Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing to Jacqueline Kennedy

In 1961, a few months after her husband was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, the new First Lady, supposedly received the book below, along with a letter from the author and annotations or marks in the book and on the jacket for emphasis and direction to selected passages.

In May of 1961, British journalist and author, George Bilainkin, sent an inscribed copy of his 1947 book, Second Diary of a Diplomatic Correspondent to the new president's wife in advance of her and the President's trip abroad, which included a stop in London.

He also included a typed, signed letter on his letterhead ("To Her Excellency, Mrs. John Kennedy") and indicated a few pages of interest to the First Lady and perhaps the new President, whom he had known and met with on several occasions in 1945 at the close of World War II.

So he knew Jack, as he referred to him, but he sent the book to his wife with marked passages about his dealings with her husband. His reason? 
"I send it because the book contains references to the talks your husband and I had in London in 1945. I hope some of the flash-backs may prove of instructive interest."
Bilainkin expressed his hopes to meet with both, or at least the First Lady, and revisit a few sites pertinent to his meetings, as a journalist, with a young Jack Kennedy in 1945. He also knew the President’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., when he was the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Indeed, in his written inscription in the book, he refers to himself as "an all-weather friend of the Kennedy clan."

But then the real reason for the inscribed book and letter appears to surface, as Bilainkin makes known his desire to take Mrs. Kennedy (he doesn't mention Jack) to lunch and, as if that weren't enough, further requests she bring photos of herself, her husband, and his parents! 

I think one could make the case that Bilainkin was a bit enamored of the First Lady, as was most of the world at that time, and he was using his prior acquaintance with the President to wrangle a lunch date with her. It very well could have been purely for professional reasons, as was a correspondent who wrote about high profile people, and a sit-down with Jackie Kennedy would have been quite a coup for him. 

The Kennedys, on their first trip overseas, while in the White House, went to Paris, Vienna, and London. They were in London June 4-5, 1961 and it seems all but impossible that they had the time or desire to meet with a journalist whom the President had crossed paths with in 1945. Certainly, it was never a consideration. But I wonder if Bilainkin even received a reply to his request?

For the First Lady of the United States of America, from an old admirer and all-weather friend of the Kennedy clan.
George Bilainkin  May 1961
It is unknown, though, if Jacqueline Kennedy actually received this book, looked through it, and showed the author’s marked passages to the President (pages noted under the inscription above and in the Index). It may have been intercepted by whatever filters were in place at the time for the abundance of gifts the Kennedys likely received at the White House.

But it is intriguing to ponder that this book could have been in the possession of one or both for a time. They left no ownership marks nor annotation behind to confirm that. The book eventually found its way into a Washington, D.C. estate and later into the second-hand market with letter intact.

On its own merit, this book is an interesting history from a diplomatic correspondent’s point-of-view at the end of World War II. His intimate portraits of heads of state he met, such as Tito, de Gaulle, Churchill, and diplomats such as the aforementioned Kennedy, fill the pages of this follow-up to his 1940 published diary.

But it's the inscription and letter to First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and the speculation that she or President Kennedy kept this on the White House bookshelves for awhile, that makes this particular copy even more interesting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eudora Welty: A stepping stone to greater things

When Selected Stories of Eudora Welty was introduced into Random House's Modern Library series in the 1950s, one man saw in that collection the potential to effect a change in another's life for "greater things." He purchased a copy and inscribed it to a a friend or relative or lover, known only to us as SAR (or is that SAK?), and forgotten to history. Either way, the sentiment is the same for an aspiring writer or scholar.

"With the hope that this will be a stepping stone to greater things."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thoreau's annotated copy of Walden

I don't know how long this link will be available, but the video is worth a look while it's around on the Internet: http://ow.ly/m6SdX

Professor Gould of Middlebury College in Vermont talks about Thoreau's copy of his book, Walden, which she retrieves from the college's archives and shares with viewers in this interview. Her comments on Thoreau's marginalia underscore the scholarship inherent in such an historically important copy of this book.

But there's also a certain thrill-factor, which Professor Gould captures perfectly in her closing words:
"It's just glorious to be able to hold it in your hands because Thoreau held it in his hands, he made the notes, and it's as close to history as you can possibly get."