Tessa Hadley at the LRB:
When Jean Stafford published Boston Adventure in 1944, at the age of 29, Life magazine called her ‘the most brilliant of new fiction writers’. The novel sold an impressive 380,000 copies and she went on to publish two more, The Mountain Lion (1947) and The Catherine Wheel (1952). Throughout the 1950s, her short stories were a fixture in the New Yorker. She published nothing substantial in the 1960s, though her Collected Stories, which came out with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1969, was awarded a Pulitzer the following year. She died, aged 63, in 1979. Since her death, Stafford’s stories have (more or less) remained in circulation, but her three novels were out of print for decades. Now the Library of America has brought them together in a single volume, enshrining Stafford in the American tradition. It’s an opportunity to think again about her work, since she’s nowadays best remembered as the first wife of Robert Lowell, the one whom he drove, while drunk, into a brick wall. The crash necessitated months of excruciatingly painful surgery (recounted in her story ‘The Interior Castle’) and caused – as one male friend helpfully computed – a ‘25 per cent reduction of the aesthetic value of her face’.