Richard Yates

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Richard Yates (February 3, 1926 – November 7, 1992) was an American fiction writer. His first novel, "Revolutionary Road" (1961), was a finalist for the 1962 National Book Award and is listed in Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels.

Richard Yates bibliography.jpg

Novels[edit]

Revolutionary Road (1961)[edit]

There were endless desperate swarms of them, hurrying through the station and the streets
  • "I mean talk about decadence," he declared, "how decadent can a society get? Look at it this way. This country's probably the psychiatric, psychoanalytical capital of the world."
    • p.65. (Part 1, Chapter 4) [Page numbers per the 2007 Vintage paperback edition]
  • How small and neat and comically serious the other men looked, with their gray-flecked crew cuts and their button-down collars and their brisk little hurrying feet! There were endless desperate swarms of them, hurrying through the station and the streets, and an hour from now they would all be still. The waiting mid-town office buildings would swallow them up and contain them, so that to stand in one tower looking out across the canyon to another would be to inspect a great silent insectarium displaying hundreds of tiny pink men in white shirts, forever shifting papers and frowning into telephones, acting out their passionate little dumb show under the supreme indifference of the rolling spring clouds.
    • p.119-120. (Part 2, Chapter 1)
  • "Wow," he said. "Now you've said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that's all we ever talked about. We'd sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said 'hopeless', though; that's where we'd chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that's where there's nothing to do but take off. If you can."
    • p.189. (Part 2, Chapter 5)
  • "I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere, as far ahead of me as the seniors at Rye when I was in sixth grade; people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I'd suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I'd been meant to be one of them all along, and everything in the meantime had been a mistake; and they'd know it too. I'd be like the ugly duckling among the swans."
    • p.258. (Part 3, Chapter 3)
  • "You know?" he said. "This is the kind of thing that really—" he paused, examining the wisp of smoke that curled from his wet pipestem. "Really makes you stop and think."
    • p.329. (Part 3, Chapter 9)

A Special Providence (1969)[edit]

  • After a while he stopped listening. His ears took in only the rise and fall of her voice, the elaborate, familiar, endless rhythm of it; but from long experience he was able to say "Oh yes" or "Of course," in all the right places.
    • p.5 (Prologue) [Page numbers per the Methuen 2006 Edition]
  • Late in the afternoon the company cooks brought food up to the village for the first hot meal they'd had since Belgium - salmon patties, dehydrated potatoes, and canned fruit salad - and most of the men seemed in high spirits as they sat or squatted over their mess kits in the street.
    "What kind of catshit is this?"
    "Salmon-patty catshit, that's what kind."
    • p.80 (Part 1, Chapter 3)
  • Why couldn't she stop talking? Did all lonely people have that problem?
    • p.115 (Part 2, Chapter 1)
  • "You make it sound so easy." But that was one of the wonderful things about Sterling Nelson: he could make any difficult thing sound easy, and the only other man she had ever known who could do that was Willard Slade. All the others, George, for example, had made easy things sound difficult.
    • p.138 (Part 2, Chapter 2)
  • "I expect you'll miss your friends."
    "I don't really have any friends; not real ones. Anyway, we'll make new friends."
    • p,147 (Part 2, Chapter 2)
  • The question of whether or not she would find it awkward being called "Mrs Nelson" remained unresolved; nobody in Scarsdale called her anything at all.
    Electric trains drew the men away to the city each morning and the children were swallowed up by the school. The women, alone in their big, impeccable houses, let their days slip away in endless rounds of triviality - or at least, that was the way Alice saw them in her mind's eye. She pictured them idling through easy household chores or giving instructions to their maids, and painting their fingernails and fixing their hair and compounding their lassitude by spending hours on the telephone with one another, talking of bridge clubs and luncheons and functions of the P.T.A. If their lives included anything more interesting than that she didn't learn of it, for none of them ever called her up or dropped in for a neighbourly visit - nor, apparently, did any of their husbands ever strike up an acquaintance with Sterling on the train. Scarsdale behaved as though Alice and Sterling didn't exist.
    • p.147-148 (Part 2, Chapter 2)
After a second or two he thrust the muzzle forward and broke out the pane of glass, less because he knew it would make for a better aim than because it was what gunmen always did behind windows in movies.
  • (and when would she ever learn not to monopolize a whole evening's conversation?)
    • p.163 (Part 2, Chapter 3)
  • That had the sound of a good exit line, so she went quickly into her room and slammed the door.
    • p.205 (Part 2, Chapter 4)
  • Her face, in the spattered mirror, was a shocked and wild-eyed ruin.
    • p.214 (Part 2, Chapter 4)
  • He seemed decent and kindly enough, but Prentice was cautioned by an old and trusted rule of his schooldays: Beware of the first friendly one; he's probably an outcast himself.
    • p.240 (Part 3, Chapter 1)
  • Sumbitch wasn't even needed, that's the funny part; just some eager-beaver bastard couldn't mind his own business.
    • p.243-244 (Part 3, Chapter 1)
  • After a second or two he thrust the muzzle forward and broke out the pane of glass, less because he knew it would make for a better aim than because it was what gunmen always did behind windows in movies.
    • p.264 (Part 3, Chapter 2)
  • "Okay, kid," Walker said, "This is it."
    And it was the absurdity of the phrase - nobody said "This is it" except in the movies, unless they were phoney bastards like Loomis - that roused Prentice to his first real anger of the morning. He wanted to smash and break the head of anyone stupid enough to say a thing like that; he wanted to kill all the posturing fraudulence in the world, and it was all here before him in this big, dumb, bobbing face.
    • (Part 3, Chapter 3)

Disturbing the Peace (1975)[edit]

It seemed only a few minutes later that he woke with a sense that the world was coming apart.
  • The first drink tasted so good that he let her do most of the talking while he savored it, sitting beside her and watching her profile. The tip of her small nose bobbed very slightly up and down at each syllable beginning with p, b or m, and that seemed a lovely thing for a girl's nose to do.
    • p.101 (Ch. 3) [page numbers per the 2008 Vintage edition.]
  • To find order in chaos - why, of course; that was what he'd wanted all his life.
    He had been born for this, for finding order in chaos, and all the wasted years has been a mistake.
    To find order in chaos; to find order in chaos.
    • p.130, 133 (Ch. 5)
  • "There's something we have to discuss," she said, and from the way she said it he knew it wouldn't be a discussion at all. She had something to tell him - something he wouldn't like - and he had better shut up and sit down and listen.
    • p. 170 (Ch. 6)
  • she talked less, or at least did less of the kind of talking whose only purpose was to fill silence
    • p.177 (Ch. 7)
  • ..."a man doesn't spend all these years building something and then kick it to pieces. Don't - well, to put it coarsely, don't shit where you eat."
    • p.183 (Ch. 7)
  • It seemed only a few minutes later that he woke with a sense that the world was coming apart.
    • p.227 (Ch. 9)
  • "You don't have much use for black people, do you, Mr Wilder? Deep down you wish we'd all go away. You think our lips are too thick and our noses too flat and you shudder at the thought of our kinky hair. Isn't that about right, Mr Wilder?"
    • p.238 (Ch. 9)
Emily took her to a cool, decent coffee shop and for an hour or two they talked in circles.

The Easter Parade (1976)[edit]

  • "I see," she said. And when would she ever learn to stop saying 'I see' about things she didn't see at all?
    • p.66. (Part 1, Chapter 4) [Page numbers per the 2008 Vintage paperback edition]
  • and for an hour or two they talked in circles.
    • p.154. (Part 2, Chapter 4)
  • Most people do the best they can.
    • p.225. (Part 3, Chapter 3)

A Good School (1978)[edit]

  • He couldn't help pondering how he would feel if his own father were to die. It was unthinkable: Jock MacKenzie was in the very prime of life, a laughing, sailing, golf- and tennis-playing man who could still defeat his son at arm-wrestling any time he felt like it, and often did. Still, there were heart attacks; there were strokes; there was cancer. Nobody lived forever.
    Jock MacKenzie's anger could be terrible, but in his gentle moods there was no finer companion in the world. Every worthwhile thing Steve knew, it seemed, was something he had learned from his father. As a condition of receiving a car on his sixteenth birthday, Steve had been made to memorise the whole of Kipling's "If", which later helped him earn the only "A" he'd ever had in Pop Driscoll's course; and certain lines of that poem, remembered now as they sounded in his father's voice, were enough to fill his eyes with tears.
    This Sunday, he promised himself, he would call home and have a good long talk with the old man.
    "When you're talking, Steve", Jock MacKenzie had told him once, "and I don't care who it's to or what it's about, the important thing is knowing when to stop. Never say anything that doesn't improve on silence."
    • p.85, 86 (Ch.4) [Page numbers per the 2007 Vintage paperback edition]
"When you're talking, Steve, the important thing is knowing when to stop. Never say anything that doesn't improve on silence."
  • Could a person really be cynical about everything in the world and still expect to have friends?
    • p.147 (Ch.7)
  • There would probably always be kids like Grove in prep schools: you would find only irritation in trying to help them, or to like them, and you could probably never bring yourself to call them by their first names until ten years later, when they came back to visit the school with their wives.
    • p.164 (Ch.7)
  • There was no readiness for soldiering in this truck, no stern and cocky welcoming of challenges. They sounded - oh, Mother of God - they sounded like children.
    • p.165 (Ch.7)
  • We had a few beers and laughed more than we meant to and punched each other's arms; in the end, out on the sidewalk again, I think we shook hands about three times in saying goodbye. Just before turning away he said "Listen, though: don't look back too much, okay? You can drive yourself crazy that way."
    • p.167 (Afterword)

Young Hearts Crying (1984)[edit]

"Try to remember this, men. The mark of a professional in any line of work - I mean any line of work - is that he can make difficult things look easy."
  • "Try to remember this, men. The mark of a professional in any line of work - I mean any line of work - is that he can make difficult things look easy."
    • p.4 (Pt.1, Ch.1) [Page numbers per the Methuen Publishing Ltd 2005 edition]
  • "Of course. And isn't that the worst kind of loss? When you don't even realise the value of something until you've thrown it away?"
    • p.42 (Pt.1, Ch.3)
  • "Well, marriage is funny, Mike", Harold said once with the wind whipping the vapor of his voice over his shoulder. "You can go along for years without ever knowing who you're married to. It's a riddle."
    "You're right," Michael said. "It is."
    "Then maybe once in a while you take a look at this girl, this woman, and you think: What's the deal? How come? Why her? Why me?"
    "Yeah, I know what you mean, Harold."
    • p.113 (Pt.1, Ch.7)
  • "I think you'll find ordinary people are nicer than you give them credit for being"
    • p.172 (Pt.2, Ch.3)
  • And from this distance they all did look like kids - boys and girls from far and wide with their cheap hand luggage and their Army duffel bags, brave entertainers who might travel for years before it occurred to them, or to most of them, that they weren't going anywhere.
    • p.176 (Pt.2, Ch.3)
  • "It's often occurred to me," she said, "that 'friend' is about the most treacherous word in the language."
    • p.180 (Pt.2, Ch.3)
  • "But this isn't a lecture course. The only way any of us can learn this craft is by saturating ourselves in examples of it, in and out of print, and then trying to put the best of what we've found into our own work."
    • p.187 (Pt.2, Ch.4)
  • "All I'm trying to say is that I'm afraid I got a kind of who-cares feeling out of this. Very strong writing, fine writing; still, the material kept making me think, Yeah, yeah, I get it, but who cares?"
    • p.195 (Pt.2, Ch.4)
  • "As my husband always used to say, who cares?"
    "A lot of people care, Ann."
    "Well, that's a nice thought, but try counting them up on your fingers. Name me four. Name me three."
    • p.221 (Pt.2, Ch.5)
  • "Yeah, well, sure, 'remarkably intelligent'. Look, baby, the world is crawling with these diamond-in-the-rough types, these salt-of-the-earth characters, and they're all remarkably intelligent. My God, I knew half-literate guys in the Army who could scare the shit out of you with their intelligence."
    • p.231 (Pt.2, Ch.6)
"Then if you don't happen to like wherever it is you find yourself, you can doze and float again until you find yourself somewhere else."
  • "I don't get it," Laura said. "How come boys can do whatever they feel like and girls can't?"
    "Because they're boys'," Lucy cried. "Boys have done whatever they've felt like since the beginning of time, don't you even know that? Haven't you ever learned that yet, you poor, ignorant little - how smart do you have to be to know a thing like that? They're irresponsible and self-indulgent and careless and cruel, and they get away with it all their lives because they're boys."
    • p.253 (Pt.2, Ch.7)
  • exchanging agreeable remarks for no other purpose than to keep silence from closing in.
    • p.286 (Pt.3, Ch.1)
  • "It's funny, you know? Distance doesn't matter anymore. It's almost as if geography didn't exist. All you do is doze and float in a pressurised cabin for a while - and it doesn't even matter how long, because time isn't important, either - and before you know it you're in Los Angeles, or London, or Tokyo. Then if you don't happen to like wherever it is you find yourself, you can doze and float again until you find yourself somewhere else."
    • p.398 (Pt.3, Ch.7)

Cold Spring Harbor (1986)[edit]

  • Or was it possible that nobody's reasons could be all that clearly defined? Maybe men and women came together in ways as random and mindless as the mating of birds or pigs or insects, so that any talk of "reasons" would always be vain, always be self-deceiving and beside the point. Well, that would be one way of looking at it.
    • p.46 (Ch.5) [Page numbers per the 2008 Vintage paperback edition]
  • And he didn't know how to answer her (Well, maybe; maybe not; yes and no); so he didn't say anything. He opened a cold beer and sat down with it, knowing he'd need a little time and quiet to sort things out.
    "Look: just sit now, okay?" he told her. "Sit. Sit." And it sounded like a command given to a nervous, well-trained dog, but she obeyed him.
    • p.57 (Ch.6)
  • Sometimes the world was just too fucking much.
    • p.60 (Ch.6)
  • And he was afraid she might be taking this much too seriously, so he reached out to stroke or tousle her hair, but that didn't work because she'd just been to the hairdresser and didn't want to get it messed up.
    • p.62 (Ch.6)
  • Rachel became slowly aware now, even while talking and listening to her own voice, that there might well be something universal about the pleasure a grown girl could take in disparaging her mother. Maybe it happened with sons and their fathers, too, or with all grown children and the ever-diminishing presence of parents in their lives; in any case, the knowledge didn't prevent her from pressing on, as if to see how far she would dare to go.
    • p.64 (Ch.6)
  • From the day of his talkative, overconfident arrival at Irving he had failed and failed at learning how not to behave like a jerk; and everybody knew what kind of life a jerk could expect at prep school.
    • p.67 (Ch.7)
One advantage of the very low lighting in this room, he'd decided, was that it could make almost any girl look like a million dollars.
  • And he didn't mind at all. Downstairs and outdoors and alone again, back in the trampled dust in front of the place, he pitied the drab supervisor and all her quick, harried, frowning children because none of them looked as though they had anything worth waiting for, tonight or ever.
    • p.120 (Ch.10)
  • "Well, she's - sweet," he told her. "She's very sweet, and I guess that's part of the trouble. She's like a little girl - is a little girl.
    • p.122 (Ch.10)
  • One advantage of the very low lighting in this room, he'd decided, was that it could make almost any girl look like a million dollars.
    • p.123 (Ch.10)
  • "Yeah, well, you're right, but what the hell; there's nothing anybody can do about it. Besides, that's ancient history now. I don't even think about it much any more, from - you know - from day to day."
    "Good," she said. "It's always important to keep the day-to-day stuff separate from the ancient history, isn't it."
    • p.125 (Ch.10)

Short story collections[edit]

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962)[edit]

Like frustrated suburban wives we fed on each other's discontent
  • there is an automatic pleasure in watching a thing done well.
    • Story: "Jody rolled the bones". (p.35-36 in Collected Short Stories) [Page numbers per the Vintage 2008 edition of 'Collected Short Stories', which includes the stories in 'Eleven Kinds of Loneliness']
  • Like frustrated suburban wives we fed on each other's discontent; we became divided into mean little cliques and subdivided into jealously shifting pairs of buddies, and we pieced out our idleness with gossip.
    • Story: "Jody rolled the bones". (p.40 in Collected Short Stories)
  • Then they came out, Finney wearing the foolish smile you sometimes see in the crowds that gape at street accidents
    • Story: "A wrestler with sharks". (p.83 in Collected Short Stories)
  • Being told he was right was always a tonic to Ken
    • Story: "A really good jazz piano". (p.122 in Collected Short Stories)
  • "Where are the windows?" he demanded, spreading his hands. "That's the question. Where does the light come in?"
    • Story: "Builders". (p.149 in Collected Short Stories)
  • But late that night, as Irving Berlin himself might say, something kind of wonderful happened. I took that little bastard of a story and I built the hell out of it.
    • Story: "Builders". (p.151 in Collected Short Stories)
  • Then she asked me if I wanted to know something, and without waiting to find out whether I did or not, she told me.
    • Story: "Builders". (p.158 in Collected Short Stories)

Liars in Love (1981)[edit]

  • She too was a divorced mother, though her former husband had vanished long ago and was referred to only as "that bastard" or "that cowardly son of a bitch".
    • Story: "Oh Joseph, I'm so tired". (p.181-182 in Collected Short Stories) [Page numbers per the Vintage 2008 edition of 'Collected Short Stories', which includes the stories in 'Liars in Love']
  • "Because you see there are millions and millions of people in New York - more people than you can possibly imagine, ever - and most of them are doing something that makes sound. Maybe talking, or playing the radio, maybe closing doors, maybe putting their forks down on their plates if they're having dinner, or dropping their shoes if they're going to bed - and because there are so many of them, all those little sounds add up and come together in a kind of hum. But it's so faint - so very, very faint - that you can't hear it unless you listen very carefully for a long time."
    • Story: "Oh Joseph, I'm so tired". (p.188-189 in Collected Short Stories)
  • then he came back and faced her again, trembling. "'Nice,'" he said. "'Nice,' Is that what you want? You want the world to be 'nice'? Because listen, baby. Listen, sweetheart. The world is about as nice as shit. The world is struggle and rape and humilation and death. The world is no fucking place for dreamy little rich girls from St. Louis, do you understand me?"
    • Story: "A natural girl". (p.212 in Collected Short Stories)
  • if self-deception was an illness she was well into its advanced stages.
    • Story: "Trying out for the race". (p.221 in Collected Short Stories)
  • "Oh," Colby said. "I see."
    " What d'you see? You really aren't much of a conversationalist, you know that? You 'see', What can you possibly 'see' from what little I've told you?"
    • Story: "A compassionate leave". (p.294 in Collected Short Stories)
you know - the outside view. And that's sort of like the Empire State Building, right?
  • Then he turned his chair away from his drawing board - he didn't often do that - and sat looking grave and thoughtful, examining the wet end of his cigar. "Well, hell, I'd like to get married too," he said. "I mean, I'm not really immune to it or anything, but there are a few obstacles. Number one, I haven't met the right girl. Number two, I've got too many other responsibilities. Number three - or wait, come to think of it, who the hell needs a number three?"
    • Story: "Regards at home". (p.314 in Collected Short Stories)
  • "Well, I think Phil's got a fairly good chance of getting in there, maybe even on a scholarship. It sounds fine; still, all I know about Harvard is the reputation, you know - the outside view. And that's sort of like the Empire State Building, right? You see it from a distance, maybe at sunset, and it's this majestic, beautiful thing. Then you get inside, you walk around a couple of the lower floors, and it turns out to be one of the sleaziest office buildings in New York: there's nothing in there but small-time insurance agencies and costume-jewellery wholesalers. There isn't any reason for the tallest building in the world. So you ride all the way up to the top and your eardrums hurt and you're out there at the parapet looking out, looking down, and even that's a disappointment because you've seen it all in photographs so many times. Right? So I don't know; I think Phil and I'd better go up to Harvard for a couple of days and kind of snoop around."
    • Story: "Regards at home". (p.315-316 in Collected Short Stories)
  • And she was halfway up the stairs before he decided that his best reply was to make no reply at all.
    • Story: "Saying goodbye to Sally". (p.342 in Collected Short Stories)
  • It occurred to Jack that if he held the phone well away from his head Sally's voice would dwindle and flatten out and be lost in tinny gibberish, like the voice of an idiot midget.
    • Story: "Saying goodbye to Sally". (p.352 in Collected Short Stories)

Biographical materials[edit]

"A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates" by Blake Bailey (2003)[edit]

  • As [Richard Yates] explained in a 1972 interview, his characters "all rush around trying to do their best—trying to live well, within their known or unknown limitations, doing what they can't help doing, ultimately and inevitably failing because they can't help being the people they are. That's what brings on the calamity at the end." Yates's compassion for human weakness, for the flaws that make failure so inevitable, is everywhere in his work [...]. Yates also tended to be hard on characters based on himself. But all are worthy of our sympathy in at least one respect: They try to do their best but fail because of limitations over which they have no control.
    • "A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates", by Blake Bailey (2003) - from Chapter 1, "The Caliche Road: 1926-1939", at p.17 [Page numbers per the 2006 Methuen UK edition.]
Aspirando et perseverando
(Aspiring and persevering)
  • Had dinner tonight with an old boyhood friend from the years 1937-39 when I lived in a town called Scarborough [i.e. Stephen Benedict], whose amateur theatre group ("The Beechwood Players") served as the original for "The Laurel Players" in my book. He found it incredible, and I found it spooky, that I had completely failed to remember the name of a winding blacktop road in that town on which he and I and many of our schoolmates used to pass the most impressionable hours of our formative years: "Revolutionary Road".
    • Part of a 1961 letter by Richard Yates, quoted by Blake Bailey in Chapter 1 at p.33. [The described road can indeed be found if one Googles it.]
  • Aspirando et perseverando was and is the Avon Old Farms school motto
    • Chapter 2, "A good school: 1939-1944", at p.46
  • He wrote almost every word of [ Avon Old Farms school's ] newspaper, much of the yearbook and literary magazine, and performed all community-service hours in the school's eighteenth-century printshop. "Dick ran everything of a literary nature," said classmate Gilman Ordway. "He might have been the only one of us who knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life—become a writer of fiction."
    • Chapter 2, "A good school: 1939-1944", at p.59
  • "Keep a tight asshole" became a favourite motto in times of adversity.
    • Chapter 3, "The Canal: 1944-1947", at p.81
  • This tendency to become deeply attached to unlikely people would remain one of [Yates's] most poignant and self-destructive qualities.
    • Chapter 3, "The Canal: 1944-1947", at p.87
  • But it was the work that ultimately mattered, and for Yates 'The Great Gatsby' was holy writ. Encountering the novel for the first time was, quite simply, the definite milestone of his apprenticeship: Gatsby, Yates declared, was "his formal introduction to the craft."
    Echoes of Salingerian diction are especially audible in Yates's early work, and linger faintly in his mature style, the result of his reading over and over his five favorite stories in 'Nine Stories'.
    • Chapter 4, "Liars in love: 1947-1951", at p.108-109, 109-110
  • twelve years [after short story "Jody Rolled the Bones" was published] [Yates] got [a letter] from Colonel Roger Little of the Office of Military Psychology and Leadership: "Jody", wrote Little, had long been used "as a reference . . . because it is such a sensitive portrayal of the basic trainee's perception of the noncommissioned officer."
    • Chapter 5, "The getaway: 1951-1953", at p.135
  • I've also discovered at long last what you knew from the beginning—that my "broods" do not stem from any dark, Hamlet-like neurosis, incurable and tragic, but from plain laziness . . . I've pulled myself out of [several really major broods since you left] by the more painful but no less effective method of telling myself to shut up and get back to the typewriter. I'm not saying I've overcome them—I had a bad one just the other day—but I'm holding my own against the bastards. They don't immobilize me any more, and I'm confident it won't be long before I'll be able to brush them off like flies.
    Yates appears here as an almost perfect character out of his own imagination—one of those deterministic victims who "rush around trying to do their best . . . doing what they can't help doing, ultimately and inevitably failing because they can't help being the people they are."
    • Extract from a 1953 letter by Richard Yates (then living in a basement flat in London, to write) to his first wife Sheila (who had by then gone back with their infant daughter to the USA); plus a comment by Blake Bailey about this passage. (Yates himself returned to his native USA turf in September 1953.)
      Chapter 5, "The getaway: 1951-1953", at p.149
  • Charlie was Charlie: possessed of "an uncannily keen and very articulate insight into other people's weaknesses," as Yates put it.
    Footnote by Blake Bailey: The quote is taken from the 1972 Ploughshares interview. Yates was explaining how his brother-in-law's personality was similar to that of John Givings in "Revolutionary Road".
    • Chapter 6, "A cry to prisoners: 1953-1959", at p.171
  • I had read [ Flaubert's Madame Bovary ] before but hadn't studied it the way I'd studied Gatsby and other books; now it seemed ideally suited to serve as a guide, if not a model, for the novel that was taking shape in my mind. I wanted that kind of balance and quiet resonance on every page, that kind of foreboding mixed with comedy, that kind of inexorable destiny in the heart of a lonely, romantic girl. And all of it, of course, would have to be done with an F. Scott Fitzgerald kind of freshness and grace.
    • Yates writing in "Some Very Good Masters" (essay). Quoted in Chapter 6, "A cry of prisoners: 1953-1959", at p.175
  • Flaubert offered a further tutorial on the proper use of the "objective correlative"—the telling detail that transmits meaning and emotion without labouring the point.
    • Chapter 6, "A cry of prisoners: 1953-1959", at p.175. (This remark is by Blake Bailey)
  • "Another thing I have always liked about both Gatsby and Bovary, [Yates] wrote, "is that there are no villains in either one. The force of evil is felt in these novels but is never personified—neither novel is willing to let us off that easily."
    • Chapter 6, "A cry of prisoners: 1953-1959", at p.176
  • "It took me a long time to figure out... that the best way to handle [the couple's dialogue] was to have them nearly always miss each other's points, to have them talk around and through and at each other. There's a great deal of dialogue between them in the finished book... but there's almost no communication."
    In other words Yates had remembered the lesson of his first great master, Fitzgerald—namely, that people rarely say what they mean, and good dialogue is a matter of catching one's characters "in the very act of giving themselves away".
    • Richard Yates, about writing Revolutionary Road (Ploughshares, 68); plus an observation by Blake Bailey on this.
      Chapter 6, "A cry of prisoners: 1953-1959", at p.178
  • Revolutionary Road, no matter how accessible on the surface, rewards a lifetime of rereading and reflection.
    • Chapter 7, "A glutton for punishment: 1959-1961", at p.231
  • The aesthetic perfectionist, who spent hours slaving over a sentence
    • Chapter 8, "The world on fire: 1961-1962", at p.243, about Richard Yates.
  • Had a dreary class tonight after which an enormous fifty-year-old matron who can neither spell, punctuate, nor write coherent English cornered me to demand, frankly, whether I thought she Had Talent. Tried to evade the question for twenty minutes, and ended up saying sure. Depressing experience.... [I've] pretty well decided that teaching does sap the old creative energy after all. Why do so many sad clowns want to be writers? It's hard, no fun, scrambles your brains and leaves you unfit for practically all other kinds of human activity. Apart from which there's no dough in it except for Leon Uris and Allen Drury.
    • Chapter 8, "The world on fire: 1961-1962", at p.257. Yates, here, despondent about teaching. From a letter to Barbara Beury, 26 June 1961.
  • In later years the only regret Yates would allow himself to express publicly was over "the desolate wastes of time" that had diminished his productivity.
    • Chapter 14, "Disturbing the Peace: 1974-1976", at p.437
  • Nor did he bother to get out much.
    • Chapter 14, "Disturbing the Peace: 1974-1976", at p.439
  • Life goes wrong for the Grimes sisters [...] because "they can't help being the people they are" —Yates's explicit vision of tragedy.
    • Chapter 15, "Out with the old: 1976-1978", at p.467. (Concerning the novel The Easter Parade)
  • Tracing the cause of his alienation and its manifold effects, Yates would speak of his mother with a scathing, obsessive hatred that sometimes brought him to the brink of tears.
    • Chapter 15, "Out with the old: 1976-1978", at p.480
  • these lives don't seem worth the trouble he has given them.
    • Chapter 16, "Young Hearts Crying: 1979-1984", at p.507. Part of a remark by Roger Angell for The New Yorker yet again rejecting a short story of Yates's. [This seems to be a criticism that could be levelled in respect of a lot of Yates's writings: that they are about people whose lives aren't interesting enough to be subject matter.]
  • Thirty years before, in his revision notes for his first novel, Yates pondered what he viewed as the single biggest flaw in his work—sentimentality, the fact that his protagonists Frank and April were "too nice": "See and show both of these people from the outside, in the round, and from the inside too. Be 'simultaneously enchanted and repelled by their inexhaustible variety.' Think about them, and the hell with the reader's sympathies. Make them love and hate each other the way real people do." Yates seized on this approach—showing his characters from the outside and in—as the key to making otherwise unexceptional people interesting
    • Chapter 17, "No pain whatsoever: 1985-1988", at p.551
  • Yates viewed Gloria [Cold Spring Harbor] as the best likeness of Dookie [his own real-life mother] he ever managed: a triumph. And if she fails to win the reader's sympathies? As Yates was careful to remind himself, "the hell with the reader's sympathies".
    Which, in a nutshell, may explain why Cold Spring Harbor didn't sell and why, for that matter, Yates's books [kept] going out of print. To repeat the obvious, most people don't like reading about, much less identifying with, mediocre people who evade the truth until it rolls over them. And yet most of us face such a reckoning sooner or later. [...] If Yates seemed to vacillate between "acceptance and revulsion" towards his people—with a decided emphasis on the latter in the case of Gloria Drake and certain others—it was at least in pursuit of an honest synthesis.
    • Chapter 17, "No pain whatsoever: 1985-1988", at p.553
"Not only did I fail to detect so much as an injudiciously applied semicolon; I did not find even one paragraph which, if it were read to you today, would not wow you with its power, intelligence and clarity." - Kurt Vonnegut, at the memorial service for Richard Yates, on the quality of Yates's prose, December 16 1992
  • All of this, of course, was but a fleeting distraction from Yates's ultimate concern. "Why aren't you writing?" he'd hector Childress and the others—or, if a given story was already written (and set in type), "Why aren't you revising this? You should be constantly revising!" Nothing was finished in Yates's eyes, not even his own best work: "How could I improve it? he'd fire back [...] Such zeal had the same effect on Childress as on Monica two years before—he began to realise that if this was what a true vocation involved, then perhaps he should consider something else.
    • Chapter 18, "A cheer for realised men: 1988-1992", at p.585
  • At the time of [Richard Yates's] death the novel [Uncertain Times] was perhaps two-thirds finished: about 250 pages of narrative in various stages of revision.
    • Chapter 18, "A cheer for realised men: 1988-1992", at p.594
  • On December 16, 1992, Sam Lawrence and Kurt Vonnegut hosted a memorial service for Yates at the Century Club in Manhattan. In his eulogy Vonnegut spoke of the "forced march" he'd made through all nine of Yates's books before preparing his remarks: "Not only did I fail to detect so much as an injudiciously applied semicolon; I did not find even one paragraph which, if it were read to you today, would not wow you with its power, intelligence and clarity."
    • Chapter 18, "A cheer for realised men: 1988-1992", at p.606

External links[edit]

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