Monday, January 19, 2004

Speaking of Kaplan, I suppose he is the same one who has a meltdown in the Letters section of the new Atlantic Monthly. Christopher Hitchens cut him a new one last month over Kaplan's new book on Twain, which as I recall Hitchens said violates every rule of good biography. In his reply here -- scroll down toward the bottom -- Kaplan thinks the review was purely personal:

A review of my book The Singular Mark Twain, by Christopher Hitchens, appears in the November Atlantic. I've exercised sufficient discipline not to read it, but others have told me that it is a meanspirited, hostile, and ignorant review.The author and I were once friendly. But Hitchens is a Gore Vidal acolyte, even worshipper, who treasures his relationship with Vidal. He was apparently miffed when I did not think his relationship with Vidal important enough to interview him at length or to give him any sort of prominent role in my biography of Vidal. In regard to anything to do with Vidal, he certainly seemed his usual combination of fawning and aggressive. When I declined, in line with the terms of our written agreement, to allow Vidal to vet my biography of him and exert pre-publication censorship, Vidal turned on me and the book. So did Hitchens. Unfortunate, but no big deal.

Hitchens' motives, he goes on to say, were made even plainer by the fact that the damaging review hit the streets before the book did (not, I might add, all that unusual an occurence for the magazine; I've noticed in the past that certain of their reviews have hit before the official publication date)

All music to Hitchens' ears, of course, who loses no time whetting his blade:

Fred Kaplan's letter would stand out in any collection of pompous letters that typically begin, "If your reviewer had troubled to notice ..." But it also belongs, as far as I know, in a class all by itself, since on his own admission Kaplan has not read my review ... Kaplan's imputation to me of questionable motives is simply risible. For one thing (and just to begin with), he and I were never "friendly"—indeed, I do not think we have ever met except briefly and in company. I was most willing to help him with his biography of Gore Vidal when he approached me, and was slightly sorry that we were never able to arrange the interview—"slightly" only because I had not played much part in Vidal's life and could have been of little assistance ... Kaplan imagines himself the victim of an occult committee that is willing to degrade the standards of a nationally renowned magazine just to give him un mauvais quart d'heure. This boast is enough on its own to make a cat laugh. I say nothing about the mad extent to which it promotes and overstates my influence: it ought to be plain to any reader that the editors of The Atlantic are spoiled for choice when it comes to books, and cannot hope to review them all, and have no time for vendettas against writers of the second rank. Kaplan was lucky in his choice of subject, and that's it. For him to complain further about being reviewed early is a self-promotion from mere solipsism to something more like full-blown megalomania.

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