William Styron: A Life
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On the door to William Styron's writing studio is a quotation from Flaubert: "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." Styron has lived by that injunction, addressing major subjects--slavery, the Holocaust, mental illness--with a power that has gripped readers around the world.
Though reared in the South, Styron spent most of his adult working life in the North. His first book, Lie Down in Darkness, was a brilliant debut, which inspired him to go abroad for the first time. In Paris, he fell in with other young American writers and helped found The Paris Review along with George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen. Styron spent a year in Rome, married, and returned to the States.
After writing Set This House on Fire, an ambitious novel set in Italy, he began working on The Confessions of Nat Turner, the moving story of a slave rebellion in Virginia. James Baldwin, who lived in a small house on Styron's property in Connecticut during this period, became a sounding board, as well as an inspiration, for the novel. It was also about this time that Styron began lifelong associations with Philip Roth, Arthur Miller, Carlos Fuentes, Willie Morris, and, in particular, James Jones. Readers will be fascinated by the full story of Styron's feud with Norman Mailer, an estrangement so severe that each refused to speak to the other for almost twenty-five years.
Styron's political life has been active, from his presence at the riot-torn l968 Democratic national convention in Chicago to his controversial long-term opposition to the death penalty.
The Confessions of Nat Turner made Styron famous, but it also brought him under attack. At one point, the explosive reaction to the novel led Styron to imagine that his wife, Rose, had been abducted.
In Sophie's Choice, Styron turned to another charged subject--the Holocaust--and Auschwitz became the focus of his life for several years. The result was a novel that added a major tragic figure, Sophie Zawistowska, to the enduring literature of our time.
In the aftermath of a mental breakdown, Styron produced the unflinchingly candid Darkness Visible, a book that dramatically altered the nation's negative perception of clinical depression.
James West has studied William Styron's life and career for over twenty years. He has had complete access not only to Styron's papers, letters, and manuscripts, but also to his friends, and has produced an outstanding portrait of one of the most controversial and admired authors of his generation.
at Christchurch, a boy who invented outlandish tales and bragged about his sexual adventures. And some of Mason’s mannerisms are copied from an American named T. Rowland Slingluff whom Styron met in Ravello when he and Rose were living there. Mason’s cock-and-bull story about serving as a spy in an Allied commando unit is based on a yarn that another Christchurch friend had told Styron during the summer of 1958. Set This House on Fire, then, is not exactly a roman à clef, but one can find some
confident in manner. She had made her reputation as a specialist in the international market. From her office in Chelsea she had been handling the work of James Jones and Irwin Shaw successfully, arranging for translations of their novels in Europe and South America and placing their shorter writings, from time to time, in British and Continental periodicals. (It was through Jones that Styron had met her, and on Jones’s recommendation that he approached her to take him on as a client.) Hope
an alley. Together they made their way to a Chinese restaurant in a safe zone and called for scotch. Even Terkel, who thought he had witnessed most kinds of police violence during his years as a reporter, was shaken. Styron left Chicago in a hurry the next day, oppressed by a sense of gloom. Rational political process had failed spectacularly. Hubert Humphrey had been nominated, but after the debacle in the Chicago streets the Democratic party would have great difficulty casting a reassuring
undergone a recurrence of depression, triggered by the drug Halcion. He was physically uncomfortable early that spring because of a calcium deposit in his upper spine that was pressing on a nerve and deadening his writing arm. The discomfort in his shoulder, quite intense, had made it difficult for him to fall asleep, and he had asked a physician to prescribe a sleeping pill. The doctor had given him a mild sedative, and this had helped him to become drowsy at night. In April, Styron and Rose
authority. The officers, of whom he was one, enjoyed considerable power; within the prison their word was never challenged. “At their approach the prisoners scrambled erect, removed their caps (being forbidden to salute), and stood in alarmed and rigid silence. Such were the rules, and thus even the meanest lieutenant might feel that same spinal thrill and hot flush of privilege that a cardinal must feel, or a general at parade, and sense chill little ecstasies of dominion.” Styron became