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This review is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

DIVIDED LIFE Selected Letters of Conrad Aiken, ed. Joseph Killorin (Yale University Press) £10.80.

As one of the more candid autobiographies of our time, Conrad Aiken's Ushant satisfied most of our contemporary appetite for self-revelation and the analysis of states of mind. But in so far as it contains not a single date, and by reason of its intricacy of form, it can prove puzzling as a work of reference, however admirable as a piece of creative prose.The present selection of Aiken's letters, ably edited by Joseph Killorin, is therefore doubly welcome: over and above its own fascination and high literary merit, it supplies the detailed chronology and background to Aiken's life which Ushant chose to leave unclear. The authorized biography of the poet on which Professor Killorin is currently engaged will complete the footnoting, though it will still be to Ushant or the letters that we shall turn for final understanding of what made Aiken the unique poet he was.

The present selection of letters comprises a mere 245 of the 12,000 which Professor Killorin believes Aiken to have written-of which total some 3,500 were actually available to him. And it is intriguing to have his assurance that at least four times as many of the letters still unpublished are no less interesting and lively than those he has drawn upon. As the recipient of many myself over the years, I can well believe this to be the case.

Among American poets of the present century, there have been many distinguished expatriates. But among them, Aiken was notable ...


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