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