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Max Wylie claims it was he who spurred Boulton into writing Part of a Long Story. He first wrote to her on October 9, 1956, with the extraordinary line, “You seem to be the hero of a novel I am writing.”39 Twelve years younger than Agnes, Wylie was born in Massachusetts in 1904 but lived part of his boyhood in New Jersey. His mother wrote best sellers in the 1920s, and his older brother, Philip, wrote many best sellers, including A Generation of Vipers (1942), his acclaimed excoriation of American hypocrisy, particularly the idealization of motherhood or “momism.”40 In 1956, that book had just been released, to a new shriek from the conventionally minded, while Max Wylie was working for NBC, writing humdrum scripts for radio and television. To Agnes, he claimed to have written seven or eight books, including novels and plays, though the real number was considerably lower. By dropping names and tweaking the numbers, he knew how to exaggerate his own importance, but he dearly wanted to write a “big” book, and O’Neill was his grasp on greatness. Since Agnes, of course, knew the commercial-writing game nearly as well as he did, he went on in that first letter to say, referring to the novel he proposed to write, “I would appreciate the chance of relieving you of any possible tensions this disclosure may set up. My purposes are altogether clean; and in order that they can remain so, I am never going to meet Carlotta Monterey.”41 Agnes responded soon afterward, and Wylie came to visit a few days later. When he arrived at Old House in West Point Pleasant, it seemed uninhabited, but the postman assured him he was at the right address. He peered in through a “Judas hole” in the front door and saw the glow of a fire in the kitchen fireplace. Agnes answered his knock on the door and welcomed him into the house, telling him at once that Shane had been conceived in the bed upstairs. She showed him the house, which he says was stripped of all furnishings. Wylie had heard about Shane’s addiction, but he reports that Agnes proceeded to explain that Shane, during the time when she and Mac were in Mexico, had taken everything out of the house to sell.42 He says, the house, “now desolate and conspicuously raped,” had still one extraordinary treasure, “a huge, untidy heap of letters tossed into the corner of what had been a guest bedroom.” She claimed, again according to Wylie, that the letters had remained there, untouched, since 1928. They each grabbed a handful of letters and took them down to the kitchen to read.43 Two writers of pulp fiction, each with an eye to a good story, addressed the naked reality of historical documents, documents of 224 • Another Part of a Long Story “A Great Hush of Non-Being” • 225 a coupling (and an uncoupling), and the results were two: Part of a Long Story (1958) and Trouble in the Flesh (1959). Wylie told the marvelous story of this amazing cache of documents and the writer/guardian of this trove to his editor at Doubleday, Lee Barker, adding that Agnes had said to him, “I’ll tell you anything and I mean anything that you want to know. I’m very detached and objective and impersonal.”44 Wylie writes that his “primary interest was protective.”45 To keep the valuable correspondence from being sold off by Shane, he would seek, on her behalf, a suitable buyer for the manuscripts, and he assured her they would get an excellent price. By the end of 1956, within two months of his meeting Agnes, Wylie had Harvard interested in the manuscripts and willing to make an offer. Furthermore, he had the idea that he would edit a book of the letters, and so he would protect the literary legacy in them for her. (He did ask for a fifty-fifty cut of any grant he might obtain for the “protection, copying, etc.” of the manuscripts, claiming, “I’m about as broke as you are.”46 ) He also sneered at the work of the Gelbs, particularly the “adhesive” and “pertinacious” Barbara Gelb, and played on what he presumed to be Agnes’s hatred for Carlotta by spreading ugly rumors of her.47 He tried to give the impression that he was, by far, better connected to the inside world of American high culture than anyone...


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MARC Record
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