Houghton Mifflin Co.
5 Park Street
My dear Mr. Greenslet,
I have your letter of February 31st enclosing Mrs. Kennedy’s remarks. Also I recall your comment, heard indistinctly over the 'phone, that you wished I might make J.D. a little more sophisticated when he first appears in the story. I will try to polish up his first impression a little, but the point I want to make is that Charlotte’s mother would have scorned him as beneath her, and Charlotte herself would have felt somewhat superior before Dr. Jaquith’s course of training and advice to come down off her Boston “high horse”.
Mrs. Kennedy says there seems to be more emotional depth to Charlotte’s and Jerry’s second meeting. Yes, there is. This is psychologically sound. I was aware that this second meeting was coming, and so knew the reader would then have no doubt as to what happened at Ravello. Charlotte (in spite of her reading knowledge and familiarity with Lawrence, Hemingway, etc. etc. ) was shy and repressed at Ravello, and I think my “suggestive” account of events there better technique at that point of her development. However I have rewritten it, and the sophisticated reader will have no doubt as to what happened.
Now a word as to Mrs. Kennedy’s comment as to the “habit of saying what is going to happen before it actually does.” That is intentional. I frequently use, as you observe, “flash-backs” to unfold my story. Also I occasionally use “flash-forwards”—a term I have coined.
I think a “flash-forward” at the right moment stimulates fresh interest, when it may be lagging. I acquired this device when publishing my second serial “Stella Dallas”, under the tutelage of Mr. Siddell. Sometimes a “flash-forward” at the end of an installment is very effective in sustaining interest. The fact is, I find my own interest is revived by a “flash-forward”, when I am in process of writing the story, and I think my own interest a fair gauge of the reader’s interest.
Most human beings enjoy anticipating more than being surprised, and I think they like the announcement that Jerry is to reappear, or that Elliot is to be the “new man”. This is part of my technique. I may use it too much, or unwisely. But it is intentional. Sometimes I am guilty of giving false “flash-forwards”. For instance I imply that Jerry may die, and plant the anxiety in the reader’s mind and the interest is aroused. This, to me, is part of the secret of good story-telling. I may be wrong.
MS Am 1925 (1462), Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co. archive, Houghton Library, Harvard University