In 1925, Edwin A. Alderman, president of the University of Virginia, fulfilled a long-held dream by establishing a magazine at the institution founded by Thomas Jefferson just over one hundred years earlier. Not only did Alderman initiate publication of the Virginia Quarterly Review, he contributed an essay to its inaugural issue.
Appearing as the first selection in this new volume of nonfiction from the VQR, Alderman's "Edgar Allan Poe and the University of Virginia" reflects the rare combination of literary sensibility and immersion in the political and social issues of the day, which has characterized the journal throughout its seventy-five-year history. As Alderman writes, "I may be frank and say that there was a time when Poe did not greatly appeal to me. I felt the sheer, clear beauty of his song..., but his detachment from the world of men, where my interests most centered, left me unresponsive and simply curious.... I have come, however, to see the limitations of that view, and to behold something admirable and strange and wonderful in this proud, gifted man."
While the style and diction of the contributions have changed in the years since that first spring issue, a similar clarity of thought, deep intelligence, candor, and command of language can be found in every one of the fifty one essays assembled here by Alexander Burnham. From its home at One West Range, a few doors down from Poe's own room, the VQR has welcomed to its pages scholars such as Dumas Malone and Robert Coles, and writers whose books have become international bestsellers, including Arthur C. Clarke and Frances Mayes.
Included here are some of the twentieth century's most brilliant thinkers and stylists, such international literary, political, and intellectual figures as Andre Gide, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, T. S. Eliot, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and Robert Graves. George F. Kennan muses on "The Experience of Writing History," Henry Steele Commager asks "Do We Have a Class Society?," and Edmund S. Morgan considers the aloof character of George Washington. Carlos Baker tracks Ezra Pound through Venice, and Scott Donaldson ponders "The Jilting of Ernest Hemingway." These leading lights share space, as they do in every volume of the journal, with lesser-known but no less talented writers ruminating on the Battle of the Bulge, the Berlin Wall, the Bomb, and Vietnam, on growing up in Hollywood and living in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Writers of the South are fittingly represented by Thomas Wolfe, Mary Lee Settle, and Louis D. Rubin Jr., but a quick scan of the table of contents reveals that the VQR has never been a regional magazine. As the current editor, Staige D. Blackford writes in his preface, "Since its inception, the Virginia Quarterly Review has tried to offer its readers a variety of essays on a variety of topics ranging from foreign affairs to domestic politics, from literature to travel, from sports to sex, from music to medicine."
On the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary, We Write for Our Own Time amply and entertainingly reflects what the VQR's masthead has always proclaimed as its identity: "A National Journal of Literature and Discussion."
A deliciously varied assortment of work.... Although the essays showcase a diversity of style and diction, they maintain a unifying quality of clarity, intelligence, candor, and exceptional language. Certain to be an enduring standard, this anthology surprises and delights.