his chief liaison link, turned out to be literary-minded and reticently benign. ‘The richness was the people you met,’ an awed English contemporary observed. ‘It was the first time I was CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Extreme Outer Edge of Endeavour 1966–1967 193 clubbed together with dancers, artists and poets, as well as rising stars in science and business, and I felt special – privileged. These were the most prestigious awards of all.’ The elevated beginning was tailor-made for bathos, the style to which Jim naturally inclined. A two-hour train journey from Penn Station took him to New Haven in Connecticut, where the accommodation he selected for his stint at Yale was Apt 3, 173 Park Street, within walking distance of the Drama School, and the cheapest he could find. His financial bonanza of $350 a month, on top of the liberal books and travel allowance, car hire, health cover and paid-up fees, had to be marshalled as scrupulously as time itself if he was to obtain the maximum tenure in which to write. ‘I’ve found myself buying sheets and a blanket for the first time in my life,’ he noted sardonically. ‘I feel sure this is in some way symbolic of my decline.’ Gallon jars of Californian burgundy from the local liquor store, a telephone and a $50 typewriter completed the basic preparations. The typewriter, pleasingly, was a bargain compared to English prices, and the Hermes ‘Rocket’ which he chose was the same model as the Hermes ‘Baby’ marketed in London; the psychology behind the different names amused him. New Haven struck him as provincial and architecturally gloomy, with only two bookshops deserving of the name, and drip-dry shirts and polyester suits on display in Macy’s windows. His portable radio drew a blank on classical music stations, instead proffering rock and repetitive ‘ads’, and to see the latest films involved an eight-mile round trip to a movie supermarket in Orange. ‘Saw Khartoum last night and liked it,’ he wrote to Brian Knox Peebles, nostalgic for London. ‘Also read The Millstone, which I thought very good indeed . . . What news of Caute? I saw that his book got a bad review in the two papers I read in England. I have the feeling it went down better over here though . . . The slightly peculiar style of this letter is the result of reading Robinson Crusoe all night. Infantalism is setting in.’ The theme of David Caute’s new book, The Left in Europe since 1789, highlighted the isolation he himself was in; too late he would discover that Caute had been almost on his doorstep, as Visiting Professor at New York University and Columbia. Solitary, disapproving , Jim mooched about New Haven. After a while...


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