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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 2 Collections and/or Records:

Phelps Putnam papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 429
Overview: 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 the...
Dates: 1914-1951

Edmund Wilson papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 187
Overview: 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