Brother Mine, letter 107

Cover for Pfeiffer: Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank. Click for larger imageOn July 5, 2010, we will publish Kathleen Pfeiffer’s new book Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank, which presents for the first time their entire correspondence in chronological order.

Waldo Frank was an established white writer who advised and assisted the younger African American Jean Toomer as he pursued a literary career. They met in 1920, began corresponding regularly in 1922, and were estranged by the end of 1923, the same year that Toomer published his ambitiously modernist debut novel, Cane.

As Pfeiffer writes in the Introduction:

“The correspondence (and the friendship) suffered a devastating rupture once Toomer moved to Greenwich Village. Unbeknownst to Frank, Toomer soon embarked on an intense secret love affair (which was, however, not secret from mutual friends) with Frank’s wife, Margaret Naumburg. The surviving letters from this period clearly reflect some tension.”

Here is a letter from Frank to Toomer during that period. Kathleen Pfeiffer provides the context.

Waldo Frank and Margaret Naumburg were often apart during the summer of 1923. In July Naumburg took a two-week camping trip to Lake Placid. In early August, Frank spent a few weeks with his friend Leo Ornstein in New Hampshire. The marriage was dissolving, with the pair making plans to depart the Darien house and separate. Toomer’s letters to Naumburg (addressed “Dearest”) make it clear that they were intimate by this time. Naumburg’s letters to Toomer are unpublished, but for Toomer’s portion of their correspondence, see Whalan.

107. Frank to Toomer (JTP)


     I’ve been thinking about you, and worrying a bit . . but have been silent
because your silence made me think you wanted it so. I go Sunday for a few
weeks in New Hampshire with the Ornsteins. In Sept. I hope to see you.
     My address for the next couple of weeks is care of Leo O., North Conway,
N H.
     I am more rested. Have been able to do absolutely no work, but sleep is a
bit better.
     No energy for a real letter.
     all my love
[handwritten] Not a single copy have I of Cane!——————

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