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Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir

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Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir Cover

 

 

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andlt;Iandgt;and#8220;What you maybe donand#8217;t know is that I always go into a decline at times like thisand#8212;saying to myself that surely it would be far easier just to sit still and forget the whole thing, but then I think of a fourth consecutive year in Durham and plow on.and#8221;andlt;/Iandgt;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;and#8212;Reynolds Price, in a letter to Wallace Kaufman, July 8, 1961andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;AFTER DEBARKING FROM the andlt;Iandgt;Queen Maryandlt;/Iandgt; and clearing customs on the Southampton dock by ten in the morning, I leapt aboard a train for Oxford with my small borrowed trunk and one suitcase. In the three years since I was last in England, British Railways had surely not upgraded the third-class car I rode inand#8212;musty gray upholstery and a good deal of empty space. Nonetheless I reached my destinationand#8212;Merton Collegeand#8217;s thirteenth-century entrance lodgeand#8212;just in time to collide with my tall old teacher and friend Nevill Coghill. He swept me up to join him for lunch in the Senior Common Room. The new scout for the rooms on my staircase, one of the several men that served the and#8220;young gentlemenand#8221; in the still all-male colleges, carried my bags along to my former rooms in the ancient Mob Quadand#8212;the same two rooms with an overstuffed sofa and chairs (that suggested ancient Rome more than medieval Britain) and windows on the college chestnut tree and Christ Church Meadow with its cows and football-playing schoolboys. Oxford was, mostly, unchanged. There had been a lot of cleaning and refacing of college buildingsand#8212;the coal-black Virgin on Merton Chapel turned out on washing to be very beautifuland#8212;but my old rooms seemed quite unchanged and full.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In the SCR it was a welcome surprise to find my old love Matyas already seated at the table. Heand#8217;d walked over from his own college on the chance that I might have arrived by then, and here now I was (the trains mostly ran on time). Still his dashing self, though a little weary around the eyes, Matyas beamed his expected magnetism; but slight signs suggested that his intervening trips to his family home in Eastern Europe had saddened him appreciably (and in what ways did he see that Iand#8217;d likewise changed after my first three years of teaching at Duke?). Well, Common Room table was hardly a place for private talk between us, but other talk there was aplentyand#8212;and in quantity and quality as Iand#8217;d hoped.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In a matter of minutes then, I was enveloped in what Iand#8217;d anticipated so strongly (though my student friends were gone)and#8212;the compelling but unpretentious melding of mind in mature male voices. Not that Iand#8217;d been entirely deprived of good talk in America. Lately in Macon, Warrenton, Raleigh, Durham, New York, and a few other places, Iand#8217;d felt delighted and instructed more than a few times by a wide spectrum of several brands of good talk. But in no other place had I sat with others as enthusiastically devoted as these few men round a long broad table to genuine discourse. In addition to weeks in my old rooms again, Iand#8217;d been made a member of the Senior Common Room; so with any luck at all, Iand#8217;d just commenced a fourth year of this.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;My main hope lay in Matyas though, a don from Eastern Europe with whomand#8212;in my last visit to Englandand#8212;Iand#8217;d experienced an intense romance, one that I thought had at least some amount of love on each side as well as sexual contact of a highly exciting new kind. In days when few dons traveled to the States (and none seemed to emigrate, as hundreds do now), weand#8217;d kept our mutual awareness alive by my gift for long-distance longing, by frequent letters, and my own hell-bent intention to meet back here as soon as my slim funds would permit.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;After lunch Nevill suggested a walk round Christ Church Meadow, so Matyas and I joined him under a sky that by then was brilliantly clear and hot for June. Even the regulation loud red geraniums were lusher than I remembered; and as we passed those on the window ledges of student rooms in the Christ Church Meadow building, Nevill said and#8220;It andlt;Iandgt;wouldandlt;/Iandgt; seem a sizable pity, wouldnand#8217;t it?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;I asked and#8220;What would?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;With a wide wave of his huge right hand, he said and#8220;Just to end it now, with all this around us.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In five days on the ocean, I hadnand#8217;t quite heard that the Western powers and the Soviets were once again shaking their hydrogen bombs at one another over the still divided city of Berlin.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Refusing for now to cloud the day, I remarked that such crises had been far from rare in the reign of Khrushchev, but Nevill said that this one somehow felt especially ominous.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Matyas laconically agreed. Since the Soviets ran the Nazis out of his homeland and seized all power there, he knew a good deal about them.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Nevill had fought in the trenches of World War I, but now he grinned. and#8220;Wars tend to begin in gorgeous weather. I remember 1914 clear as now.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Heand#8217;d lent a sudden chill to our walk, and as we finished one round of the Meadow, Matyas peeled off for an afternoon appointment, arranging that he and I would dine that night in his rooms in his own college. It was I whoand#8217;d introduced Matyas to Nevill back in the spring of 1958; and I knew from our letters that, since Matyas often dined in Mertonand#8212;where he had a few pupilsand#8212;heand#8217;d come to enjoy Nevilland#8217;s company. As he walked away then, Nevill and I stood for ten seconds and watched his departure through the War Memorial Gardens and out through the tall Meadow gates. We didnand#8217;t say as much, but I know we were silently granting Matyasand#8217;s compelling physical power.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;When he was finally out of sight, Nevill turned to me and said and#8220;Ah, Matyas, yes. I know heand#8217;s expected you.and#8221; If the older man knew more than that, he kept his own counsel.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Nevill had bought a small car in my absence; and after Iand#8217;d had my customary postlunch nap and unpacked a little, he drove the two of us out to Thame for tea. Like many occupants of sun-deprived countries, he was capitalizing on the brightness of the day. The village itself was of no special interest to me; but in my old car trips to London, Iand#8217;d always craned, when passing through the surroundings of Thame, to discover the rambling medieval house which Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh (the acting Oliviers) had occupied for decades. Despite the reports of the coming collapse of their long marriage, they were the chief Britons who still aroused celebrity feeling in me (and had done so since I first saw her in andlt;Iandgt;Gone With the Windandlt;/Iandgt; in 1939 and the two of them in andlt;Iandgt;That Hamilton Womanandlt;/Iandgt; a little later); and I was hoping to see each of them onstage before the year ended.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Still, Nevilland#8217;s good talkand#8212;and his unintrusive questions about my lifeand#8212;held me later than Iand#8217;d planned. Back at Merton then in early evening, I raced to the spanking-new showers in my old scoutand#8217;s pantry on the ground floor of Mob 2 and availed myself of actual liberally streaming warm water. When a few college members came in to shower near me, I was reminded of another trait of the local times. Once dry, these young gents each resumed the underpants heand#8217;d worn to the shower. There was still no sign of the American middle-class obsession with clean laundry against clean skin. Pristine myself, though, I turned up at seven at the unshut outer door of Matyasand#8217;s new rooms in his across-town college.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;The outer door was called an oak. And this oak had a special meaning for me. More than a few times three years ago, Matyas had shut us in behind his oakand#8212;the universal Oxford sign that no one was to knock or, in any other way short of fire or civil mayhem, disturb the occupant. I knocked on the inner door; and it took Matyas at least two minutes to answer, a delay so unusual that I wondered if he had someone else with him. When I entered, however, we embraced at lastand#8212;a cooler greeting than Iand#8217;d expected. Matyas indicated a handsome chair heand#8217;d just got in London, then stepped aside to pour us white wine. While he was apart I looked round the pleasantly large sitting room, a good deal brighter than his former quarters across the quad.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;When he rejoined me, he noted my interest and told me, at unnecessary length, the history of various new objects (I didnand#8217;t ask whether he or the college had paid for the elegant furniture).andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Before we could turn to anything more interesting, Matyas told me thatand#8212;if it was all the same with meand#8212;weand#8217;d eat in his rooms and not go out.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;All the finer,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Then he came to his point. First, he gave the downcast laugh that, with him, mostly signaled bad news. Then he moved on in an accent that had decidedly thickened in the trips heand#8217;d made to Eastern Europe since getting his British citizenship at the time of our last meetingand#8212;and#8220;Rey-nolds, there is just one important thing.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;His long pause enforced a slow and#8220;Yes?and#8221; from me. I felt what I guessed a student might have felt as he finished reading a mediocre essay to this demanding tutor. Whatever was coming, the fault was mine.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Lately Iand#8217;ve met a charming young woman, almost my age. Sheand#8217;s also not British, she lives in London, and I suspect that weand#8217;re growing closer.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;No such relation had been mentioned in his recent letters; and I was more than surprised, though I strained to conceal it.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;As soon as he led me to the long new teak table, he began to serve dinner. I recall only that we began with mushrooms andlt;Iandgt;and#224; la grecque,andlt;/Iandgt; a first for me and impressive, and that Matyas talked on and on with only occasional one-word responses from me. Not even the most ardently dedicated Gatekeeper of Western Morals could have sat and silently watched us for that first half hour and left with any suspicion that, three years ago, weand#8217;d been fervent lovers through a spring and early summerand#8212;unreserved possessors of one anotherand#8217;s bodiesand#8212;and that I, at least, had sensed something durable under way in the interim.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Well into the main course, Matyas had reached what he plainly felt Iand#8217;d understand as his central newsand#8212;he wasnand#8217;t now planning to resume our old relations while he was hoping this new connection was going to work (whatever andlt;Iandgt;workandlt;/Iandgt; would mean).andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;More than ever, I felt how much older than me he apparently felt; or maybe now I was the don and he the frantic student. What I felt though was far more like a pluperfect fool, a fool who might be shown the door shortly. But I sat on, through salad and dessert, and heard a good deal that the regular letters of three years had omittedand#8212;omissions that I had not suspected in my reckless craving.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Matyas had experienced more than several intervening affairs here, in London, and on the continent. Eventually all his philandering (as he saw it and heand#8217;d after all begun life as a devout Catholic boy) had resulted in degrees of futility and self-loathing that led himand#8212;when he met the young woman heand#8217;d mentionedand#8212;to experiment with the possibility of a long-term heterosexual union. Something, yes, that might become a marriage with a home and childrenand#8212;an all but universal reality that he hadnand#8217;t experienced since he was sixteen.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;After four courses of such revelations, Iand#8217;d begun to feel fed up with more than a lesson in my sustained foolishness. For the first time in my life apparently, Iand#8217;d agreed to be lied to. To be sure, thereand#8217;d been one hard letter that virtually accused me of having led him back astray (at a time when he was in his mid-thirties). Still I couldnand#8217;t see why he let me plan this costly fourth year while I leaned like a dope, approaching thirty, on the expectation of something I longed to continue. Even more than my foolishness, on the spot I learned how a great many menand#8212;and women, no doubtand#8212;find it all but impossible to tell a close friend a disappointing truth.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781439183496
Subtitle:
An Unfinished Memoir
Author:
Price, Reynolds
Publisher:
Scribner
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography - General
Subject:
Biography-Literary
Subject:
Reynolds Price; Ardent Spirits; Duke University; American literature; literary; A Long and Happy Life; William Faulkner Award; Kate Vaiden; National Book Critics Circle Award; Rhodes Scholar; American Academy of Arts and Letters; A Whole New Life; biblica
Subject:
Reynolds Price; Ardent Spirits; Duke University; American literature; literary; A Long and Happy Life; William Faulkner Award; Kate Vaiden; National Book Critics Circle Award; Rhodes Scholar; American Academy of Arts and Letters; A Whole New Life; biblica
Subject:
Reynolds Price; Ardent Spirits; Duke University; American literature; literary; A Long and Happy Life; William Faulkner Award; Kate Vaiden; National Book Critics Circle Award; Rhodes Scholar; American Academy of Arts and Letters; A Whole New Life; biblica
Edition Description:
Hardback
Publication Date:
20120515
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Illustrations:
bandamp;w photos t-o
Pages:
192
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.12 in

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Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir Used Hardcover
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Product details 192 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9781439183496 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Price died of a heart attack before he could complete his memoir, the fourth in a series of autobiographical volumes. A prolific writer and academic, he spent more than five decades teaching at Duke University, his alma mater. The book begins in 1961 as Price, not even 30-years-old, returns to Oxford following his first three years teaching at Duke. His first novel, A Long and Happy Life, is about to be published in the U.S. to considerable praise, setting the writer on the road to literary renown. The book is full of anecdotes about famous figures, including philosopher/author Iris Murdoch, actress Natalie Wood, W.H. Auden, William Faulkner, and even Ronald Reagan, but the most scintillating scene finds the author lunching with mega-couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Rome while they're filming Cleopatra. However, the essence of the writer himself disappears behind these mildly amusing stories. The most poignant pages come when he recounts his mother's death: 'Despite the fact that I'd loved her unquestionably more, and longer, than anyone else in my life, I'd just instructed the doctor...to permit this body that had made my body more than thirty years ago, and had since dealt with me in boundless generosity, to rush ahead and die.' Had Price been able to complete his memoir, perhaps the message would be clear, but as it is, the reader is left wondering why he was writing it at all. Photos. "
Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , The final book from Reynolds Price, “one of the most important voices in modern Southern fiction” (The New York Times)—with a foreword by Anne Tyler and an afterwordby William Price

WHEN REYNOLDS PRICE DIED IN JANUARY 2011, he left behind one final piece of writing—two hundred candid, heartrending, and marvelously written manuscript pages about a critical period in his young adulthood. Picking up where his previous memoir, Ardent Spirits, left off, the work documents a brief time from 1961 to 1965, perhaps the most leisurely of Price’s life, but also one of enormous challenge and growth. Price gave it the title Midstream. Approaching thirty, Price writes, is to face the notion that “This is it. I’m now the person I’m likely to be . . . from here to the end.Midstream, which begins when Price is twenty-eight, details the final youthful adventures of a man on the cusp of artistic acclaim. Here, Price chases a love to England, only to meet heartbreak. Determined to pursue other pleasures, he travels to Sweden for a friend’s wedding, then journeys to Rome with British poet Stephen Spender and spends an afternoon with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Price returns to the United States, where he finds company with a group of artists as he awaits the 1962 publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life.

“Few writers have made as dramatic an entrance on the American literary stage,” declared The New York Times on the book’s success. Price would settle into a tranquil life in North Carolina, buy a house, and resume teaching. Concluding with his mother’s death and Price’s new endeavors—a second novel and foray into Hollywood screenwriting—Midstream offers a poignant portrait of a man at the threshold of true adulthood, navigating new responsibilities and pleasures alike. It is a fitting bookend for Price’s remarkable career, and it reinforces his place in the pantheon of American literature.

***

 

FROM ANNE TYLER’S FOREWORD TO MIDSTREAM

“Just look at him flying across the campus, curls bouncing, dark eyes flashing, and a black cape (I swear it) flaring out behind him. Actually he never owned a black cape; he told me that, years later. He said it was a navy jacket, just tossed over his shoulders. But still, he was wearing a virtual cape, if you know what I mean. He was an exclamation point in a landscape of mostly declarative sentences. He lived in a house-trailer out in the woods; he invited us to come there and drink smoky-tasting tea in handmade mugs. Speaking with a trace of an English accent from his recent studies at Oxford (for he had a genius for unintentional mimicry, which he said could become a curse in certain situations), he told us funny, affectionate tales about his childhood in backwater Macon. Most of us came from Macons of our own; we were astonished to hear that they were fit subjects for storytelling. All over again, inspiration hit. Let us out of there! We had to get back to our rooms and start writing.”

"Synopsis" by , The fourth and final memoir from Reynolds Price, “one of the most important voices in modern southern fiction” (The New York Times), who died in January 2011.

Reynolds Price was a true renaissance man. Author of thirty-seven books and professor of English at Duke, he was the last great southern regionalist of his generation. Picking up where his third memoir Ardent Spirits left off, Midstream provides an account of the years of his life from 1961-1965. During this brief period, perhaps the most leisurely of his life, Reynolds was on the cusp of adulthood, contemplating turning thirty, which, as he says, “is likely to be any man’s realization that, This is it. I’m now the person I’m likely to be from here to the end.” In this evocative memoir, Reynolds discusses publishing his first book, the pursuit of adult love, burying his mother, embarking on a teaching career, and buying his first home.

Upon his return to Oxford, Reynolds connects with a former lover with the hopes of rekindling their relationship. Disappointed to learn that this man is soon to be married, Reynolds pursues other pleasures: he travels to Denmark for a friend’s wedding; journeys through the English countryside for tea at charmed sites like Thame and Woodstock; dashes to Stratford to take in some Shakespeare; travels to Rome with famous British poet Stephen Spender, where he dines with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; and returns for more adventures in New York before finally heading home to North Carolina to resume teaching at Duke University.

In his signature spirited and witty prose, Midstream offers a poignant portrait of early adulthood. It is a fitting bookend for Price’s remarkable career and reinforces his place in literary history.

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