Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I read the other day, evoking many memories, that the great publisher Barney Rosset had died aged 89, and reflected on what adventures and enterprises those years had yielded. With his admirable Grove Press, he brought out, among other daring coups, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Waiting for Godot, Story of O, and, on film, I Am Curious (Yellow), which entailed many law suits and other battles with puritanical censors and craven exhibitors, all of which and more Rosset triumphantly won. He achieved free speech for literature and cinema in America for all time to come.

I am happy to note that the Times obituary of February 23 was, as is not always the case, laudably unstinting as written by Douglas Martin, and provided a commendable overview of an exemplary career. I knew Rosset only slightly, encountering him last at a dinner party chez Larry Rivers, which I remember chiefly for having said strongly negative things about my ex-student Harold Brodky to a woman who turned out to be his wife.

I do recall Barney as charming and lots of fun, and only wish I had known him better. I enjoyed several of his controversial books, and was a witness for the defense at several I Am Curious trials. I also read with interest his Evergreen Review, and was very sorry when he had to sell Grove Press. I was even sorrier that the purchasers were Ann Getty and Lord Weidenfeld, both of whom were my friends, but treated Barney badly when, despite contrary promises, they fired him within a year.

The story I have to tell here would have been of scant interest to Barney, but was not unimportant to me. It involves my relationship with a young woman, still alive today, whom I will refer to only by her nickname, Linky, sometimes abbreviated as Link.

Linky was quite simply the most beautiful Radcliffe undergrad at the time, the one most envied by her fellow Cliffies and most lusted after by Harvard students, graduate ones like me included. I recall first spotting her in a booth with some girlfriends at the St. Clair’s eatery, and resolving to become her boyfriend come hell or high water.

I managed to wrangle a date via a phone call whose tactics I forget, and in due time this involved steady dating. This, alas, was not tantamount to sleeping together, which, smitten and devoted as I was, I considered a rightful development. Much about my courtship I can no longer recall.

What I do remember, however, is taking Linky to the Charles river’s further bank for a photo session. In those days, I owned a fancy camera and was a bit of a photography buff. That day I took numerous pictures of Linky, who quite willingly cooperated with a number of charming poses. These were nowise erotic, but such were Linky’s loveliness and her graceful postures that you could not look at them without amorous longing. Today all these snapshots are lost, except for one tiny 35millimeter print that I pasted into a volume of
Mallarm√©’s poems.

There she stands on the Charles’s further and wilder bank, on a piece of wood jutting into the river, in a casual yet graceful attitude, a nymph if ever there was one. Her left hand supports her against a tall picturesque shrub that somehow winds its way along a tree trunk, her right arm dangles casually, both arms impeccably beautiful. She is wearing a dark dress with white edging, the fairly long skirt revealing only some elegant shins, perfect ankles, and tastefully ballet-slippered feet. She is gazing into the distance, her face slightly inclined, her lovely blond hair hanging loose onto her left shoulder. In the distance, a solitary oarsman is looking in another direction, unaware of what he is missing.

Amusingly, Linky’s picture is pasted above the famous sonnet beginning rather appropriately “A la nue accablante tu,” and as difficult to interpret as what might have been going through my model’s highly independent mind.

Our platonic relationship continued for a while until a Fulbright Fellowship propelled me to Paris and the Sorbonne. Linky had promised to write me faithfully, but all I got was a couple of letters in large, touchingly schoolgirlish handwriting and with rather noncommittal content. And then complete cessation. I surmised that she had found another swain, and I, in Paris of all places, found other young ladies much more forthcoming.

In the spring, surprisingly, I got a new letter from Linky. A talented sculptress—whose work I may have biasedly found superb—she was headed for Italy for further study with the famed sculptor Arturo Martini. On the way, she intended to stop in Paris for some time with me, and I was to meet her at the appointed time at the city’s airplane bus terminal.

Well, there she was, lovely as ever, and adding to my amazement by having accidentally rented a room, in all that mighty metropolis, only a block away from where I had my rented room. Two things, though, marred my pleasure. One was my not then being fully aware that young American ladies, strictly chaste at home, became, upon landing on European shores, something like maenads, no longer bound by real or imagined surveillance. The other was my being by then madly in love with June, an American ballet dancer who had been my lover, but was lately on tour with her ballet company and hopelessly enamored of its male star, who, however, was homosexual.

Now it damnably so happened that the Ballet de Monte Carlo, and with it June, was guest appearing briefly in Paris, and I harbored crazy notions of somehow recapturing her favors. She was lovely, but not a stunner like Linky; however she was my new love whom I had frantically and unsuccessfully pursued all over tarnation via unaccepted long-distance phone calls.

And now, simultaneously, there was Linky, whom I neglected all next day while feverishly searching for June, who had deliberately withheld her exact whereabouts from me. I finally located her, but that is another story. For the evening’s star-studded performance at the Opera of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust I had two tickets, and to this I invited Linky.

She came, but was silently crying in the seat next to me. In the intermission, she perched on an outside fountain and rivaled it with torrential sobbing. I felt for her, but was unable to console her or accede to what I now assume were her frustrated expectations.

I did not see or hear from Linky for quite a while, at least not until the British National Theatre was appearing in New York with several performances headed by Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, and Vivien Leigh. To one of those I invited Linky and she came. But oh my, what a reversal of roles! How I craved her affection, even as she remained as cold as one of her marbles. When I saw her home, she stopped me at her front door, and hurtfully proceeded to echo all my pleas verbatim in harshly sarcastic tones, accompanied by cruelly mocking facial expressions.

That was the end. The only time I glimpsed her again was on a street in Cambridge, where, catching sight of me, she promptly crossed to the other side. Sad, very sad. Years passed, and the one thing I heard about her was that she was living with Barney Rosset, but that, because of troubles in the relationship, they both had therapy sessions with the same analyst—whether separately or together I don’t know—and that he was paying for them. This struck my friends as mighty peculiar and therapeutically unsound.

Fast forward now to that Larry Rivers dinner party, where I got to talk to Barney and naturally inquired about Linky. They had broken up long before, but remained friends. He spoke of her warmly, saying that she was living happily and, apparently, solitarily, sculpting away to her heart’s content. I am surprised to this day that she hasn’t become a famous sculptor.