“Tennessee Williams Notebooks”– a brilliant mind

Thornton, Margaret Bradham, ed. “Tennessee Williams Notebooks”, Yale University Press, 2007.

A Brilliant Mind

Amos Lassen

What a job it must have been compiling the notebooks of Tennessee Williams. They cover almost every aspect of the playwright’s life and Margaret Bradham Thornton has done an amazing job. Through his own words and Thornton’s meticulous editing, we get a look into the unique life of an American literary titan. The man who penned such beautiful works for the American theatre led quite a life. He suffered from his only internalized homophobia even though he was himself a gay male—he felt somewhat out of place in a world that did not approve of his sexuality. He was haunted by his sister, Rose, and the guilt he felt about allowing her institutionalization and with these two strikes that he felt he had against himself, still managed to write some of the most endearing drama ever seen on the stage.

Williams’ notebooks take us behind the scenes of the man and his writing. Williams tells us, in his own words, so much about himself that at times it is staggering to read. His view of the world fascinates and enthralls.

In reality, this is two books—one, a look at the man’s private life and the other a look at the mind of a genius. Thornton provides on each page. The thoughts and the background to those thoughts placed opposite the pages of his journals. To get a glimpse of the mind of such a man of letters is a wonderful treat. The book is filled with notes and photographs, copies of poetry written by hand and entries from the diaries as well as biographies of those people that Williams had contact with. On the right hand side of the book are the notebook entries and on the left hand side are the notes. Also included are Williams’ own criticisms of his dairies.

Thornton provides a very readable and detailed narrative and her research is nothing short of amazing. She does not spend a great deal of time oh is sexual proclivities with other men but neither does she ignore them. There is no question whatsoever that Williams’ homosexuality influenced his writing and world view and that is all carefully explained by the editor. It is a book that you do not want to stop reading even with its 800 plus pages. And it is more than just a look at the playwright; it is a look into American culture and how all of the worlds of the arts come together.

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