Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Eric Bentley, January 9, 1981

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Before the interview

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Partial Transcript: True, true. I had a, um, clip here.

Segment Synopsis: Exchange of pleasantries before the interview. Bentley tells about the play he has coming out about the confrontation between Pontius Pilate and Jesus.

Keywords: Jesus; Pontius Pilate

Subjects: Bentley, Eric, 1916; Jesus Christ; Jesus in history, thought, and culture; Pilate, Pontius, active 1st century

00:00:55 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: The following is an unrehearsed interview with Eric Bentley for the Kentucky Literature Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Introductory description of people and location of the interview for the Kentucky Literature Oral History Project.

Keywords: David Farrell; Eric Bentley; Kentucky Literature Oral History Project; New York City (N.Y.)

Subjects: Bentley, Eric, 1916-; Farrell, David; New York (N.Y.)

GPS: New York (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.7127, -74.0059
00:01:23 - Elizabeth Hardwick

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Partial Transcript: Eric, I'd just like to, uh, talk today about Elizabeth Hardwick.

Segment Synopsis: Bentley was acquainted with Elizabeth Hardwick; they met through an exchange of property. Lowell and Hardwick moved to Bentley's New York apartment, while Bentley moved to the Lowells' Marlborough Street home. Bentley interviewed Hardwick on his WBAI radio interview show.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Cal Lowell; Elizabeth Hardwick; Harvard; John Leonard; Pacifica Radio; Robert Lowell; WBAI

Subjects: Hardwick, Elizabeth; Leonard, John, 1939-2008; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Pacifica Radio; Tate, Allen, 1899-1979

00:06:42 - Allen Tate

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Partial Transcript: So, um, going from Allen Tate to Cal Lowell must be quite an experience.

Segment Synopsis: Robert Lowell created his accent as an imitation of Allen Tate's voice. Robert Lowell admired Tate and imitated him. Caroline Gordon, Tate's wife, was a convert to Catholicism. Tate himself was also a convert to Catholicism. Bentley observed anti-Semitic and racist tendencies in Tate's character and actions. Tate denied these characterizations.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Anti-Semitism; Caroline Gordon; Catholics; Kenyon College; Politics; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Anti-Semitism; Catholics; Gordon, Caroline, 1895-1981; Kenyon College; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Tate, Allen, 1899-1979

00:12:44 - Marlborough Street

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Partial Transcript: Say, one thing I'm interested in about this, uh--your sojourn on Marlborough Street: Can you describe the apartment?

Segment Synopsis: The townhouse on Marlborough Street was very large, arranged over several floors, with back street access to the yard. There was a dumbwaiter that allowed food from the kitchen in the basement to be brought conveniently to the dining room on the main floor. Elizabeth Hardwick employed a maid who was present during many of Robert Lowell's manic-depressive episodes. This employee appears as a character in Hardwick's book, "Sleepless Nights."

Keywords: Bartok; Bipolar disorder; Breakdowns; Cal Lowell; Classical music; Household employees; Richard Howard; Sleepless Nights

Subjects: Bartók, Béla, 1881-1945; Household employees; Howard, Richard, 1929-; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Manic-depressive illness

GPS: Marlborough St., Boston (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.352276,-71.0830542
00:20:59 - Richard Howard, a friend of Elizabeth Hardwick

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Partial Transcript: Uh, incidentally one of her close friends here you should talk to if you haven't is Richard Howard.

Segment Synopsis: Richard Howard, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, had been a confidant of Elizabeth Hardwick during the time of her breakup with Robert Lowell. Howard is characterized as having respected Robert Lowell as a poet, while blaming Lowell for his treatment of Hardwick during their divorce.

Keywords: Greenwich Village; Homosexuals; Pulitzer Prizes; Richard Howard

Subjects: Gay men; Gays; Howard, Richard, 1929-; Pulitzer Prizes

GPS: Greenwich Village, New York (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.733889, -74.001111
00:24:51 - Barbara Epstein

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Partial Transcript: Uh, uh, I imagine you do know the name Barbara Epstein.

Segment Synopsis: Barbara Epstein, a friend of Elizabeth Hardwick, was not forthcoming in interviews. Bentley knew Jason Epstein and met Barbara Epstein through him. Bentley wonders if Hardwick wants to be protected, causing Barbara Epstein's reticence. Epstein and Hardwick have a close relationship, which in part is related to their work on the New York Review of Books. Bentley relates that Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Hardwick were the two most intelligent women in America.

Keywords: Barbara Epstein; Elizabeth Hardwick; Jason Epstein; Mary McCarthy; New York Review of Books; Robert Lowell; Robert Silvers

Subjects: Epstein, Barbara, 1928-2006; Epstein, Jason; Hardwick, Elizabeth; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; McCarthy, Mary, 1912-1989; Silvers, Robert B.

00:28:49 - Robert Frost

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Partial Transcript: That may have been the same, uh, occasion in which he walked up to Robert Frost and said, uh, "You think you're the greatest [uh] living American poet, and you're not, because I am."

Segment Synopsis: Bentley relates an incident when Robert Lowell, during one of his manic episodes, told Robert Frost that Frost was not the greatest living American poet, because he, Lowell, was.

Keywords: Ezra Pound; Phyllis McGinley; Robert Frost; T.S. Eliot

Subjects: Eliot, T. S. (Thomas Stearns), 1888-1965; Frost, Robert, 1874-1963; McGinley, Phyllis, 1905-1978; Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972

00:30:39 - The House on Marlborough Street

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Partial Transcript: Oh, well, we did dig out a few things there.

Segment Synopsis: The house on Marlborough St. was comfortable and old-fashioned. There was no modern furniture. The house was slightly Victorian. The furniture did not seem to have been searched out as for antiques, but rather the kind of furniture that seems to have been in the house for a long time. Lowell's study had a cot rather than an elaborate couch.

Keywords: Harriet Lowell; Richard Howard; Victorian furniture

Subjects: Furniture, Victorian; Howard, Richard, 1929-

00:36:01 - Elizabeth Hardwick as caregiver of Lowell

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Partial Transcript: Uh, Elizabeth looked after everything, in the mat--you know, matters of rent and housekeeping.

Segment Synopsis: Elizabeth Hardwick took care of Robert Lowell, and this did not seem to be a big imposition on her personally or on her literary career. Allen Tate seemed to be modest, while Lowell noticed everything about his own talent, but both these men had a great sense of their own importance. Bentley worked on Robert Lowell's play "Phaedra," a translation of Racine's "Phèdre" [the French work based on the Greek myth of Phaedra.]

Keywords: Allen Tate; Elizabeth Hardwick; Jean Racine; Phaedra; Phèdre; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Hardwick, Elizabeth; Phaedra (Greek mythology); Racine, Jean, 1639-1699; Tate, Allen, 1899-1979 Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977

00:39:02 - Elizabeth Hardwick's interview with Dick Cavett

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Partial Transcript: By the way, did you see her recent, uh interview with Cavett on TV?

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick's interview with Cavett was not successful. Hardwick came across as uncomfortable or reluctant. Mary McCarthy, on the other hand, was much less uncomfortable in her own interview with Cavett.

Keywords: BBC Interviewers; Dick Cavett; Elizabeth Hardwick; Mary McCarthy

Subjects: Cavett, Dick; Hardwick, Elizabeth; McCarthy, Mary, 1912-1989