Letters - Autumn 2007

Response to Our Summer Issue

By Our Readers | September 1, 2007



I was very disappointed to see yet another article (Summer 2007) trying to pretend that we don’t know that Alger Hiss spied for the Soviet Union. The historical record is clear—Hiss committed perjury when he denied knowing Whitaker Chambers as Chambers and denied that he had been a member of the Communist Party. That he also passed copies of numerous secret documents to Chambers, which Chambers then passed on to the Soviet Union, is also an established fact.

Now we get a fraudulent declaration that the historical record is “murky,”and a long article “proving” that Hiss was not “Ales.” So what? Hiss’s guilt was established long before the Soviet files became available.

Alan Vanneman
Washington, D.C.

Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya’s essay is a prime example of suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. The authors cite evidence casting some doubt on whether Alger Hiss was the Soviet spy cover named “Ales.” That Hiss may not have borne that cover name does not mean that he was not a Soviet spy. The authors do explicitly, though inconspicuously, deny “address[ing] the larger question of whether Hiss was innocent or guilty of espionage.” Nevertheless, their article does suggest that Hiss’s guilt is still in doubt. The subheading of the article both on your contents page and on page 20 reads: “The argument that Alger Hiss was a WWII-era Soviet asset is flawed. New evidence points to someone else.” Hiss appears in two photographs within the article, and a photograph of him alone appears on the very cover of your magazine.

The article and your featuring it is a disgraceful example of conveying by innuendo a message for which the authors do not want to take responsibility.

Leland B. Yeager
Auburn, Alabama

The article about Alger Hiss is an impressive bit of detective work.

Jacob Stein
Washington, D.C.


Yale professor William Deresiewicz expects us to believe that when intimacy takes place between student and professor, “it is an intimacy of the mind. I would even go so far as to say it is an intimacy of the soul. . . . The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare” or Aristotle. Maybe at Yale, but I think he will find at, say, East Tincup Creek State, where students are less likely to be “ignited” in their souls by Aristotle, things can get a lot more physical. I know this from some four decades in college and university teaching.

Stanley Sandler
Spring Lake, North Carolina

The character of Grady Tripp is guilty of many wrongful actions in both the book and film versions of Michael Chabon’s novel Wonder Boys, but sleeping with his students is not one of them. When he is confronted with the adoring advances of his alluring student and boarder Hannah Green, he successfully wards her off. It is Grady’s editor, Terry Crabtree, who ends up sleeping with another of Grady’s students, the promising writer and brooding neurotic James Leer. Grady’s restraint here is one of the few clues we get that his redemption is not entirely a lost cause.

Neil Serven
Florence, Massachusetts

William Deresiewicz replies: Grady Tripp is indeed not guilty of sleeping with his students. In the book, however, he does at least want to sleep with Hannah and is only prevented from doing so when she becomes disillusioned with him. So Serven’s last point is valid only with regard to the movie, which in fact makes Tripp more admirable in a number of respects.


Thank you for Christian Wiman’s thoughtful and thought-provoking essay, “Gazing into the Abyss.” As an oncologist, I witness despair and suffering almost daily. It is difficult at times even to understand what I do or who I am as a physician. What floored me when reading Mr. Wiman’s essay is its integrity. Along with its intelligence, this essay is moving because of its unflinching honesty.

To admit in the Scholar that one has a fatal illness, that one found love in the same time frame that one found mortality, to admit that one is a doubter and at the same time trying to believe is admirably courageous. Despite all the questions this essay raised for me, I was strangely comforted by it. It gave me hope that God and faith can still be approached in an intelligent and moving way, that God and faith are not just in the domain of folks screaming about Armageddon on the sidewalk downtown.

C. Dale Young
San Francisco, California


I read Dennis Drabelle’s essay about Fred Allen with mixed emotions. One was chagrin at being scooped, as I had been thinking about writing something similar. The other was delight at seeing a longtime personal icon remembered. As a “student” of early radio, I have been struck by how timeless Allen’s humor is. In a 1945 show Allen questioned Senator Claghorn about families having higher incomes in 1944. Claghorn says, with prompts from Allen, “It ain’t what people earn, son, it’s what they can keep. Most people end up with nothing. It’s the Ways & Means committee. If you’ve got means, they’ll find ways to get it!” I think we can relate to that in the new millennium. Nice job, Dennis Drabelle.

Clifford Simpson
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania


Charles Trueheart perfectly encapsulated and expressed my feelings about Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, both as an enthralled adolescent and now as I approach retirement and look askance at some of Durrell’s excesses. It’s so nice that there are people like Trueheart who are able to pick out and articulate the same notions that are floating disconnectedly in my own brain.

Judith Leggett
San Diego, California


There is a very simple explanation for the replacement of political conservatism with pseudo-conservatism.(See Ethan Fishman’s essay in the Winter 2007 issue.) This has nothing to do with the popular dissatisfaction cited by Richard Hofstadter.

Traditional conservatism has centered around the concept of prudence. However, prudence may be used simply as a pretext for slowing down progress and maintaining the status quo ante. Thus any political philosophy that unduly emphasizes prudence will be supported by those who oppose change, particularly those who stand to lose status and wealth by progressive democratization.

There is, then, a natural segue between conservatism and the interests of the wealthy and, particularly, big business. All governments are to some extent in league with business interests, but it has reached such a point that the government might be properly considered as the political arm of large corporations. The silent role of lobbyists in molding any new legislation has seriously endangered our democracy.

Political conservatism, after a long and distinguished career, died years ago. Its carcass has been resurrected and inhabited by the business community, which is using it as a useful cover for its own agenda. It is the wealth of corporate America being poured into Republican campaigns along with the social conservatism of the masses that has sustained what now falsely passes for “conservatism.”

Stephen E. Silver
Waterford, Connecticut


“Tamarack State” by Andrea Barrett (‘The American Scholar, Summer 2007) is an excerpt from a novel titled The Air We Breathe, forthcoming this fall.

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