The Times this past week had a big piece on John Updike, whose papers, which he bequeathed to his alma mater Harvard, are slowly being released.
Like Bob Dylan, from a young age he didn’t have much doubt about his abilities.
Updike wrote this in a letter to his parents, when he was 19, and a freshman:
“We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled. This age needs rather men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic.”
“Whatever the many failings of my work, let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born.”
Though Updike famously lived outside of Boston for most of his adult life, he had relatives in New York. In fact, they live around the corner from me. About a year before his death in January 2009, I saw him getting into a taxi outside the building.
He looked exactly the way you picture John Updike looking – big nose, silver hair, tweed jacket, button-down shirt. The quintessential New England prepster.