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Joseph Mitchell 19081996


Left university before graduation to take up job as a reporter with a ... 1942; became a film starring Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm and Susan Sarandon in 2000) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Joseph Mitchell 19081996

Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996)
  • Patriarch, standard-bearer, icon, legend, master

  • 1908 Born in Robeson County, North Carolina
    into a relatively wealthy cotton farming family
  • Attended University of North Carolina
  • Left university before graduation to take up job
    as a reporter with a Durham NC newspaper
  • 1929 Moved to New York after one of his pieces
    attracted attention of the editor of the Herald

Biography cont…
  • Became a reporter and feature writer for the
    Morning World, Herald Tribune and World-Telegram
  • 1931 Married and had two children his wife
    died in 1980
  • 1938 Moved to The New Yorker magazine where he
    remained on the staff for the next 58 years
  • 1960 Last submitted work for The New Yorker
  • 1964 Last published work (except reissues)
  • 1996 Died and was buried in Fairmont NC

Robeson County
  • Lived in New York but remained closed to his
    southern roots
  • Old fashioned, unassuming gentleman always wore
    coat, tie, braces, hat and spoke with a soft
    southern drawl
  • Private revealed very little about himself
    either through interviews or in his work
  • Well-mannered, bourgeois and genteel man, yet
    comfortable with the citys outcasts and
  • Perfectionist would not let even those closest
    to him see drafts Harold Ross (editor of The New
    Yorker) described his work as excellent quality,
    low productivity
  • Universally liked and admired

Background and Influences
  • Difficult because revealed so little about
  • Arrived in New York during hard times, the
    depression era, but, as an outsider, was clearly
    fascinated by what he saw
  • I was alternately delighted and frightened out
    of my wits by what I saw at night in Harlem …
    discovering what the depression and the prurience
    of white men were doing to a people who are last
    to be hired first to be fired
  • In the Authors Note to Up In The old Hotel,
    Mitchell describes two of his influences
  • visiting graveyards with his aunt as a child
    who would tell him gossip about the individuals
    buried there he called it graveyard humor

Posada engravings mostly skeletons mimicking
and mocking human activities e.g getting married,
love of fashion, making speeches Mitchell said,
though morbid, they had a strong undercurrent of
humour again he describes it as graveyard
1938 My Ears Are Bent (collection of early
pieces written for the Herald Tribune and
World-Telegram) 1943 McSorley's Wonderful
Saloon (includes Lady Olga) (fiction and
  • 1948 Old Mr Flood
  • (fiction)
  • 1960 The Bottom Of The Harbor
  • (non-fiction)

Bibliography cont…
1960 The Bottom of the Harbor (non-fiction)
  • 1960 The Mohawks In High Steel
  • contained within Apologies To The Iroquois by
    Edmund Wilson
  • (non-fiction)
  • 1964 Joe Gould's Secret
  • a follow-up to the profile Professor Sea Gull
    published in The New Yorker in 1942 became a
    film starring Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm and Susan
    Sarandon in 2000)
  • (non-fiction)
  • 1992 Up In The Old Hotel and Other Stories
  • a comprehensive compilation of his earlier books
  • (fiction and non-fiction)

  • He developed a knack for poking into
    overlooked corners of the city for inspiration
  • He wrote …about the little people. And he made
    them huge.
  • Once said he would listen to anybody except …
    society women, industrial leaders, distinguished
    authors, ministers, explorers, moving picture
    actors … and any actress under the age of

The Bowery (a hang-out for subjects)
  • Examples
  • An the end is nigh type street preacher who
    carried a sign saying Where will you spend
    eternity? up and down the pavements of the
    theatre district
  • A prostitute, whose explanation for choosing her
    profession was that she "wanted to be
  • Lady Olga, a bearded lady who had been ogled at
    in circuses and museums from the age of 4
  • Joe Gould, a hobo who went to Harvard and had
    delusions of literary grandeur

Joe Gould
Subjects cont…
  • He ignored the political, the wealthy, the
    famous and concentrated on the local colour,
    giving them voice
  • It has been said that Mitchell focused on New
    Yorks eccentrics (e.g. a prostitute, evangelist,
    gypsy, freak), but often they were very ordinary
    (e.g. rat-catcher, theatre ticket collector,
    beggar) - thier uniqueness came from the
  • He chose characters that inhabited Fulton Fish
    Market, McSorleys Saloon, the docks places
    where middle-class or well-heeled New Yorkers
    didnt usually find themselves

  • Fluid, elegant, plain spoken prose lightness
    and precision almost poetic
  • Tremendous ability to acquire and to use
  • Detail idiosyncrasies faithfully recorded
    reveal multi-faceted personalities
  • Draws out interesting details beyond the
    obvious e.g. Lady Olga more interesting than just
    her beard, Joe Gould more interesting than his
  • Resists the temptation to sensationalise or

Fulton Fish Market
Style cont…
  • He believed the foundation to good writing was
    good listening
  • The best talk is artless, the talk of people
    trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women
    in the sun grouped around baby carriages talking
    about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat
    has gone up, or men in saloons talking to combat
    the loneliness everyone feels
  • The film version of Joe Goulds Secret portrays
    Mitchell as a hesitant questioner, backtracking,
    stammering and correcting himself, qualifying
    each word and phrase until it is to the subjects

Inside McSorleys Saloon
  • Modest and self effacing lets his characters
    carry the story and injects very little of
  • Compassionate and respectful towards his
    subjects he gives them dignity
  • Stirs an emotional response in readers, without
    telling them what to feel
  • No hint of the polemic, allows reader to make
    up own mind about characters
  • Underlying humour, but no mockery

Lady Olga - A profile of a bearded lady,
published in The New Yorker in 1940
Gives us more than just her beard - detailed
descriptions (often through use of anecdote) of
appearance, home environment, politics, likes,
dislikes, background, speech - revealing far more
interesting quirks Respect - never belittles
her livelihood uses words such as making a
living,business , engagements,
professional Humour - uses her words and
keeps expressions intact monsterosity , lot
lice, disremember, Mohammedans, insertion of
droll details e.g. her regard for buttered
roasting ear corn, the fact her apartment was
recommended by a man who eats electric light

Lady Olga cont…
Lack of mockery, the humourous details are
repeated matter-of-fact Allows her dignity -
doesnt judge the tart way deals with her
audience, the importance she places on class
distinctions, her idiosyncrasies (e.g. dislike of
doctors, unions, corporations), her phobias (e.g.
gas, unboiled water) Compassion manages to
convey an entitlement to her odd beliefs and her
jealous guard of them seeing as the rest of her
is on display, they are her insulation and
shield, they give her self-esteem Hints
continually at the hardships she has to contend
with nicknames and taunts, preference for
animals rather people, her lack of use for nice
clothes People dont notice anything but my

Lady Olga cont…
Conveys her humanity She gives the impression
that she feels superior … but often hurt by
brutal remarks the first line reveals she
sometimes feels an outcast Captures her
sadness - she covers her face and beard when she
goes out, she compares her sleeping berth to a
penitentiary, she wants to be a stenographer a
faceless jobPractising shorthand takes her mind
off herself Use of quotation her own
expression is very engaging and sometimes
profound No matter how nice a name was put on me
I would still have a beard, If an old baboon
was to walk down the hall tooting on a cornet,
nobody in my house would give him a second look
they are coarse but articulate and poetic in
their own way

Lady Olga cont…
Modesty - uses Olgas voice to convey his own
views Some … think she is haughty…but she
feels that … she has a right to be haughty -
we get the impression the author agrees with
her Gives us matters to ponder Olga stares
out of her window for hours, people watching, she
was fascinated by the women at a society party
claiming that she had been round peculiar folks
all her life but she had never seen women like
them it is part of the human condition that we
are fascinated by others, the stranger the
better Last sentence -If the truth be known
we are all freaks i.e. we all have our own
quirks, that is what makes us unique

Why Did Joseph Mitchell Stop Publishing?
  • Writers Block?
  • Shows compassion for Joe Gould s failing to
    produce his Oral History, Mitchell compares it
    to a novel he also has so far never managed to
    commit to paper
  • Oddly, both Goulds and his ideas similar an
    account of conversations, a history of real
    people, as opposed to those in the limelight
  • Described success of earlier work as has having
    become an albatross around my neck

But, despite not publishing new material for 30
years, he retained his post at The New Yorker,
worked late at the office and, according to
colleagues, still wrote Writers block usually
stems from a fear that writing is not good enough
suggests egotism at odds with Mitchells
Why Did Joseph Mitchell Stop Publishing? cont…
Psychological Trauma?
Stanley Tucci and Ian Holm in Joe Goulds Secret
  • Affected by the mutually exploitative
    relationship between Joe Gould and himself felt
    guilty about his role in creating the myth of the
    man, but also had reservations about revealing
    Goulds secret
  • Upon publication of Up In The Old Hotel in
    1992, Mitchell said, "I decided if I could get
    those in a book together, I could put it all
    behind me. Maybe it will free me to find my way
    to the right door …"

Why Did Joseph Mitchell Stop Publishing? cont…
  • Perhaps it was New York that changed, not him
  • Beginning of the swinging sixties, hobo became
    chic, marijuana replaced martinis, a whole
    different New York arose to which Mitchell may
    not have been able to relate

Jane Barnell aka Lady Olga Roderick ?