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Modem Fidelity Janet Carey Eldred In Tomorrow one voice doesfor all. But it is a little unsure of itself; it keeps testing itself. —E. B. White, "The World ofTomorrow," 1939 I Not the least fascinating part of The New Yorker is the obsessive interest it breeds in its own history. Some former staffer, it seems, is always reminiscing about the magazine's golden days, promising to reveal some secret about its inner workings, or, more frequently, some piece of gossip about its high-profile editors and writers. Although I live now, and have always lived, in places decidedly removed from NewYork City I confess that I am one of those who eagerly awaits the newest offering from The New Yorker memoir industry. For scholarly purposes, of course. It's difficult to conceive of the essay's place in the literature of the twentieth-century United States without recognizing the magazine's profound influence. And the more I read, the more I'm convinced that the essay as we know it owes much to the love affair started between E. B.White and Katharine SargeantAngeU sometime in the late '20s. Katharine, who joined Harold Ross's editorial team almost at The NewYorker's inception, first met E. B. or "Andy"White when she extended an invitation for him to change his status from freelance contributor to permanent staffwriter. EventuaUy, their workplace relationship grew into a love affair, and, as with most great Western romances, it began as an adulterous one. In the summer of 1928, Katharine Sargeant AngeU traveled with her first husband to France, where, as she had planned, she consummated her first and only adulterous affair. After the time in France, Katharine returned to her husband briefly, but tiring of his repeated indiscreet infideUties, she 55 56Fourth Genre left him. Because her husband refused to grant her the customary fuU custody ofher chüdren, she also effectively left them. Shortly after her divorce in 1929, she married the younger Andy White, and thereafter denied that their affair ever occurred. Both Katharine and Andy were thoroughly modern, though in different ways. His preoccupation was, as he described in a 1936 letter to his wife, with machines that "are simply lying in wait for aU of us." Although the theme of encroaching technology influences most of his best work, including his often reprinted"Once More to the Lake" (which he wrote during his five-year interlude at Harper's), it is perhaps most visible in his disconcerting review of the 1939World's Fair, where he doubts and resists a technology-driven view ofthe future and, Robert Frost-like, laments the loss of rural pleasures. It's hard to imagine what a resurrected AndyWhite would think of a fiflly technologized U.S. society as it moves into die next mülennium. Horror comes to mind. But my guess is thatWhite and other crusty early moderns would feel almost fresh again with aU our scary millennial talk of disintegrating family values and scientific disasters. The technology of the new mülennium—warp speed, compact volumes (how much data can we fit on the head of a pin?)—carries the worry of its Achilles code, its alarming default set to loose a chaotic flow of information or make it disappear entirely with one trip ofa binary. Presumably such technology has begotten an instability unknown to previous generations, a new millennial post-modernism. Post-modernism squared, if you wfll. But despite aU the talk and media hype, modernism is stiU very much with us. If E. B. White predicted accurately one facet of the future, it is this:Tomorrow's voice does indeed seem singular and unsure, testing itself over and over again. Perhaps nothing reveals this better than the increased interest in memoir ofthe late 1990s. Katharine's modern ideas, although no less emblematic, differed from her husband's. She demanded fidelity in a partner and wedded herself to an engrossing career. She was wilUng to sacrifice fuU control of her children's care to secure such fidefity. This trend—women forsaking their traditional roles, entering the workplace—worried herVictorian father, who urged her to stay with her husband, to keep the appearance ofmarriage...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 55-69
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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