Monday, December 14, 2009

From the Yahoo Group on The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Probably someone already noted on this list that Barzun had his 102nd birthday on November 30. Doug G, Fri Dec 4, 2009 12:35 am

Friends, What a long, productive life! His “Catalogue of Crime”, though not perfect, introduced me to many writers and books who have given me even greater reading pleasures than any other work of the kind! I probablt could classify it among my ten essential volumes in all fields, together with the Bible and "101 Years Entertainment", to name a couple. And his book on the decline of Western civilization is yet another wonder! Best regards, Enrique F. Bird Picó, Fri Dec 4, 2009 1:25 am

And he likes Berlioz - an unmistakable sign of good taste! Nick Fuller, Fri Dec 4, 2009 4:14 am

Which means that he is exactly one year younger than John Dickson Carr. And his collaborator on A Catalogue of Crime, was born in Carr's home town of Uniontown. Unfortunately, Carr wasn't really to their taste. Nick Fuller, Fri Dec 4, 2009 4:16 am

Well, I hope that longevity is tied to writing about the genre for all of our sakes. Jeffrey Marks, Fri Dec 4, 2009 10:03 am

Has a "great" man or woman ever become the world's oldest person? Eight years or so more and he'll be in the running! I introduced Barzun as a player in this opening historiographical section of mine (of course he's mentioned in many other places) as a thirty-six year old history professor — and this was sixty-five years ago! He was right in the heart of it all when Boucher and Haycraft and Wilson and Chandler were belting it out. Curt, Fri Dec 4, 2009 10:46 am

Most definitely. He and Boucher argued more than agreed. Barzun was very gracious about letting me quote his letters in the Boucher biography. Jeff, Sat Dec 5, 2009 11:04 am

I copied the Barzun-Bouchers letters in the Boucher papers, sounds like you did too. Both Boucher and Haycraft seemed to get rather irritated with him at times. I think they felt his emphasis on the detective novel as "tale" limited the artistic potentialities of the form. I wrote Barzun both in September 2001 (a few days before 9/11) and more recently, over the summer. The first time I got a letter from a secretary telling me he was in too poor health to respond to my letter. Having mostly finished the book, I wrote him more recently but never got a response. I've generally been quite successful communicating with people, including children of authors, with some excellent results, but Professor Barzun sadly has been a
washout for me (I assume he is still living at the same address). Of course I know he's quite, quite old and is physically much weaker, but I understand he still reads (his advice to Pres. Obama was published earlier this year and I believe you said you communicated with him last year?). He's really quite amazing in that respect, perhaps Will Durant and Milton Friedman are the closest other examples of astounding mental longevity (and they died at 96 and 94, respectively). I must confess it's a great disappointment to me that I've never been able to correspond with him, as this book project of mine is — I think it's fair to say — the most Barzunian thing written on detective fiction not by Barzun himself (though I'm not quite as dogmatic). Barzun's Catalogue of Crime, along with Doug Greene's work and Bill Pronzini's and Marcia Muller's 1001 Midnights, did
more to inspire me to read these books and write this manuscript than anything else. I think Barzun would have found my work interesting at some point in his life. When I get round to indexing, he'll be one of the most mentioned names in there! Curt, Sat Dec 5, 2009 11:47 am

I corresponded with Barzun about 9 years ago — we talked about our mutual belief that Crippen may have been innocent (at least of the charges but not of other things); he complimented my Carr biography, telling me he liked JDC personally but not his books, though after my bio he would give them another try (I don't know whether he did); and he said nice things about my Dover anthologies. My view of Barzun's CATALOGUE OF CRIME is that it is fascinating but supremely quirky — he likes "straighforward" writers, often UK, but not those like Carr, Queen, Boucher, Rawson who wrote about bizarre, indeed fantastic, events. I still find that odd, given Barzun's stated belief that detective fiction is a "tale" -- which was exactly Carr's belief. I found him informed and gracious and perfectly willing to discuss his judgments, and I wish him many more birthdays.
Doug G, Sat Dec 5, 2009 12:47 pm