July 29, 2007

"I wallowed in a morass of general and specific dislike and pity for most people but me especially..."

The NYT got its hands on some letters Hillary Clinton wrote to a friend between 1965 an 1969. I remember those years -- Hillary is 4 years older than I am -- and I plunge into this article ready to read all sorts of embarrassing verbiage.
“Since Xmas vacation, I’ve gone through three and a half metamorphoses and am beginning to feel as though there is a smorgasbord of personalities spread before me,” Ms. Rodham wrote to [Johh] Peavoy in April 1967. “So far, I’ve used alienated academic, involved pseudo-hippie, educational and social reformer and one-half of withdrawn simplicity.”...

“Sunday was lethargic from the beginning as I wallowed in a morass of general and specific dislike and pity for most people but me especially,” Ms. Rodham reported in a letter postmarked Oct. 3, 1967....

“Can you be a misanthrope and still love or enjoy some individuals?” Ms. Rodham wrote in an April 1967 letter. “How about a compassionate misanthrope?”...

“Random thinking usually becomes a process of self-analysis with my ego coming out on the short end,” she writes...

Her letters at times betray a kind of innocent narcissism over “my lost youth,” as she described it in a letter shortly after her 19th birthday. She wrote of being a little girl and believing that she was the only person in the universe. She had a sense that if she turned around quickly, “everyone else would disappear.

“I’d play out in the patch of sunlight that broke the density of the elms in front of our house and pretend there were heavenly movie cameras watching my every move,” she says. She yearns for all the excitement and discoveries of life without losing “the little girl in the sunlight.”...

The letters contain no possibly damaging revelations of the proverbial “youthful indiscretions,” and mention nothing glaringly outlandish or irresponsible.
How incredibly unembarrassing! Here she is writing intimate letters to a friend, and there isn't one idiotic political outburst, one concession of drug use, one humiliating sexual episode? Perhaps it's embarrassing that she was so self-controlled back then. "[T]he patch of sunlight that broke the density of the elms" -- who writes like that? This is a letter from a young person to a friend, not a freshman creative writing class assignment.

But we know little about this Peavoy character. He grew up to be an English professor, teaching at a small women's college. Perhaps, back in the 60s, he was a person who made her feel see should prove her writing aptitude. But she had to be the sort of person who would nerdishly craft prose like that to please a precociously literary young man.

"Ms. Rodham’s letters are written in a tight, flowing script with near-impeccable spelling and punctuation."

What does it mean to be "tight" and "flowing"? "Flowing" -- I assume -- is the handwriting style we were taught to use back in the days when there were lessons in penmanship. What could make that "tight" would be an effort to adhere to the proper flowing style.

We see a very earnest and analytical young woman. Impeccable punctuation -- I'll bet that punctuation wasn't a lot of exclamation points! -- and I'm sure -- I know the type! -- those letters didn't fly along with cascades of dashes -- those impassioned young-girl dashes -- that fill the letters of her contemporaries -- I should know! -- I was one!! -- you should see the letters I wrote to my mother back then -- she saved them!!! -- so like her -- I had to find them when I was cleaning out her house after she died... but Hillary -- you know -- I was four -- I am! -- four years younger -- and oh! those four years!!!! -- they made all the difference between me and my older sister -- so that's how I'm seeing Hillary -- hmmm!!!!! -- is that what we want for President???!!!! -- I'd like to see Nixon's handwriting!!!! -- don't you just know Nixon would use "tight, flowing" writing -- he's such a tightass! -- and you know what? Peavoy was really a jerk to turn over those letters without his old friend's permission -- what an asshole!!!!!!

IN THE COMMENTS: Pogo writes:
1. "Compassionate misanthropism" is the best summary I have ever heard of left-liberal thought, which indeed results in processes by which "everyone else would disappear".

2. She has no doubt retained the insatiable desire to be “the little girl in the sunlight,” the only person in the universe. Courtney Love described it better as being "the girl with the most cake."

3. Peavoy is beneath contempt for having done this.



ALSO IN THE COMMENTS: The theory that the Clinton campaign engineered the release of the letters.

37 comments:

Richard Fagin said...

Yeah, curses on that Peavoy character (I'm not being sarcastic). Publication of the letters without Sen. Clinton's permission might even be copyright infringement. What's really unfair is that her remedy is probably a lot worse than the infringement. Can you imagine the bad publicity if she actually sued the guy over copyright?

TMink said...

While I do not support Senator Clinton's policy, and I won't vote for her, I think her personal correspondence should be left personal. She was a kid when she wrote that stuff, not running for anything but an occasional cab.

They should not be published.

Trey

peter hoh said...

If the great majority of the right wing bloggers and radio hosts decide, on principal, that these letters do not merit their attention, I will be impressed. And for those who don't? I hope that someone unearths letters they wrote when they were teenagers.

Pogo said...

1. "Compassionate misanthropism" is the best summary I have ever heard of left-liberal thought, which indeed results in processes by which "everyone else would disappear".

2. She has no doubt retained the insatiable desire to be “the little girl in the sunlight,” the only person in the universe. Courtney Love described it better as being "the girl with the most cake.

3. Peavoy is beneath contempt for having done this.

rhhardin said...

It's meant as a fragment of soap opera narrative that will produce one of the never-dies stories in the soap opera news media.

It's not meant to appeal to men, or to the 60% of women who are cynical about soap opera narratives in the news.

It's just meant to keep the story there, to drive out non-soap stories.

Soap opera women abhor non-soap stories and will tune away ; and they must never tune away. So the soap stays forever.

20% of the population (40% of women) edits everything for America.

Althouse is cynical about soap, with a light touch of irony (it is, after all interesting sometimes, to a woman).

AllenS said...

From the article:

"In the late 1990s, Mr. Peavoy was contacted by the author Gail Sheehy, who was researching a book on the first lady. He agreed to let Ms. Sheehy see the letters, from which she would quote snippets in her 1999 biography, “Hillary’s Choice.” When Mrs. Clinton heard that Mr. Peavoy had kept her old letters, she wrote him asking for copies, which he obliged. He has not heard from her since."

This doesn't seem like Hillary is being blindsided here, more like she is behind letting these letters go public. In the article, the Hillary camp refused to comment. Who gave Gail Sheehy Mr. Peabody's name in the first place.

amba said...

What I want to know, Ann, is -- did you throw out those letters your mother saved?

My parents have just turned up a whole bunch of mine. It's painful, but I am letting my nieces and nephews read them if they want to (if they can stand it). They do provide glimpses of the times and the family, not only of what a dork I was when young.

Meade said...

As he so typically does, Pogo nails it with his first point.

But I think AllenS is on to something. This smells like a tight flowing leak with near-impeccable orchestration.

(Althouse, your final paragraph had me hyperventilating with laughter. What a way -- to start -- the morning!!!)

amba said...

Pogo: you just hit three home runs in one post.

rcocean said...

Talk about Naive.

We all know what happens to those who cross the Clintons.

They are behind the release of the letters. No doubt to hummanize her. And any embarrassing letters with extreme political statements have no doubt been "lost". Like the Rose firm billing records.

Maybe that's why all the letters that have been released are so boring. Or maybe its just because Clinton herself is so boring. Didn't someone call her a "Protestant Nun"?

AllenS said...

It was the fact that the Clinton camp had no comment. Usually when something is said that they don't like, the come out swinging. This time they didn't. I smell a rat.

Meade said...

Exactly, AllenS. Disdain for Peavoy is being aimed in the wrong direction.

PatCA said...

Hillary was right on the cusp of the cultural changes in 65-69 that swept away everything we thought we knew to be true. So I can see how she went from Goldwater Girl (what my parents want) to compassionate misanthrope (if only I could rule the world).

I think the terrible knowledge that people, or countries, are not perfect stunned some people then into becoming the liberal social engineers of today. A conservative works with the vagaries of human nature from the bottom up with the least amount of government interference possible; a liberal fights against human nature from the top down.

downtownlad said...

He probably knew the letters would help her, that's why he released them.

I don't see the big deal. Letters you receive are personal. Letters you send are no longer in your control.

Meade said...

Note to self: Stop sending personal letters to downtownlad.

Palladian said...

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
In thee!

rcocean said...

Althouse, did you *really* use all those exclaimation points and underlines as a young gir?

What a lot of effort!!!!

And what are these "penmanship" classes you speak of? Did you use a goose-quill?

*jane said...

"I smell a rat."

In this case, I smell a house mouse who's been given some cheese, but normally the sharing of private correspondence (to include emails) with others without the correspondent’s express permission is a really ratty thing to do.

Mr.Murder said...

Condi Rice is the girl with the most(yellow)cake.

Her husband got shot in the face, perhaps hunting with Cheney.

Acting stupid, is contagious...

Zeb Quinn said...

But we know little about this Peavoy character. He grew up to be an English professor, teaching at a small women's college. Perhaps, back in the 60s, he was a person who made her feel see should prove her writing aptitude. But she had to be the sort of person who would nerdishly craft prose like that to please a precociously literary young man.

That's a pretty good analysis. She was working very hard to impress him with her writing

Between that and what Pogo said (Pogo shoulda been a psychiatrist), it just about says it all.

But I disagree with the criticism of Peavoy. These were released because someone thinks it helps Hillary, not hurts her. And we don't know any of the backstory on how that all happened.

DirkDiggler said...

Why should we really care? It was only 40 years ago.

reader_iam said...

Like others, I'd want to know more about the circumstances of the release of these letters, and whether Hillary objects, before deciding about Peavoy. So I'll put that aside for now.
***
"[T]he patch of sunlight that broke the density of the elms" -- who writes like that? This is a letter from a young person to a friend, not a freshman creative writing class assignment.

It is that passage which sent me to Clinton's 1969 Wellesley commencement speech, which you may wish to re-read in context of these letters. Funny, how often I have found myself going back to this speech over the years, in following Hillary Clinton's trajectory. In this case, I think there's a remarkable consistency between these private letters and a very public speech, written for public consumption.

***

Re: compassionate misanthrope:

"But I do love mankind! It's people I can't stand!
--Linus Van Pelt.

Cedarford said...

I think AllenS is closer to the mark than Pogo on Peavoy's etiquette. Old love letters, some quite graphic, are verboten for release (but great for a huge snicker when found 15 years later). Personal letters like Peavoy's from Hill are less taboo for release w/o permission, but biographers working with permission of their subject or their family get a release, because they know the letters are considered to be the gold mine for many people like Reagan - a true window into who they are...

I also disagree with critics of Hillary's careful wording and insights into themselves as a child of self-centerness, of conflicting emotions of simultaneously loving and hating a boyfriend, a social group, parents, society - and doing so with humor and well-crafted words.

I lived well UpState in NY for a few years, in a heavily Republican area, and visited again in 2006 to see old friends. The talk turned to elections a few months away. The locals had - respect for Hillary, saying she had been a far better Senator for UpStaters than they had ever expected. And said from constituent town meetings she had done that it was obvious she had taken considerable time to understand and work the major issues the locals had, and shown a nimble mind absent platitudes, and a graceful, not stiff style - though her voice grated. Many said they would have voted for her anyways even if their Republican alternative hadn't melted down.
Most still had doubts about her being President - if she would be too liberal or a stand-in for Bubba - but most said they would keep an open mind...

My own experience with her is that I took time to listen to her grill some generals coming from Iraq to give happy talk for nearly an hour. The Q&A she did was superb. NO notes, no reading from prepared text... Through the testimony, she took statements and facts and adroitly assembled a "big picture" the other Senators from both parties took their questions off.
It was executive leadership on Senate Armed Services. It was quite impressive.
As was her half-hour followup with the generals without any staffer script later - that had her seeking amplification of mostly Republican Senator's questions from memory.


This is a serious, intelligent woman who can think on her feet. And who has significantly improved her public image and speaking ability since 2000.

Damn it!

reader_iam said...

The Spencer style is so pretty!!!! I got caught between two different methods of penmanship (Zaner-Bloser & Palmer), so I eventually ended up with a mish-mash of of those script styles with whatever letter styles I had played with over the years. A mess, really, unless I slow down and really think about it.

My own son's school uses something called D'Nealian--and, boy, do they start them early! I wonder how that's going to turn out.

Chip Ahoy said...

Rowing in Eden, Ah the sea

An example of Emily Dickenson's tight, flowing script with near-impeccable spelling and punctuation?

Galvanized said...

I'm still laughing at the end (the dashes comment), which is how I still write in notes. LOL And I thought the same thing when I read past the "density of the elms" line -- sounds more like creative writing or seeking to impress than sharing with a friend. So it's interesting that she would be that formal in private.

From the excerpts, it appears that Hillary was thoughtful and quite intelligent, and very introspective. And I'm with theory that the Clinton camp orchestrated the release of these letters. C'mon, this guy is an old friend and holds a respectable position in teaching, so he's probably all about scrupulousness and respect for privacy. I would love to see him interviewed, to know if he would deny being asked for the letters.

Maxine Weiss said...

You're confusing "tight" ....when it really should be "taut".

The prose was "tautly" worded, as opposed to rambling and disjointed.

And yet, still florid enough so as to be lyrical and poetic.

Typical Scorpio, doing nothing to bring disfavor or disrepute....as there would be plenty of time, and others to do that.

*jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freeman Hunt said...

Aren't most all nineteen year olds narcissists? Don't most all college students strongly focused on academics go through a phase of misanthropy? Her letters seem very normal.

Peavoy's still a jerk for releasing them though.

I write this comment as someone who strongly dislikes Hillary and who still hasn't grown out of the dashes. ------

lee david said...

“Since Xmas vacation, I’ve gone through three and a half metamorphoses and am beginning to feel as though there is a smorgasbord of personalities spread before me,” Ms. Rodham wrote to Mr. Peavoy in April 1967. “So far, I’ve used alienated academic, involved pseudo-hippie, educational and social reformer and one-half of withdrawn simplicity.”


“If people react to you in the role of answer bestower then quite possibly you are,” she writes in a letter postmarked Nov. 15,

From there, she deems the process of self-definition to be “too depressing” and asserts that “the easiest way out is to stop any thought approaching introspection and to advise others whenever possible.”

The search for a persona, The giver of blind answers, The lack of self definition in relation to any principle that guides her "advice". These are the same things that I see in her political career. The finger in the wind searching for direction that does not inspire any confidence that her decisions have been, or ever will be, based on anything beside the most superficial of considerations. A contrived and hollow image with no substance. High level intellegence without a hint of wisdom. What will guide her should she move from being an adviser to being the decider?

A smart enigma is still an enigma. I couldn't vote for that.

knoxwhirled said...

and who still hasn't grown out of the dashes. ------

me neither

amba said...

"Compassionate misanthropism" is the best summary I have ever heard of left-liberal thought ...

On second thought, Pogo, no. Left-liberal thought is the opposite of that -- heartless philanthropy, or something. Loving the abstract and collective, stomping the actual individual.

It's conservatives who tend to quote Jonathan Swift: "I hate and despise the animal called Mankind, but I like the occasional Tom, Dick, or Harry."

amba said...

While liberals quote Linus van Pelt! (above, per reader_iam: "But I do love mankind! It's people I can't stand!") See the difference?

(Too bad that's from Peanuts and not Pogo.)

Pogo said...

amba,
I think they're the same thing, heartless philanthropy and compassionate misanthropism. They're oxymorons, or nonsense phrases, just mythical beasts to hide the contradiction inherent in the beliefs animating their policies.

Conservatives admit Sowell's tragic view of man, and work with what we have. Leftists simply want the power to create the perfect society in the here and now (immanentize the eschaton). They don't recognize individual will or choice, except for minor things, but simply want to rule because they are superior.

Jennifer said...

Eek! I don't just write that way in personal correspondence, I do it here I may or may not be removing the dash button from my keyboard immediately.

Despite myself, I'm really starting to like Hillary.

Freeman Hunt said...

I refuse to give up the dashes--I like them too much.

Ann Althouse said...

I like dashes and don't think they're necessarily girlish. I like the way Kafka used them (in the translations I've read).