From the Paris Review Interview Archives: Henry Green Is Fucking With You

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09/21/2010 5:01 PM |

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We conclude today’s expedition into the depths of Paris Review‘s newly complete online interview archives in the 50s, when the young postwar turks of the then-new literary magazine were tracking down an older generation of established men of letters. The Spring 1958 issue features new short stories by 26-year-old V.S. Naipaul and the barely 25-year-old Philip Roth (both available in full online!), and The Art of Fiction #22, being a delightfully evasive conversation between the English “writer’s writer’s writer” Henry Green and dogged interlocutor Terry Southern, of all people:

INTERVIEWER

I’ve heard it remarked that your work is “too sophisticated” for American readers, in that it offers no scenes of violence—and “too subtle,” in that its message is somewhat veiled. What do you say?

GREEN

Unlike the wilds of Texas, there is very little violence over here. A bit of child killing, of course, but no straight shootin’. After fifty, one ceases to digest; as someone once said: “I just ferment my food now.” Most of us walk crabwise to meals and everything else. The oblique approach in middle age is the safest thing. The unusual at this period is to get anywhere at all—God damn!

INTERVIEWER

And how about “subtle”?

GREEN

I don’t follow. Suttee, as I understand it, is the suicide—now forbidden—of a Hindu wife on her husband’s flaming pyre. I don’t want my wife to do that when my time comes—and with great respect, as I know her, she won’t . . .

INTERVIEWER

I’m sorry, you misheard me; I said, “subtle”—that the message was too subtle.

GREEN

Oh, subtle. How dull!