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Letter from George Garret to John Lehman July 1937

John Lehman was a poet who was also the editor of New Writing. He took a particular in interest in George Garrett, and published a number of his stories. This letter, from a series written between Garrett and Lehman between 1934 and 1938, reveals a lot about their relationship and Garrett’s attempts to complete the autobiography that Lehmann was pushing him to finish.

Close examination of the letters between George Garrett and John Lehman vividly expose the fragility of George's state of mind. Though in good condition the various artefacts were written on scraps of poor quality paper of varying. These reflect the turmoil of Garrett’s life mentally, fiscally and emotionally. The purpose of the content of this letter, written in July 1937, was to serve both as an apology to Lehman and to act as an application for the release of new funds.
It is clear from the text George was struggling with the completion of his commissioned work. Although he had completed 40,000 words he is berating himself for not achieving more. However, it is apparent that George is succumbing to pressure from Lehman as he states, ‘this damned arrangement of having to wait until the kids or the missus make themselves scarce seems much harder than it has been before, I struggle on, because of you.’

Garrett goes on to illustrate the intensity of his situation as he struggles to cope with the cramped and overcrowded conditions in which he and his family are living. He describes the tenements in which he lives with brutal honesty, enlightening the reader as he vividly portrays the inappropriate living conditions the working classes were forced to endure. Painting a reality that would be lost on the southern middle classes, he says, ‘Next door to me lives eight children. Four are under the age of eight years. Above are nine children playing marbles, roller skating, coal breaking, wood chopping and daily cobbling.’ In this short description it is almost possible to hear the cacophony. This together with the constant interruptions make it impossible to write. George relays his desperate if not resigned tone when he says in the letter, ‘It is impossible to write or have privacy or peace.’ Indeed it is not difficult to appreciate the hopeless situation Garrett finds himself in.

As a thinking man George had become not only a champion within his community but sought too by other influential members of society for advice and guidance. This is none more apparent than when he states, ‘I cannot go the library because of the chaps who come to see me as a father confessor and general, life guide.’ We may therefore deduce from the letter that this has become somewhat of a burden, a poisoned chalice. This illustrates his frustration and exhaustion in search of solace to work, which is highlighted when he says, ‘It is an advantage to be known, but at the moment I am paying a heavy price for being well known.’ By using the word 'heavy' George demonstrates his laborious task and by his own admission suggests that the whole family are in crisis.

Ann McDermott
Last modified onTuesday, 03 February 2015 14:51
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