“Asleep a King” — Eleanor Clark

“Asleep a King” —


Eleanor Clark, whose elegant and satirical story, “Hurry, Hurry” was published by Partisan Review, Vol. IV, NO. 2 1938, also contributed a story to  Vol. IV, No. 6, May, 1938, “Asleep a King.”  I am reprinting here my blog post about Eleanor Clark , “Hurry Hurry” that I posted on 17 January, 2017. I am hoping you will read or re-read it, to remind you of her earlier story and of her place in the Partisan Review and the Vassar Girl scenes in the 1930s:  Then I go on to write about “Asleep A King.”

Mary McCarthy wasn’t the only Vassar girl from the graduating classes of the early 1930s who got involved with Partisan Review.    You may recall that Philip Rahv married Nathalie Swan —  Some said that Rahv married Swan on the rebound from McCarthy, when she left him for Edmund Wilson. Swan was one of the literary  crowd on the Vassar campus, and became an architect, having spent time studying at the Bauhaus. Later she (or some aspects of her) appeared in the sophisticated lesbian, Lakey, at the end of The Group, returning to New York  from her Europeanisation.  Elizabeth Bishop, another Vassar girl involved in the literary coterie that included McCarthy,  was published by Partisan Review,  and the story “Hurry, Hurry,” that follows  Morris’s “Art  Chronicle” on Arp,  was written by  a witty Vassar Left Intellectual and writer, Eleanor Clark. When McCarthy became part of the posh-girl group that lived in the South Tower on the Vassar Campus, she was also becoming involved with the Clark sisters.

Eleanor and her sister,Eunice, were active in politics at Vassar, before McCarthy had found herself a leftist Trotskyist,  and just about the time that McCarthy first knew of Trotsky, Eleanor had gone with Trotsky’s entourage into exile in Mexico in 1937  after he had been expelled from Norway  in 1936, during the first set of the Moscow show trials. She married Jan Frankel,Trotsky’s secretary, to help confirm his immigration status.

Jan Frankel, at right of photo

The Clark girls had worked together on a ‘rebel’ College magazine,  ‘Con Spirito,’ suggesting both their brio  and their clandestine atmospheric.  In Mccarthy’s The Group, Norine, who may have been modelled on the Clark sisters, says of McCarthy’s South Tower crowd: “You people were the aesthetes. We were the politicals. Your crowd was sterile. But God, I used to envy you. Poise, Social Savy. Looks. We called you the Ivory Tower Group. Aloof from the battle.”  That at least is what McCarthy figured (or hoped) the Clarks might have thought of her.

But years later, Eleanor Clark told the biographer Frances Kiernan: “I didn’t like Mary. I never liked her. My sister Eunice knew her a lot better, and for her pains and I must say in some cases extraordinary generosity, she got kicked in the teeth. In The Group she got pilloried along with everyone else.

I don’t know when Eleanor Clark  wrote the story, “Hurry, Hurry.” But it is a marvellous combination of the absurd and the surreal, written with the wit and metropolitan confidence characteristic  of a Dorothy Parker story in The New Yorker.  

At the same time, it is a fable of the hollowness of bourgeois society — its cultural conformity, pomposity, self importance, and the voice is that of one of the younger generation.  It is a girl’s voice that is both satirical and embarrassed by her complicity in the world of her mother.

The narrative is a sang-froid description of A BEAUTIFUL JUNE DAY’ — the day the narrator’s mother’s house falls down. Thrust immediately into the fact of the fallen house, we learn that the household dog, a French poodle named  ‘de Maupassant,’ hadn’t noticed anything in advance. The mother adores the dog — “SHE LOVED THE ARISTOCRACY OF HIM, THE WAY HE TOSSED HIS LUXURIOUS BLACK MANE….” But the mother had spoiled the poodle:IN THE END HE WAS INCAPABLE OF SERIOUS THOUGHT AND MUST HAVE PLAYED OR SLEPT THROUGH THE ENTIRE CATASTROPHE.”  The falling down house is ignored by the narrator herself. “I WAS NOT INTERESTED. INSTEAD,  “I SPENT THE ENTIRE TIME  — TWO OR THREE HOURS IT MUST HAVE BEEN — UNDER A MAPLE TREE, AND RESCUED NOTHING BUT ONE SILVER-BACKED HAND MIRROR.   As the building falls in this slow motion ruination, neighbours gather on the lawn now strewn with the contents of the house,drink cocktails and offer comments and useless advice.


The narrator’s insouciance becomes even more extreme as her mother becomes more brittlely hysterical. What makes the story work is the way Clark turns the humour of the surrealized fall of the house inside out like a mobius strip as it becomes a scorching scene of human horror. The mother sends a maimed servant, Myrtle,  into the house to bring out a family heirloom, in the course of which impossible task, Myrtle is beaten with wood switches, breaks her back while carrying the monstrous ‘highboy’ she was sent to bring out, while all the neighborhood ladies are shouting, “HURRY UP MYRTLE, HURRY UP, HURRY UP” until she can only be seen between windows as a wall crashes into her — and “SHE FELL WITH HER TORN-OFF WRISTS LIFTED UP IN PRAYER.”  

The poodle makes its way up to the mother’s bedroom, and she cries out to him, “MOPPY! MOPPY!”, MY MOTHER CRIED,  ‘DID YOU THINK YOUR MOTHER HAD FORGOTTEN YOU? OH MOPPY YOU DID!?


I wonder what Dwight McDonald thought about the story — was it too slick for him? Or did it conform too much to his ideas of New Yorker ideology?  Anyone reading this know?

Here is the link to read the story itself on the BU onlinePartisan Review site: p.35ff. click here Hurry Hurry

Eleanor Clark later wrote well- received travel books, one of which won the National Book Award — The Oysters of Locmariaquer (1964),a study of a French community of  Oyster farmers —  and she married the poet Robert Penn Warren. She remained a beautiful and witty woman all her life:

aging-eleanor Eleanor Clark’s later beauty.

So now — ‘Asleep a King’– Clark’s second contribution to PR  is a companionable fiction to Max Brod’s discussion of Franz Kafka. The Brod piece brings European  anxieties and fears into the more stable milieu of Partisan Review; Clark’s story domesticates that disquiet: a working class family somewhere  in America – certainly not in New York – where the mother takes in laundry in order to support her two luckless sons, and a set of futures that won’t pan out. Mrs. Bradley’s frustration and her endless toil on other people’s sheets and pillow cases casts a pale white shadow over all their lives.  One son, David,  was meant to be a musician but gave it up and instead returned home to live, fecklessly, off his mother’s earnings.  The other son, Mark, has been wounded or fallen ill, and has been tended to by an angel of mercy sweet nurse, and they fall in love.

But we understand right from the first paragraph that Mark is in a shadowland himself, and he floats above the facts and duties that constitute his daily life now, a year on from his time in the hospital. He is about to marry his nurse, Joan, who will be the new Mrs. Bradley, superceding Mark’s mother, and the couple will live in a small white house. “He was going to move his life across the road.”  And his being in the pale shadows shuts him out from the colours of spring, of life: “June was too much for him. Everything heaving into flower; girls swinging along the state road hand in hand; women dragging their bright colours out of trunks and rushing somewhere, anywhere, to meet.. . Everyone but Mark, it seemed, had some secret understanding with the month of June.” 

The story feels like it is going down the path of the New Masses, or trailing Dos Passos, with the ennui of the Depression and the mystery of personal identity drowning its central character. Mark is a sleepwalker, and Joan, his nurse-bride is swathed in illusions of married life — she is as detached from what is happening as he is –by way of her focus on this thing about to happen – – this marriage.  She is surrounded by the objects bought to turn the small white house into a place to be alive. Unlike Mark, “She was not tired, had not trouble being alive, had never hidden a pistol in her bureau drawer. She had brought armfuls of packages from Millboro and in sole rapture was pulling their broken paper off, like a child. And when all her toys were hung up around her that would be her house, to live in, as if it could never be torn down.”  

They each have their secrets: his is the crisis of being; her’s is that she is not a virgin. He leaves the house, drives away, and shoots himself. She breaks out of her inarticulacy for a few moments: “Love this is my true self, my arms, my voice. Be silent, listen to my voice, believe in me. This is our own country, here. Here! Reaches his deep-shadowed arms, rising, singing of crickets in the June night, and now blood, look! streams down the sky. We have been betrayed.”

But in the morning she awoke to new sounds, rose and went out from their home, slowly, into the sun.

Its a good story and redolent with the sense of disturbance and anticipation that characterises a lot of the writings in PR in that long year of 1937-1938.

Here is the link so you can read it.:





Kafka / Brod — Vol IV, No.6, May, 1938

Delmore Schwartz: "Philip Rahv thinks that in The Trial it is death itself which is the justice — unfathomable or irrational — which has come for Joseph K." (Diary, 1951).


In the first issue of Partisan Review is a review by F.W. Dupee, of Kafka's The Trial, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, and published  by the prestigious New York firm of  Alfred A. Knopf in 1937.  And from then on, Kafka became something of a presiding spirit over the imaginary persona of the Partisan Review. Starting with Dupee's  review, between 1937 and 1944,  PR published an essay on Kafka in 1938 by Max Brod, his biographer; between 1939 and 1942, three Kafka short stories; in 1944, "Kafka: A Re-evaluation," by Hannah Arendt; and in 1946, a section from Kafka's diaries.   And there were many more discussions about Kafka through the next four decades of Partisan Review. Arendt looks for what makes Kafka so modern:

"All his admirers …are struck  by something new in his art of story-telling, a quality of modernity which appears nowhere else with the same  intensity and unequivocalness. … " And she goes on to make a case for his simple style as a form of modernism:'Without in any way changing the German Language, he stripped it of its involved constructions until it became clear and simple like everyday speech purified of slang and negligence."

 It was also the case that the  NY Intellectuals wanted their journal to show not only America on the verge of great change, but also a connection to and  yearning for their European connections and origins.  Franz Kafka was Jewish, troubled, and a 'problem' to his father. He died in 1924 at 41 of tuberculosis, with a fairly small oeuvre and a voice that moves between the 'fabulous and the familiar,' as Dupee described it, creating a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity common to both German Expressionism and Modernism.   And what people knew in the late 1930s about Kafka's life and opinions came from his life-long friend, confidant, and executor of his estate, Max Brod.  They met at University when Kafka was 19, and stayed close for the rest of Kafka's life.

Brod introduces the reader to Kafka through the newish technique of psychoanalysis, quoting sections  of a 100 page long “Letter to my Father,” that Kafka told Brod he had sent to his mother to be given to his intimidating father.  Mrs. Kafka returned it, and the apparent guilelessness with which Kafka heaps, almost indifferently, both praise and blame on his father,  shapes the reader's understanding so that we can't help but judge Kafka as a man who is either unbelievably naïve to the point of obliviousness,  or at best intended to be so hostile, that the two would never be able to find a way to a workable father-son relationship. But Brod suggests also Kafka’s self-understanding was more nuanced than Freud’s theories could explain:  "For one thing Franz Kafka was thoroughly familiar with these theories and never regarded them as anything more than a very approximate, rough picture of things. He found that they did not do justice to details or, what is more, to the essence of the conflict."

Like a lot of us, Kafka found his father's parental strength and authority to be both a model and a rebuke. Never good enough, never strong enough, never masculine enough to meet his father's standards (as he arranged them in his head), the letter to his father presents Kafka's fears and hostility in the form of praise, submission, and guilt. Its hard to read and it invites our own rebukes and worse, pity. Brod's own analysis of this is pretty thin:"Must he not have known that between characters so diverse as himself and his father an intimate relationship was simply impossible?"

12403-franz-kafka-max-brod Max Brod and Kafka on the Beach

Brod makes a interesting link between Proust and Kafka,  linking their 'infantilism' to the  family scene. He goes on to list some of their shared qualities: "Their special precision in description, their love of detail, their meticulousness; the obsession of both with the family circle, a similarity of their racial make-up and even in their outwards lives…"  Brod's conclusion is to then match Kafka and Kleist's infantilism.. Kafka, he says, "read Kleist's  letters with special sympathy, underlined passages telling how Kleist's family regarded the poet as 'an utterly useless member of human society, unworthy of further consideration."   Kleist and Kafka,"both describe with the clearest, simplest, most definite words they can possibly find, the most secret, dark and unresolvable things."     

One of the things that attracted PR to European Intellectuals like Chiarmonte and Camus was that those men had been strong active partisans in the struggles against fascism before the United States entered the theatre of war;  but there was also this other intruiging pulse of the wars between two generations of Jewish men in Europe and the USA, between the old Hebraism and the re-styled themes of lostness, alienation, and wandering across the Atlantic, which was almost already a nostalgia for  young jewish intellectuals such as Delmore and Henry, my father, who kept his copies of first American editions of Kafka's works in brown paper  butcher's wrapping over the original covers and held onto them until he died at 93.   As for Jewish daughters and their fathers….well, that's for another day.


Max Brod

Here is the link  to the article:




Thomas Mann, William Phillips, and Man


Mark GreifSome of you may have read or read about Mark Greif’s recent book, The Age of the Crisis of Man (Princeton University Press, 2015). It belongs to what I think of as one of a later generation of New York Intellectuals’s attempts to get the big picture, then give it both a polemical  universalist thrust and a specialist, coterie vocabulary.  In order to do this, though, Greif’s argument has to pass through the theory-years of the later 1960s and 1970s — the years of post-humanism, deconstruction, and those punitive analytical determinisms of Foucauldian genealogy. Greif builds an argument that on the one hand shows that the proliferation of that mid-century question, “What is Man?” was of value only to the extent that it produced thought without conclusions.  And on the other hand, Greif invents a “theoretical” vocabulary to explain the function of  asking questions that elicit no actual answers, but that open up towards as yet uncertain and unknown projects.  I found his book to be just as havering as the books and articles he has read and has declared evasive and not really worth reading.  The study has the air of discovery and excitement about it but it doesn’t explain or aswer anything, except to invent vocabulary to describe books that aren’t really worth their arguments. As Greif writes, “Many of the explicit ‘crisis of man’ books feel empty, frankly. I want to have read them so others don’t have to!”  Scholarly martyrdom is an strange road for an intellectual to take..

Why have I brought up this book here and now?  Mostly because I find its sententious pretentiousness hard to take — a house of cards, say — and I also think it makes a good foil for the piece we are looking at in this post, William Phillips’s discussion essay, “Thomas Mann: Humanism in Exile,”  which was the lead political essay in Partisan Review, Volume IV, No.6, May, 1938. Thomas Mann, 1914 (b/w photo)

Thomas Mann was a liberal anti-fascist hero to his readers and followers, and his experience of exile in California made him an American anti-fascist hero. He had already won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, and had written Death in Venice, Buddenbrooks, and The Magic Mountain by the time he went to the USA in 1939, first to teach at Princeton, and then to move to the Pacific Palisades, near to Los Angeles. He and his family moved back to Europe in 1952.

William Phillips, [who featured in this blog’s post of 13 April, 2017] was, you may recall, Philip Rahv’s partner in editing of Partisan Review.  If you read the post on him, you will see that his colleagues felt that though he was lively and clever and witty in conversation, those fluid graces were never brought to the desk, and this essay is interesting less for Phillips’s argument, than for the way he manages what he calls the contemporary “intellectual crisis.”  He begins:

“Let us not be hypnotised by the drum-beats of progress… by the propaganda of hope. We have heard them before, especially on dark days; and they have come from governments and parties that wish to conceal some perfidy. If so many intellectuals have fallen prey to these deceptions, it is out of desperation; it is because they are ready to seize upon any escape from their terrible fears and doubts. These are the symptoms of intellectual crisis.”  Phillips generalises the idea of the intellectual as betrayed by their own traditions and values:[“the intellectual]’s normal condition, today, seems to be that of a liberal, anti-fascist, etc. Yet it is he who in the name of progress suppresses insurgency, in the name of peace clamours for war, in the name of truth condones lies.”  Against this malaise, Phillips announces the intellectual’s ‘vital function in society’: “to safeguard the dreams and discoveries of science and art, and to champion some political movement insofar as it fulfills the requirement of an intellectual. ideal.”   

Phillips quotes from Mann’s polemical manifesto published in 1937, that “an infamous pragmatism has been set up in the heart of Europe today. It refuses to make distinctions between truth and lies; it denies mind and spirit in favour of interest; it unscrupulously commits or condones crimes if they forward it’s interest– or what it conceives to be so; it shrinks not at all from falsification, rather it calls falsification truth, provided it is useful, in its interpretation of the word……”  (hmmmm….sounds like a fair presentation of the Trumpocracy.)

Phillips starts by praising Mann for his Humanism; and argues against the mechanical apparatus of fascist ideology. It is an early version of the contest between humanism and constructivism,  The language of revolution, of polemical politics, says Mann, “is hopelessly discredited and compromised, it is utterly worn out, having served these the years and more to persuade the herd-minded citizen to think of himself as a revolutionary.”  Phillips wants to argue as well that Mann’s Enlightenment values are saturated with the decay of culture and the end of the figure of the Artist as Saviour.  Phillips tries to write carefully about Mann’s universalist Christianity as if it were a politics and not a slogan of  the Fascist Crusade.

Having given credit, he then argues that Mann is forced to posit the decay of Artist and culture as a function of  his refusal to understand that ‘Science’ is what modernity offers us, and with science comes both knowledge and truth. Central to this is the project of Scientific Socialism, Phillips’ answer to the ‘crisis of the intellectual.’  “The Imagination of modern art bursts through the world-culture of Einstein and Freud and teems with the multitude of ideas and events that fill our days. We dream of socialism, but we do not come empty-handed to the threshold of a new world. We come with the riches of science.”  

So, his discussion becomes one in which Mann is the exemplary self-deluding voice of the intellectuals of the bourgeoisie. For Phillips, Mann’s anti-fascism becomes a way of not facing the struggle for Socialism.  There is a kind of over-heated enthusiasm in Phillips’ dream of Science that can’t really carry the drive of Phillips’s desire. William Phillips

The obituary writer for the New York Times wrote of Phillips: “As an occasional writer for the magazine, Mr. Phillips was overshadowed by his contributors. He was so able to see a question’s many sides that he found it difficult to chisel a tidy position”.

I think maybe Mark Greif could do something with this.

read the piece: http://hgar-srv3.bu.edu/collections/partisan-review/search/detail?id=325979






Delmore Schwartz, “The Statues,”and a few others.

Delmore Schwartz, who remains the patron poet maudit, and who has served as the 20th and 21st century (so far) accursed poet of mind and heart of the New York Jewish Intellectuals, began his career as the witty, lyrical, and astonishing new talent of Partisan Review’s Vol 4, No.1’s own new character and agenda in December, 1937.  His story, “In dreams begin responsibilities” his first publication with PR, was the first piece in the issue: its combination of avant-garde form, psychoanalytic content, movie technics, and the 1930s  Jewish-generation-gap was a brilliant beginning for the man who ended up as the mourned-for “Delmore”, who all lovers of, and writers about, call by his first name, as if he truly stands beside us. John Ashbery called him “Delmore, as everyone called him, including those who didn’t know him.”  Elizabeth Hardwick, after Delmore’s death wrote that ”Delmore, ”as it was natural to everyone, acquainted or not, to call him because of his own delight in the pretty challenge of his first name,” softened his own shame at his being called such an aspirational name, decided on by his mother, aspiring, it seemed, to the condition of a restaurant. Delmore young (see this blog’s post, Oct 16, 2016 for more on Delmore’s ‘In dreams begin responsibilities’). Saul Bellow, John Berryman, Lou Reed, made him a ‘poet’s poet’ as well, a voice who is generalised as the sound of a poetic world not known before.

In his second publication for PR Volume 4, No.2, January, 1938, Delmore offered a subtle poem, “The Ballad of the Children of the Czar”, (see this blog’s post for more on ‘the Children of the Czar” and John Berryman’s ‘The Ball Poem.’ December 31, 2016). In Volume 4, No.3, in a collective ‘Little Anthology,’ Delmore contributes ‘Someone, is harshly coughing as before,” a poem anticipating war, which has Audenesque and Yeatsian echoes in it, and he reviews Wallace Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar, and Other Poems and shows himself as a serious critical reader of his contemporaries’ work. (see this blog’s post on 25 March, 2017 for more discussion of Delmore’s review of Stevens– and some other remarks.)

And here in Volume IV, No. 6,  May, 1938, PR publishes Delmore’s,  “The Statues,” a fable that combines comedy and poignancy with a dash of Lucretian physics.  He dedicated the story to Meyer Schapiro, who would become a long-standing friend. I haven’t been able to learn from any of the usual suspects – either human or written – what in particular might have inspired this dedication, but it is certain that the two had been good friends and when Schwartz died, Meyer Schapiro wrote an elegy for him, published in The New York Review of Books,  September 8, 1966. Many critics and admirers of Schwartz cite the final quatrain of the poem as capturing the doubleness of Delmore’s  poetic range. Here is Schapiro’s poem:

meyer-schapiro-1930s Meyer Schapiro


“He lived in torment with imagined threats,
Spinning a thread of hostile signs,
Brooding on friends as secret enemies
And seeking among indifferent minds a friend.

Silenced was Delmore’s joyous wit,
His bright good sense and irony
Recounting the folly of worldliness
And the blind ways of ambition and success.

He who was restless without company
Has died in naked loneliness,
Convulsed in a dark corridor outside his door
Where crumpled papers crowd the floor.

He knew himself as fated to despair
And traced from birth a black destiny.
His name, his people, his sad time
Composed the burden of his poetry.

It has the beauty of his honest thought,
Of gravest musings on the human state,
On thwarted dreams and forced deformities
And ever-resurgent hopes of light”.

It was those  ‘ever-resurgent hopes of light’ that provided Delmore’s readers with reasons to love him, and to love his ideas about poetry.  Like Trilling, Schapiro was grounded in his life as an academic and is still thought of as one of the most brilliant scholars in Art History. It makes sense to me that Meyer may have been thinking of “The Statues” when he wrote this elegy, because the poetic-story is a proto-magical realist evocation of how the imagination can turn whatever it perceives into harbingers of an altered world of light.

The story takes place on a December day in New York City, as the ‘Faber’ –maker- Gottschalk the dentist is walking to work, work he hates because of the intimacy it requires with the insides of a patient’s mouth. he inoculates himself each morning with  a whiskey and soda — he is a nebish of New York. Jewish, sad, becoming leaden in his life. A sudden and random thick snowstorm overnight has created a sublime — frightening and beautiful at once — landscape in which the flakes, like Lucretius’s concilia of atoms, fall into shapes that lend themselves to the eye as “curious and unmistakable designs.”

The narrator, “a reporter on one of the Metropolitan newspapers,” is told to go out and create comic human interest stories among the astounded pedestrians.”Very soon, however, I found there was nothing whimsical or comical about the attitudes of the populace, but that they were, on the contrary, seriously moved. And that was by going about and interviewing people in this way that I met Faber Gottschalk.

The whole city is touched and moved by this fantasy world of snow shapes, and when the Mayor says he will immediately call for the snow to be removed, this promise…”provided the first instance of the unanimity and intensity of feeling of the whole city toward the statues”.    They protest, but “Faber Gottschalk went further; he attempted to visit the Mayor at City Hall, astonished at himself, unable to understand his passionate concern about the snow’s statues, but determined to do nothing all day but walk about and regard them, cancelling all his appointments in order to do so.”

Gottshalk goes home and listens to the radio, still amazed by his feelings for these snow statues. He thinks back over his life and recalls how he really wanted to be a major league baseball player.  It had been his uncle who had “pointed out to him that as a dentist he would have a modest income and would be able to attend the various sports which absorbed his attention throughout the year. His uncle had been right.  . . . Faber Gottschalk was not able to explain to himself by this examination of his past life the reason for his emotion about the statues.”

The next week the population is oddly changed by the statues; police stop harassing picket lines; people become more focussed and precise; but everyone pauses and looks at the shapes. Not that they were all beautiful.  But in places, “The shapes had the plumpness and rotundity of great white clouds, the solidity and stillness of fine buildings, or indeed of a snow crystal.”

Read the rest of the story — there are some twists in it —  but its deep Lucretian grounding is unmistakeable, as the Mathematician suggests, as you will read.

Paste link below into your browser to get the feeling-meanings of this fable. I am surprised it hasn’t been reprinted more often.


Throughout Delmore’s work, the possibilities of light and some kind of pure cold — not the austere sublime of mountains but the welcoming one of snowflakes, keep appearing… the “heavy bear” is answered by the “Ease, warm, light, the utter showing,/When in the white bed all things are made,”  Here is another one: