Tennessee Williams

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Williams, Tennessee 1914–

Twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Williams is one of the most important American playwrights of the twentieth century. His work is characteristically concerned with the conflict between illusion and reality, most notably in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. Because loneliness and disappointment are recurrent in his work, Williams has often been criticized for having a limited perception of the human condition. His later work is generally considered to be of uneven quality, none of it meeting the standards of his prize-winning plays. In addition to plays, Williams also writes novels, short stories, and screenplays. In his Memoirs he acknowledges his homosexuality. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, 15, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Robert Brustein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If revenge is a dish that tastes best cold, then Donald Windham has certainly fixed himself a satisfying frozen dinner. He has published all the letters sent to him between 1940 and 1965 by Tennessee Williams [as Tennessee Williams' Letters to Donald Windham]. And, without ever losing his poise as a reticent editor and admiring friend, Windham allows the glorious bird to dip his own tail feathers in a pot of tar….

Throughout the quarter-century of mistreatment chronicled in the book, Windham maintains an air of sympathetic understanding, in a display of what Williams characterizes as his "morbid humility." The yeast of hurt feelings, however, has fermented enough in the meantime to rise subtly in the publication of this private correspondence, where Williams emerges as a figure with no apparent interest in anything but the advancement of his career and the satisfaction of his appetites….

Landscape, architecture, nature, food, politics, philosophy, the social climate—none of these arouse much commentary from Williams, or assume much importance, as compared with that long parade of hustlers, rough trade, sailors, and young boys that cruise through his waking and dreaming life like so many wind-up toys. As in "Memoirs," this book shows a man inordinately, obsessively preoccupied with announcing his erotic adventures—a concern that is eclipsed, and only momentarily, by his hypochondriacal worries over his health. The love that previously dared not speak its name has now grown hoarse from screaming it.

Still, the really significant thing in these pages for biographers, analysts, and just plain literary gossips is not Williams' erotomania but rather his treatment of friends and acquaintances, for this provides the most revealing and, let us admit it, the most amusing passages of the book….

Less entertaining is the tendency, already seen in his relationship with Windham, to sacrifice people to his personal and professional needs. Williams admits that his "ratio of concerns" puts friendship well below his work and his hypochondria, but protests that, despite being "fantastically self-centered," he is not a disloyal friend; there is not much evidence...

(The entire section is 4,033 words.)