Special Collections Department
Alfred Chester Letters to Curtis Harnack
Manuscript Collection Number: 285
Accessioned: Purchase 1992.
Extent: 1 box, 31 items.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: September 1993, Kelly Baum
Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
Table of Contents
While living in Paris he began his career as a serious writer, composing such works as the collection of short stories, Here Be Dragons (1955) and his first novel, Jamie Is My Heart's Desire (1956). During this time, Chester also met and began a relationship with an Israeli pianist, Arthur, with whom he lived in Paris and, for a short time, in New York City. While in Paris, Chester befriended other literary figures, such as Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, and Princess Marguerite Caetani. As well, the years he spent in Paris, 1951-1958, are the time period in which he composed the letters to Curtis Harnack contained in this collection.
Upon returning to New York City in 1959, Chester enjoyed considerable success and fame throughout the 1960's, and was very much a part of the avant-garde literary scene. He continued to write essays and criticism for various magazines, and also published the works Behold Goliath (1964), The Exquisite Corpse (1967), and Head of a Sad Angel (1953-1966). During this time, however, Chester was afflicted with deteriorating health and psychological instability, and was as well a serious drug user and alcoholic. In 1963, he sailed to Morocco on the advice of his friend Paul Bowles, and this marked the beginning of a series of erratic travels all over the world. On August 2, 1971, in Israel, Alfred Chester died in obscurity; by this time, he had become alienated from most of his friends and the literary circles of New York.
Sources:Chester, Alfred. Head of a Sad Angel. Edited by Edward Field. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1990.
Ozick, Cynthia. "Alfred Chester's Wig." The New Yorker (March 30, 1992): 79-98.
Scope and Content Note
The letters provide great insight into the life of Alfred Chester and into the pieces he was composing while in Paris, especially Here Be Dragons (1955) and Jamie Is My Heart's Desire (1956). The letters chronicle Chester's many frustrations with writing and getting published; they also contain preliminary ideas and descriptions of his work. Because he was also a part of the avant-garde literary scene in Paris, his letters characterize various aspects of life in the bohemian circles and its members. Concentrated in the letters of 1951, Chester writes extensively on his relationship with the Israeli pianist.
The letters provide only a small amount of information on Chester's correspondent, Curtis Harnack. There is some mention of Harnack's marriage in the 1950's and also on his own problems with publishers and artistic inspiration.
Letters, Alfred Chester to Curtis Harnack, 1951 - 1958 F1 1951, 11 items 1951 Jan 15 Jan 24 Feb 9 Mar 5 Apr 3 Apr 19 May 11 Jun 5 Jun 25 Sep 1 F2 1952-1954, 8 items 1952 Jan 14 Feb 1 Mar 15 Apr 5 Aug ? 1953 Jan 7 Apr 27 1954 Oct 14-15 F3 1955-1958, 12 items 1955 Mar 16 May 11 Jun 30 Jul 27 Oct 12 Nov 15 1956 Sep 14 1957 Jan 5 May 5 1958 Mar 21 May 12 (One undated letter)
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