Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
Heavy Runner

IF LESLIE'S IDENTITY as a New York Jewish intellectual made him an anomaly among Montanans, his residence in Montana made him something of a misfit among New York Jewish intellectuals. Had he conformed to the paradigm, he would have lived in “the City” or at least within commuting distance, and he would have spent most of his waking hours talking about an approved set of books and ideas with like-minded individuals. Their opinions might have differed, but their tastes would have been virtually identical. (In other words, his experience in Chicago during the early 1940s would have become a permanent way of life.) Despite his geographical distance from this insular environment, people persisted in stereotyping Leslie as part of the New York literary scene. As his sensibility increasingly chafed at such intellectual provincialism, he concluded that he had to make a personal declaration of independence.

In “Partisan Review: Phoenix or Dodo, ” which originally appeared in the spring 1956 issue of Perspectives USA, Leslie tried to give a fair and balanced assessment of the magazine with which he had been most frequently identified since his first appearance in its pages nine years earlier. The title of the article was apparently suggested in a letter Saul Bellow wrote to him on June 14, 1955. Expressing appreciation for the “kind mention” Leslie had given him in “Adolescence and Maturity in the American Novel” (just published in the May 2, 1955, issue of the New Republic), Saul goes on to say, “I don't consider myself part of the Partisan group. Not those dying beasts. They posed as Phoenixes but were always dodos.” 1. Although the published essay mentions this exchange, it coyly identifies Bellow only as “the best of the younger American novelists, ” while admitting that “it was Partisan which almost alone

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1.
See Atlas, Bellow, 233; and Fiedler, CE, 2:43. This and other letters cited in this chapter are contained in Leslie Fiedler's private papers.

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