Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Culture, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, February 12, 2018

“In Dreams Begins Responsibility’” - 1937 -The Most Famous Short Story of Delmore Schwartz

You wrote the greatest short story ever written.” . Lou Reed 

… "The world is a marriage of convenience," said Laura drunkenly, "the world is a shot-gun marriage. The world is a sordid match for money. The world is a misalliance. Every birthday is a funeral and every funeral is a great relief."   Delmore Swartz 

Delmore Schwartz (1913 to 1966, Born and died in New York City) is not as much read as he once was.  I think he is seen as kind of an American Orpheus descending into the underworld of a flea bag hotel,carrying a fifth of Jack Daniels and an unlabelled bottle of pills, dying from a heart attack.  No one at the hotel knew he was a famous poet.  His movie star looks, when young, help,sustain this image.  He was very into the reading life, his parents were immigrant Romanian Jews.  I can see his roots in The Yiddish literary culture of New York City.  His parents were more comfortable in Yiddish than English.  In a way Delmore is a product of the desire of Yiddish parents that their children be highly educated. He contributed to the first edition of The Partisan Review, had bad two marriages. He was tied in with other New York Intellectuals according to Irving Howe in his The World of our Fathers.

“With Dreams Comes Responsibility” is his most famous short story.  As far as I could find, it cannot be read online but luckily we can listen to Delmore and his student Lou Reed (of The Velvet Underground) read the story, run time 24 Minutes.  I listened to both and I recommend that to those interested.

It is 1909, Swartz’s parents have not yet entered into what would turn into a hate filled disastrous marriage.  The narrator, dreaming, is in a movie theatre,back when movies were magic, watching a silent movie.  It begins with his father walking to the house of his future mother to pick her up for a date. The movie is grainy and moves haltingly.  The narrator becomes anxious.  We see his dream image of their Coney Island evening.  Then his father asks his mother to marry him.  At which point, the narrator rises from his seat and, in distress, shouts out: 'Don't do it. It's not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous.'  In the dream the movie usher tells him to be quiet or he will be thrown out of the theatre. 

Delmore (no one called him Swartz) has brilliantly recreated the experience of a dream.  At 21 he knew he had written a masterpiece.  Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift is based on his life.  I read it long ago and hope to reread it this year. 

If you download the sample edition of this collection you can read all of Lou Reed’s tribute and an introduction by his biographer, James Atlas.

I also hope to read more stories by Delmore.

Mel u

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