Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Inspiration for serious young women (or not so young)

Browsing the Internet for information on the respected “Southern” (sort of) writer Mary Lee Settle (author of the ”Beulah Quintet”), I found this stunning anecdote:

Interviewer: Still, you're not a historian. You're a writer. Was there ever a conversion, a calling?

Mary Lee Settle: In 1945 I came back from the war to work for Harper's Bazaar. I sat in editorial meetings with women in big hats while they decided whether to put the Belsen pictures [Bergen-Belsen, the infamous Nazi concentration camp] before or after the new French clothes. I think there are few times when the reality that crouches behind daily compromise springs out. It happened to me there. One day in late summer I came back from an expense account lunch at Voisin's. I wore a Bianca Mosca suit, the regulation large black hat, white gloves. I was 27. On my desk were layouts of Bill Brandt's photographs of Brontë country and the Modern Library edition of Wuthering Heights. I began to read the introduction to find captions. I saw that Emily Brontë had already written Wuthering Heights and was dead by the time she was 28. I could hear the cars passing below on Madison Avenue. I knew then that if I didn't move I would still be there when I was 40, writing on the fringes of "the arts." I took off the hat, pushed back the layouts, walked into Carmel Snow's office [she being the formidable and famous editor of the then-powerful magazine] and quit before I lost my nerve.