Letters of William Gaddis

Letters of William Gaddis



The Pequod Review:

William Gaddis (1922-1998) was one of the most inventive of modern American novelists, and this collection of well-edited and informationally-dense correspondence shows in detail his research process for several of his most acclaimed novels. Here he describes to a New York City attorney (Donald Oresman) an example of the extensive preparation he undertook for his legal satire, A Frolic of His Own (1994).

I have read the Cardozo and dissenting opinions you sent to me over and over again, an immensely appreciate your trouble selecting these glimpses for me. How few pages they are for what they contain: the vistas of reason, language and rigorous speculation flung open by an otherwise inconsequential woman on a train platform buying a ticket for a completely inconsequential place. The man pursuing his cousin's hat on the railway bridge is fine too, and again the language! ("The risk of rescue, if only it be not wanton, is born of the occasion. The emergency begets the main." &c.) Much of my fascination clearly lies in the material itself, since the defining (and rampant evasion) of accountability seems to me central to our times.

Your efforts regarding Corpus Juris Secundum are also very greatly appreciated, and I would only urge "restraint" (in the nonjudicial sense). Despite my grand declarations of that evening, I clearly will not survive the entire set, hardly need a recent edition and certainly not with the updating addenda, and any odd volumes you might come up with without further serious effort would be a pleasure. In fact, since I seem to have far more interest in civil than in criminal law, and in such areas as Liability, Risk, Negligence (though here is of course criminal negligence) and "the unswerving punctuality of chance," I might be best suited to simply sit down and read your casebook on Torts from which you lifted these pages, for these wider evidences of what James called "the high brutality of good intentions."

This insular and detailed book will probably only be of interest to die-hard fans, but after you have read Gaddis's novels this is a useful window into his influences and thought-processes.