Form and Content

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During the decade before Harold Ross’s death in 1951, several magazines asked James Thurber to contribute essays about Ross and about Thurber’s adventures with him in the weekly production of The New Yorker. Thurber declined these requests, but in 1957, Charles Morton, of The Atlantic Monthly, queried Thurber repeatedly about the possibility of a series of articles on Ross. One of these queries reached Thurber in the Bahamas just as he was giving up the writing of a play on which he had been working for several months. He said yes to Morton and wrote and published in The Atlantic Monthly several articles about Ross in 1957 and 1958. Upon realizing, however, that “the restless force named Harold Wallace Ross could not be so easily confined and contained,” he elected to amplify the written record of his memories of Ross considerably. In 1959, he published The Years with Ross.

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Thurber indicates in his foreword to the book that from the beginning he avoided the writing of a formal biography. Nevertheless, many facts of Ross’s life—as well as Thurber’s—make their way into the book. Its principal device is the anecdote, and Thurber is himself able to supply many of these in building up a very solid— though never solemn—sense of Ross’s character. Citations concerning Ross from the letters and works of other people are copious without ever causing the work to seem crowded or chaotic. There was chaos in the life of Ross, but it all runs very smoothly in the prose of Thurber.

Since the center of Ross’s life from 1925 onward was The New Yorker, The Years with Ross is, among other things, a self-confessed “short informal history” of Ross’s magazine. Thurber does not attempt to move chronologically through either the life of Ross or that of The New Yorker. He chooses instead a scheme of what he calls “flashbacks and flashforwards.” The resultant rhythm of the book is one that accords handsomely with the very nature of Ross’s life, the comings to and goings from the office, the constant looking backward and forward from a worried present, a present always filled with the need to get out the next issue and to plan future issues, and with anguish over the possible recriminations from past issues.

In the Atlantic Monthly Press edition, The Years with Ross consists of sixteen chapters and 310 pages. The chapters, ranging in length from ten to twenty-nine pages, are wittily titled, alluding to generally Ross’s favorite sayings (“Sex Is an Incident,” “A Dime a Dozen”) or to some aspect of life and work in the offices of The New Yorker (“Every Tuesday Afternoon,” “The Talk of the Town”). Thurber also includes some twenty-five drawings of his, a number of which serve as either occasion for or illustrations of stories about Ross.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 71

Coates, Robert M. “New Yorker Days,” in Thurber: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1974. Edited by Charles S. Holmes.

Ford, Corey. The Time of Laughter, 1967.

Kramer, Dale. Ross and the “New Yorker,” 1952.

Morsberger, Robert E. James Thurber, 1964.

Nugent, Elliott. Events Leading Up to the Comedy, 1965.

Plimpton, George, and Max Steele. “James Thurber,” in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, 1959. Edited by George Plimpton.

Tobias, Richard C. The Art of James Thurber, 1969.

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Critical Essays