Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Reader Survey
PN Review Substack

This article is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

Herman Melville and the Olsen-Mason Correspondence Torsten Kehler

I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.

It is geography at bottom, a hell of wide land from the beginning. That made the first American story (Parkman's): exploration.

Something else than a stretch of earth - seas on both sides, no barriers to contain as restless a thing as Western man was becoming in Columbus' day. That made Melville's story (part of it).1

In 1953 the American poet, thinker and writer Charles Olson responded to a letter from a youngish English lawyer, novelist and literary critic (and University of London Summer School teacher), Ronald Mason, setting off a short but intense correspondence that illuminates twentiethcentury Anglo-American Arts and Letters, and, because of the particular intellectual vitality of Charles Olson, also illuminates the history of American thought and literature.

The principals in this correspondence were two ambitious young men approximately forty years of age, in their intellectual prime, each the author of a recognised of not well-regarded book on Melville, and each with a lot of writing behind them. Mason had written four novels by 1954 and Olson - never at a loss for words - had a lot of writing ahead of him; Olson would also go on to become one of the most intellectually fascinating and paradoxical figures in twentieth-century American literature: paradoxical because influential ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image