I notice now, too, that Betty and I had at some point commenced a tradition of closing our email with “Fondly.” I smile in wonder. Who started that? And when?
And so I look back … when did we start closing like that? And who started it?
Early in our correspondence, we sometimes just put our names—or something like All best or Yours ever and obliged (that was one of Betty’s). But as I look back through the emails, I see that the first Fondly came from me—on January 5, 2000, at the end of a long note about my father’s death. But Fondly did not immediately catch on. I used it now and then; so did she. But by the summer of 2000, we were both using it routinely. It was an accurate word. I did feel “fondness” for Betty—and enormous gratitude for how she was helping me. Think of it: a premier Shelley scholar pausing in her busy days to reply to earnest emails from a retired middle school English teacher who was working on a YA biography of Mary. As I sit here now, I am still amazed by what she did. And even more ashamed that—later—I allowed the correspondence to dwindle. And then disappear.
But I’m going to delay talking about that. I want to think well of myself for just a bit longer.
In early July we were writing back and forth about Janet Todd’s biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, a book I was in the process of reading. Betty was bothered by some of the negative comments in the reviews of Todd’s book. On July 7, I wrote a longish message about book reviewing and about how I go about it. I reiterated one of my fundamental questions that I ask about a book (a question that, many reviews later, I still ask): Has this writer done the work? (You’d be surprised how often the answer to that question is, “No.”) And if the writer has done the work, well, I am much more generous in the rest of the review—especially if he or she has a sense of humor, a graceful style, some fresh insights.
Betty replied with a kind note and said, I am back to the answer that rears itself every time I become impatient: take the time it takes. And that advice, it seems to me, is about the most basic and sensible principle any writer could embrace. A writer who hurries is a writer who will have regrets.*
I wrote back and thanked her, again, for all her help, telling her that I really enjoyed our exchanges but regret the one-sidedness of them: You are the principal MWS scholar in the world; I, in some sense, the Cowardly Lion & the Tin Man & the Scarecrow all in one.
I realize now—reading that comparison—that it seems to suggest that she is the Wizard of Oz. That’s not good, is it?
*Relevant. In a recent previous post in this series, I said that I'd resolved in 2000 not to move again--then said that seven years later we did move, from Aurora to Hudson. Oops. We moved in 1997, not 2007. Seems I'd forgotten Betty's dictum!