From Partying with Mrs. Astor to Partying with George Plimpton

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 23 2012 9:37 AM

From Astor Parties to Plimpton Parties: New York City Diaries

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New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, published earlier this month, selectively collects four centuries of diary entries written in New York City and arranges them according to date, moving through the calendar one day at a time while jumping, on almost every page, across centuries.

Edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Teresa Carpenter, the book features journal entries by the famous and the forgotten concerning everything from changes in the weather to changes in American history.

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Below are the entries for this date on the calendar, January 23. As it happens, the final entry for this date was originally published in Slate (and later included in The Slate Diaries).

You’ll find information about the authors of the entries at the bottom of the post.

           

1891

I always love to attend one of Mrs. William Astor’s balls … they are perfect in every respect. I danced with Mrs. Stevenson, née Brady, Mrs. Paget, Mrs. King … and Mrs. Whitney. The supper was served at small tables. Mrs. [Cornelia] Bradley-Martin, Mrs.Whitney, Mr. Elliott Shefford … and a … German count were at the table with me.                            

— Edward Neufville Tailer

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1907

Well, New York looks good and big and prosperous but the prosperity don’t seem to come my way.

— John Sloan

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1924

I love the great twilit canyon of lower Broadway—I can dream it is some fairy place of shifting lights and shadows if I shut my eyes and ears to the noisy little men who hustle, two [by] two, everywhere, gesticulating, mouthing, and exclaiming. How different, tho, is my world, from the world that is out there. How secret and clean and sweet is the world of thoughts, books, writings, and dreams, and how far removed from the bare ugliness of office-rooms, and the mad rush for money! How can people live, when it is only for the sake of dying!

— Winifred Willis

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1997

Paris Review parties have always had a satyric quality to them—jowly novelists well into their third marriages and fifth drinks, the latest batch of overripe lit chicks off the bus from Oberlin, George Plimpton, glissading through the throng, urging everyone on to great gin-and-tonic consumption. One half expects a Brueghel painting to break out…. When I had just arrived on the New York literary/media scene—which, as are all such scenes, is made up of about 1 percent literati and 99 percent pseudos—I began going to these parties with some regularity and learned the essential art of talking to novelists whose books one hadn’t read. I also met my wife there, and so will always have fond feelings toward the place.

I went back tonight and found virtually the entire late-’80s crowd gone. No Jay. No Bret. No Tama. And as if to confirm that times had really changed, the young novelist being honored bounded up to me and said, “Hey, you’re the only person left here I haven’t met.” Plimpton was still there, of course, and he continues to be an object of wonder. No younger person could ever pull off his brand of élan, his ability to greet someone whose name he can’t remember, or possibly never knew, with a magisterial, “Ah, there you are.” People just don’t live life grand cru anymore, though there a surprising number in the younger generation who play at being baby Plimptons. It doesn’t quite work. For one, Plimpton actually wrote a lot of books and continues to produce on a regular basis. The new literati have more or less ditched the achievement part—a few bylines for branding purposes—and focused entirely on the lifestyle part.…

I’m sad to say that our generation’s main gift to the culture may turn out to be self-promotion. We have precious little to promote, but we do it with ferocious ingenuity.

— Michael Hirschorn

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Edward Neufville Tailer (1830-1917) was a prominent New York merchant and banker. He kept a diary from boyhood to old age. Notable for its chronicling of café society, the manuscript is now at the New York Historical Society.

John Sloan (1871-1951) was a cartoonist and illustrator and part of the so-called Ashcan School of American artists. His manuscripts are held by the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.     

Winifred Willis (1902-1982) began her career as a poet and later wrote fiction, journalist, and screenplays. She wrote for The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, and the New York Herald Tribune. Her diary is housed at Harvard.

Michael Hirschorn is a former editor-in-chief of Spin magazine and a contributing editor to The Atlantic.

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Excerpted from New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, edited by Teresa Carpenter, with the permission of Modern Library. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.