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Putnam, Phelps, 1894-1948



  • Existence: 1894 - 1948


Born in Massachusetts in 1894, Putnam Phelps attended Philips Exeter Academy before enrolling at Yale. A member of the secret society Skull and Bones, Putnam has been named among the Renaissance generation at Yale, which includes Stephen Vincent Benét, Henry R. Luce, Archibald MacLeish, Cole Porter, and Thornton Wilder. Following graduation, Putnam traveled to Europe and worked a series of jobs, including a period as an assistant editor for The Atlantic Monthly Press and writing advertising copy for an insurance company. Putnam’s first book of poems, Trinc, was published in 1927. Following publication of Trinc, Putnam set to work on an epic, to be titled "The Earthly Comedy," which would recount modern life and feature characters such as Bill Williams and his alter ego Bigelow Hasbrouck. The publication of The Five Seasons (1931) features these characters and marks the beginning of Putnam’s work towards producing "The Earthly Comedy". Putnam never completed the work before his death in 1948, however, thwarted perhaps by ill health (asthma and alcoholism) and the paralyzing ambition of his plans. As F.O. Matthiessen acknowledges in his essay “To the Memory of Phelps Putnam,” “he sketched a poem too vast ever to be able to shoulder the weight of writing it”.

Putnam married twice, to Ruth Peters and Una Fayerweather, and had numerous affairs, including trysts with Katharine Hepburn and painter Russell Cheney.

Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:

Russell Cheney papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 1534

The collection consists of correspondence, ephemera, artwork, photographs, and computer media by or relating to American painter Russell Cheney.

Dates: 1881-2018, bulk 1916-1939

Farwell Knapp papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 256
Abstract: The Farwell Knapp Papers, largely consisting of correspondence, journals, photographs, and other papers, documents the personal and professional life of Connecticut tax lawyer Farwell Knapp. Knapp’s experience as a student at Yale University and Harvard University law school are recorded, including his involvement with the secret society Skull and Bones and friendships with fellow alumni (such as poet Phelps Putnam and painter Russell Cheney). The life of Knapp's wife, Helen Bayne Knapp, and...
Dates: 1891-1947, bulk 1907-1942

Papers relating to Phelps Putnam and Una Putnam, 1948 October 13-1964 July 24, undated

 Part of Collection — Box 110: [Barcode: 39002140920886], Folder: 26
Call Number: YCAL MSS MISC
Scope and Contents:

Papers relating to Phelps Putnam and his wife Una Putnam. The collection includes: two typescript letters and one autograph manuscript postcard, signed, to Una Putnam, concerning Phelps Putnam and personal amtters; three drawings by unidentified artists, including a possible sketch of Phelps Putnam; and six black and white photographs, by unidentified photographers, depicting Phelps Putnam, Una Putnam, and unidentified men and women.

Dates: 1948 October 13-1964 July 24, undated

Phelps Putnam papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 429
Abstract: The Phelps Putnam papers contain correspondence, writings, and personal papers documenting the life and work of poet Howard Phelps Putnam. Correspondence in the collection features letters with family, Yale college friends, including Russell Cheney, Farwell Knapp, Donald Ogden Stewart, and Charles Walker, and other authors, including Paul Rosenfeld, Allen Tate, and Stark Young. Writings contains drafts for poems and short prose pieces dating from 1914 to the late 1940s. Other materials in...
Dates: 1914-1951

Edmund Wilson papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 187
Abstract: The collection consists of correspondence, literary manuscripts, subject files, financial records, photographs, and personal and family papers documenting Wilson's life and work. The papers span the years 1829-1986, encompassing early family documents through materials concerning posthumous publication of Wilson's books and journals. The bulk of the collection dates from the beginnings of Wilson's literary career, ca. 1920, through his death in 1972.Series I, Correspondence, contains...
Dates: 1829-1986, bulk 1920-1972