Last month marked the passing of two literary widows — Mary Stegner and Inna Grade — who, from all accounts were not only inspirations for their husbands and protectors of their legacies, they were forces all their own to be contended with, respected. And, certainly in the case of Grade, apparently — feared.
Now, I should make it clear that I had never met either woman or their husbands except through their work and I suspect they also probably didn’t know each other.
So, why write about them together? What do they have to do with each other?
The New York Times wrote about Grade’s “zealous guardianship of her husband’s legacy” and how “she repeatedly declared that translations of her husband’s writing failed to do justice to the vitality of his language and the breadth of his cultural insights.”
The LA Times quotes Wallace Stegner telling interviewer James Hepworth:
“She has had no role in my life except to keep me sane, fed, housed, amused, and protected from unwanted telephone calls. Also to restrain me fairly frequently from making a horse’s ass of myself in public, to force me to attend to books and ideas from which she knows I will learn something; also to mend my wounds when I am misused by the world, to implant ideas in my head and stir the soil around them, to keep me from falling into a comfortable torpor, to agitate my sleeping hours with problems that I would not otherwise attend to; also to remind me constantly (not by precept but by example) how fortunate I have been to live for fifty-three years with a woman that bright, alert, charming, and supportive”
“We’ll never know what his work might have been like without his wife Mary, but it sounds like he thought there would have been less of it, and it would not have been as good.”
And Grade was apparently no less of a force in her husband’s life though not everyone was enamored, claiming her zealousness about his work prevented it from reaching a wider audience.
Some do see it differently speculating that “Grade was apparently more afraid of poor translations and bad adaptations (which she thought had already diminished her husband’s reputation) than she was of no translations or adaptations at all.”
Here’s the thing. Both were married to their husbands for more than 50 years. Maybe their relationships were perfect, maybe they weren’t but I’d have to say that the evidence is that they worked for those involved.
I know this is corny but sometimes it’s important just to take a moment, recognize not only the love that others have but the love that you have in your life. Things may not be perfect but it’s always nice to know there’s something special to hang on to.
So, I read about Mary Stegner and Inna Grade and the long relationships they had with their husbands and think about how lucky I am for what I have in my life.
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- Chaim Grade’s Yiddish Manuscripts Unearthed (nytimes.com)