Cover image for The element of lavishness : letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978
The element of lavishness : letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978
Warner, Sylvia Townsend, 1893-1978.
First edition.
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Counterpoint, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxvii, 356 pages, 4 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6045.A812 Z494 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



An instant classic in the literature of friendship: the witty, affectionate forty-year correspondence between a great story-writer and her New Yorker editor.

Author Notes

Born in Lincoln, Illinois in 1908, William Maxwell is one of America's more prominent writers. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award (1994), and the American Book Award (1982) for his novel "So Long, See You Tomorrow."

Maxwell's fiction has been described as nostalgic. Most of his work takes place in simpler, gentler times in the small towns of the American Midwest. Two of Maxwell's novels, "They Came Like Swallows" (1937) and "So Long, See You Tomorrow" (1980), deal with characters who lose relatives in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Maxwell's own mother died in the epidemic when he was ten years old.

Maxwell published his first novel, "Bright Center of Heaven," in 1934. He moved to New York City in 1936 and was hired by the New Yorker. His years as an editor there, 1936 to 1976, coincided with what many believe are the magazine's finest. This was the era that saw the publication of the works of many accomplished writers, such as J. D. Salinger, Eudora Welty, John Updike, and Mary McCarthy in the New Yorker's pages.

Maxwell has published six novels, several collections of short stories, a family history, and numerous book reviews. He served as president of the National Institute of Arts and letters from 1969 to 1972.

William Maxwell has been married for over 50 years to the former Emily Noyes. They met at the New Yorker when she applied for a job. The couple has two daughters.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The New Yorker published 153 stories by Warner between 1936 and 1977, and the gifted and gallant editor and writer William Maxwell brought most of them into print. Fifteen years his senior and a country-dwelling Englishwoman, the ever-fluent Warner wrote seven novels, a poetry collection, 14 volumes of short stories, a life of T. H. White, and thousands of letters, some 1,300 to Maxwell. Master stylists of like temperament and ready wit, Warner and Maxwell were soulmates, and they use the word "pleasure" often and sincerely, and that is exactly what their sharp and upbeat observations about books, domestic life, extreme weather, and such curious events as the Great New York Blackout of 1965 provide. Editor Steinman, who has also assembled a collection of Maxwell's correspondence with Frank O'Connor, presents the most radiant passages from four decades worth of tender, keen, and illuminating letters. So prolific was Warner, the 20 polished stories gathered here have never been published in book form before, and Steinman serves readers well by retrieving them. It is apt that the word "music" appears in the title, because not only was music Warner's first love but also her sparkling, mischievous, affectionate, shrewd, and perfectly made stories trill, glide, dip, and lift as brightly as Mozart concertos, evoking a full spectrum of images and insights. Warner has a flair for bringing houses to life and peopling them with piquant characters adjusting to age, changed circumstances, and various social absurdities. She also infuses objects with many shades of meaning and explores the longings antiques arouse in a sterling set of linked stories about an antique shop and its canny proprietor. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1936, the English writer Sylvia Townsend Warner published her first story in the New Yorker; shortly thereafter she was contacted by mail by a new entry-level editor named William Maxwell. Over the next 40 years, Warner published 153 stories in the magazine, and Maxwell became one of the best-known fiction arbiters of his time. They came to be close friends and correspondents, their exchange (totaling 1,300 letters) depending only partially on New Yorker business. The two carried on an almost impossibly civilized conversation: Warner, learned and eccentric, peppered her letters with obscure literary references and enclosed the odd gift (one year she sent Maxwell a spoon). Maxwell displayed an editor's refinement and a touching solicitude toward his British friend. Though at times they foundered in a sea of mutual admiration, the correspondents were at their best when exchanging literary opinions, details of their respective family lives or simply two ordinary people's distracted awareness of global events. The letters were often not dated, and putting them in sequence must have been a Herculean task for editor Steinman (who also edited Maxwell's correspondence with Frank O'Connor); in any case, the edition is not without flaws. Unable to print the entire correspondence because of its sheer volume, Steinman included some complete letters and excerpts of others, without noting his omissions or explaining his choices; there is no framing material other than a brief introduction, and scarcely any notes contextualizing the letters. Yet despite these editorial oversights, readers who admire Warner and Maxwell for their own beautifully expressed selves will find much to enjoy in this tribute to the leisurely intimacies of a bygone era. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

It has been said that everything written is either poetry or prose. The 40 years of letters between Warner and Maxwell suggest that in the care of experts the written word could simultaneously be both. WarnerDpoet, novelist, and short story writerDfirst came to Maxwell's attention when he read her narrative poem "Opus 7." It was laterDas a copywriter, and before his reign as the renowned editor of The New Yorker (the magazine published 153 of Warner's short stories)Dthat they began their remarkable correspondence. Although both were involved in other relationships (Maxwell married in 1945, and Warner had a 40-year lesbian relationship with poet Valentine Ackland), it is clear that they shared a platonic love. The letters are never mere reports but are passionate, lively, provocative, fun, and serious, too. The subject matter is wide-ranging: money, health, food, rejections, books and book reviews, cats and dogs, children, and, of course, writing. Regardless of age or gender, readers will love the Warner-Maxwell letters; expect the best of goosebumps. In this admirable collection, editor Steinman (English, Nassau Community Coll.) includes entire letters as well as excerpts from more than 500 letters. Recommended for all libraries.DRobert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Though Warner and Maxwell met only three times, as fiction editor of the New Yorker Maxwell edited more than 100 of Warner's stories--"her finest work," asserts Steinman (Nassau Community College). Author and editor also had a close epistolary friendship, and this fascinating collection covers 40 years of letter writing. Steinman explains in his intelligent introduction that Warner and Maxwell exchanged more then 1,300 missives, recording what "amused, perplexed, or moved them." They wrote of their respective cats, the weather, books read, family members, friends, illnesses, travels, current affairs (the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dwight Eisenhower), their writings, and her eponymous biography of T.H. White (CH, Oct'68), whom she termed "a tragic and exasperating character." In the aftermath of the death of Valentine Ackland, her lesbian companion, Warner wrote to Maxwell of her grief and her difficulty in editing some of Ackland's poems. Warner returned Maxwell's letters to him a year before her death. Steinman includes in this volume Maxwell's memory of Warner's funeral, a fable of his, photos, and a few (unneeded) footnotes. Easy to read, warm, and vivid, this collection is recommended for all journalism libraries and academic collections of British and American literature. J. Overmyer emeritus, Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Michael SteinmanWilliam MaxwellWilliam Maxwell
Introductionp. xv
Letters, 1938-1978p. 3
Postscriptp. 341
"What You Can't Hang Onto"p. 343
Indexp. 349