Where Have the He-Men of English Letters Gone?

Article excerpt


THE DEATH of Norman Mailer has robbed us of one of the great tough guysof literature. The pugnacious, bar-brawling heavyweight champion of letterscame to be renowned for his macho posturing as much as his literaryachievements: he stabbed one of his six wives with a knife, headbutted GoreVidal in the face, promised to stage gladiator contests in Central Park when hebecame mayor of New York, and went dancing with Truman Capote at a nightclubcalled Corpse, which took its name from the cadaver displayed on a slab in themiddle of the dance f loor.

His fellow writer Wiliam Burroughs, who died this August, went one better andshot and killed his common-law wife in a drunken game of William Tell at aparty. As a young man he severed the last joint of his left little finger toimpress a friend.

But the undoubted king of heavydrinking braggadocio was Ernest Hemingway, whocame to physical blows with the interviewer Max Eastman after the latterquestioned whether he used machismo to conceal his impotence.

England pioneered the tradition of street-fighting writers: Ben Jonson wasimprisoned for killing a man in a duel and Christopher Marlowe died in adrunken street brawl. But where are our men of action today? Sebastian Faulksis the curly-haired putti of English letters, who wouldn't or couldn't hurt afly. …


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