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Abstract

Relatively late in my career (in my early 60s), I began to write a biographical memoir of my father, William Griffith Couser (1906–1975), based initially and primarily on documents, mostly letters, that I found after his death. In doing so, after nearly 30 years of working as a critic of life writing, I became a life writer myself. The value of this memoir will lie in the letters themselves, partly because they are well written, partly because they are sufficiently numerous to allow me to reconstruct the web of my father’s significant relationships during a formative period. And that is because they come from an era and a social set in which letter writing was a significant medium through which life was lived. In short, I have come to regard the materials not as the residue of a life but in a way as scraps of it, not an epiphenomenon thrown off by the ‘real life’ of which they are the tantalizing written remains, but the actual stuff of life itself – preserved moments. I have become convinced that in his 20s, at least, my father lived a good deal of his life in and through correspondence with friends and family. The letters I will highlight in this talk are from correspondence with an apparently gay man with whom my father had a ‘romantic friendship.’ The nature of the relationship made the correspondence it evoked especially tricky but also revealing.