Sunday, April 09, 2006

Horrible People at High Speeds

Last Thursday, Helene Golay threw one of her hallmark book signing cocktail parties at The Corner Bookstore, an established tradition in Carnegie Hill, providing authors with a reliable draw of devoted readers, high grade mixed nuts and other literati. This party, for master cartoonist Edward Sorel and his latest gem, Literary Lives, went by at the pace of power networking or speed dating.

After signing several copies, Mr. Sorel announced that he was required to speak, and delivered some pithy remarks covering the topics of the hour: why The Atlantic Monthly? (better print quality); why not Balzac? (too sad and mushy for this book);Photo of Honoré de Balzac from Free Public Domain Books

and a sample exposé about how nasty was George Elliot, aka Mary Ann Evans of Warwickshire. In a pinch, Mrs. Sorel reminded her husband of the family name of the unfortunate juvenile (Cross), who, being publicly identified on honeymoon as George Elliot's son rather than her husband -- soon after the death of her first

Picture of George Elliot from
Christian Theological Seminary live-in innamorata and agent (somebody else's husband) and that of her good friend, his Mama -- tried to jump to his own death in the Grand Canal in Venice (too shallow), but was fished out and made to live happily enough for a while longer if not ever after, then to proclaim forever after in print that his brief marriage to this overbearing woman twice his age had been a veritable sojourn in paradise.

A flash question and answer session ensued. Someone piped up with the top question to end all answers: "Where do you get your ideas?"
Without hesitation, Mr. Sorel demurred, saying the correct question to ask was, 'Why do such horrible people create great works of art?'
Photo of Lillian Hellman from
Perspectives in American Literature
There are at least three ways to read Literary Lives. One can either go through the astounding synopses of the disastrous personal tales of Tolstoy, Yeats, Ayn Rand, Proust, Lillian Hellman Norman Mailer et al. (what about John Updike?) as quick as the cocktail party at The Corner Bookstore, or examine the delicate yet pointed wit of the drawings, and indeed the subtleties of the layouts, for hours, days and weeks, or first do the one and then the other, which is my own preferred method. One can also go and see the originals at the Davis & Langdale Gallery at 231 E 60th Street through April 22.

Photo of Leo Tolstoy from

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