MLC Book Anniversary: Boswell and Mrs. Ted Bliss

Stanley Elkin Portrait

Stanley Elkin, 1995

Stanley Elkin’s

Boswell and Mrs. Ted Bliss

 

On April 1st, Stanley Elkin published both his first novel–Boswell (Random House, 1964)–and his final novel–Mrs. Ted Bliss (Hyperion, 1995). Original typescripts of both these definitive texts can be found in the Modern Literature Collection‘s Stanley Elkin Papers.

Known for his darkly comedic writing, April Fool’s Day was a wonderfully apt release date for Elkin’s premiere and farewell novels. During his 31 prolific years of publishing, Elkin authored ten novels, two volumes of novellas, two books of short stories, a collection of essays, and one (unproduced) screenplay, all of which showcase his vibrant, exuberant language, incisive appropriations of American pop culture, and his ability to deftly shift between stylistic registers. Critic and fellow Washington University instructor William Gass quipped that Elkin “was like a jazz artist who would go off on riffs”, seamlessly transitioning from comedy to tragedy and back again.

 

831626175.0.x

First edition cover of Boswell

 

Boswell relates the comedic odyssey of James Boswell, a modern day con man who attempts to cheat death by collecting celebrities.

“Everybody dies and that’s that,” writes Elkin, “But no one really believes it”.

MSS039_II_2_a_Material_Toward_Boswell_001

Corrected typescript of Boswell

MSS039_II-3_inward_look_at_an_emerging_writer

 

As with Boswell, Mrs. Ted Bliss appropriately derives its title from the novel’s protagonist, Dorothy Bliss. Elkin’s final novel also hovers around death, following its heroine through her twilight years after the death of her husband, Ted.

9780786861040.OL.0.m

First edition cover of Mrs. Ted Bliss

MSS039_XIV-2-e_mrs_ted_bliss_copy_edited_06

Page proof of Mrs. Ted Bliss

MSS039_XIV-2-e_mrs_ted_bliss_copy_edited_02

Page proof of Mrs. Ted Bliss

MSS039_XIV-3_stanley_elkins_farewell_19950903

Published posthumously, Elkin’s final book was honored with a National Critics Circle Book Award.

 

MSS039_XIV-3_stanley_elkin_novel_nominated_for_1995_critics_circle_award

Announcement of Elkin’s 1995 Critics Circle Award nomination from the St. Louis Dispatch

 

Here, William H. Gass and Stanley Elkin discuss the “mythic” mode in which many of Elkin’s novels were written.

For more video footage of Elkin, visit the MLC’s digital archive at http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/mlc50/stanley-elkin/video.

About the author

Meghan Lamb currently lives with her husband in St. Louis, where she is a fiction MFA candidate with the Washington University Writing Program and a Graduate Assistant with the Modern Literature Collection. She is the author of Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace) and Sacramento (Solar Luxuriance).