(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Kenneth Tynan made his reputation as a postwar critic and theatrical impresario. Yet why should even such a shrewd observer merit first a long biography and a large collection of letters? One answer is simple. Both were written and edited by his last wife, the late Kathleen Tynan, who championed Tynan’s significance as a cultural figure larger than the term critic encompasses. Her judgment seems correct. For Tynan did not just review what came his way, he looked for and established trends and styles. He argued in eloquent terms for what art should be. He conveyed the impression of not writing simply from an audience seat but as someone deeply immersed in the process of creating art.

Tynan wrote for the best publications in Britain and America. He had a long association with THE NEW YORKER. He is perhaps best remembered for his brilliantly evocative profile of the silent film star, Louise Brooks, living in obscurity in Rochester, New York, when Tynan rediscovered her. This was pure Tynan: remembering and resurrecting an important figure and a lost art.

The book’s eight sections are carefully buttressed with italicized sections, largely culled from Tynan’s biography of her husband, which give a running biographical commentary and summary of the activities referred to in the letters. Individual letters are also judiciously footnoted with identifications of persons, titles of works, and other data needed to appreciate the context of Tynan’s correspondence. These annotations, plus the index and photographs, provide a well-rounded and almost palpable picture of the man and the writer. The index also reveals just how steeped Tynan was in the culture of his time and how many first-rate minds came to be stimulated by his own.

Sources for Further Study

American Theatre. XV, July, 1998, p. 58.

Library Journal. CXXIII, May 1, 1998, p. 102.

National Review. L, May 18, 1998, p. 57.

The New Republic. CCXIX, August 31, 1998, p. 29.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, May 10, 1998, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, March 9, 1998, p. 54.

The Washington Post Book World. XXXVIII, May 17, 1998, p. 5.