Thurber on Writing
"I don't believe the writer should know too much where he's going. If he does, he runs into old man blueprint."
About first drafts: "That draft isn't any good; it isn't supposed to be; the whole purpose is to sketch out proportions... I rarely have a very clear idea of where I'm going when I start. Just people and a situation. Then I fool around—writing and rewriting until the stuff gels."
"I admire the person who can write it right off. Mencken once said that a person who thinks clearly can write well. But I don't think too clearly—too many thoughts bump into one another. Trains of thought run on a track of the Centeral Nervous System—the New York Central Nervous System, to make it worse."
"Still, the act of writing is either something the writer dreads or actually likes, and I actually like it. Even rewriting's fun. You're getting somewhere, whether it seems to move or not."
About his works in progress: "I often tell them at parties and places. And I write them there too....I never quite know when I'm not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, 'Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.' She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, 'Is he sick?' 'No,' my wife says, 'he's writing something.'"
About his wife Helen's role in his writing: "Helen is one of the greatest proofreaders, editors, and critics I've ever known. She's often rescued things I've thrown aside. And, if there's something she doesn't like, she pulls no punches. When I wrote 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,' I had a scene in which Mitty got between Hemingway and an opponent in a Stork Club brawl. Helen said it had to come out, that there should be nothing topical in the story. Well, you know how it is when your wife is right. You grouse around the house for a week, and then you follow her advice."
"I write humor the way a surgeon operates, because it is a livelihood, because I have a great urge to do it, because many interesting challenges are set up, and because I have the hope it may do some good."
Thurber on drawing...
"My drawings have been described as pre-intentionalist, meaning they were finished before the ideas for them had occurred to me. I shall not argue the point."
"If all the lines of what I've drawn were straightened out, they would reach a mile and a half. I drew just for relaxation, in between writing."
"Some people thought my drawings were done under water; others that they were done by moonlight. But mothers thought that I was a little child or that my drawings were done by my granddaughter. So they sent in their own children's drawings to The New Yorker, and I was told to write these ladies, and I would write them all the same letter: 'Your son can certainly draw as well as I can. The only trouble is he hasn't been through as much."
About the "Thurber Dog"
"I had a friend who was on the telephone a great deal and while he talked was always flipping the pages of his memo pad and writing things down. I started to fill up the pad with drawings so he'd have to work to get to a clean page. I began to draw a bloodhound, but he was too big for the page... He had the head and body of a bloodhound; I gave him the short legs of a basset. When I first used him in my drawings, it was as a device for balance: when I had a couch and two people on one side of a picture and a standing lamp on the other, I'd put the dog in the space under the lamp for balance... I've always loved that dog. Although at first he was a device, I gradually worked him in as a sound creature in a crazy world."
Thurber on humor...
"[Humor is] a kind of emotional chaos told about calmly and quietly in retrospect."
"Well, someone once wrote a definition of the difference between English and American humor... I thought his definition was very good. He said that the English treat the commonplace as if it were remarkable and the Americans treat the remarkable as if it were commonplace. I believe that's true of humorous writing."
Thurber on men, women, and dogs...
"Somebody has said that Woman's place is in the wrong. That's fine. What the wrong needs is a woman's presence and a woman's touch. She is far better equipped than men to set it right. The condescending male, in his pride of strength, likes to think of the female as being 'soft, soft as snow,' but just wait till he gets hit by the snowball. Almost any century now Woman may lose her patience with black politics and red war and let fly. I wish I could be on earth then to witness the saving of our self destructive species by its greatest creative force. If I have sometimes seemed to make fun of Woman, I assure you it has only been for the purpose of egging her on."
"[The Thurber dog] does not want to hunt anybody or anything. He loves serenity and heavy dinners, and wishes they would go on forever, like the brook."
Thurber on Columbus...
"I have lived in the East for nearly thirty years now, but many of my books prove that I am never very far away from Ohio in my thoughts, and that the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus."
"Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen, and in which almost everything has."
on Thurber's writing...
E. B. White: "During his happiest years, Thurber did not write the way a surgeon operates, he wrote the way a child skips rope, the way a mouse waltzes."
E. B. White: "His mind was never at rest, and his pencil was connected to his mind by the best conductive tissue I have ever seen in action."
Peter De Vries: "He was a storyteller, mimic, fantasist, realist, running commentator, and mine of information on every subject under the sun."
Malcolm Cowley: "Comedy is his chosen field, and his range of effects is deliberately limited, but within that range there is nobody who writes better than Thurber, that is, more clearly and flexibly, with a deeper feeling for the genius of language and the value of words"
on Thurber's drawings...
Arthur Miller: "The people in Thurber's drawings are a breed of his own discovery. Before he drew them nobody ever saw such creatures in real life. But now, once you see them, you recognize your own friends. Maybe—if you are very honest—yourself."
Dorothy Parker: "These are strange people that Mr. Thurber has turned loose upon us. They seem to fall into three classes—the playful, the defeated, and the ferocious. All of them have the outer semblance of unbaked cookies."
Dorothy Parker: "There is about all these characters, even the angry ones, a touching quality. They expect so little of life; they remember the old discouragements and await the new."
Dorothy Parker: "Of the birds and animals so bewilderingly woven into the lives of the Thurber people it is best to say but little. Those tender puppies, those faint-hearted hounds—I think they are hounds—that despondent penguin—one goes all weak with sentiment. No man could have drawn, much less thought of, those creatures unless he felt really right about animals."
E. B. White: "He is the one artist that I have ever known capable of expressing in a single drawing physical embarrassment during emotional strain. That is, it is always apparent to Thurber that at the very moment one's heart is caught in an embrace one's foot may be caught in a piano stool."
on Thurber's men, women, and dogs...
E. B. White: " 'Thurber men'... are frustrated, fugitive beings; at times they seem vaguely striving to get out of something without being seen (a room, a situation, a state of mind), at other times they are merely perplexed and too humble, or weak to move. The women, you will notice, are quite different: temperamentally they are much better adjusted to their surroundings than are the men, and mentally they are much less capable of making themselves uncomfortable."