Mangan, (John Joseph) Sherry 1904-1961 (Terence Phelan, Sean Niall)
MANGAN, (John Joseph) Sherry 1904-1961 (Terence Phelan, Sean Niall)
PERSONAL: Born July 27, 1904, in Lynn, MA; died June 24, 1961 in Rome, Italy. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1925.
CAREER: Larus, the Celestial Visitor, editor, 1927-28; Pagany, a Native Quarterly, assistant publisher, 1930-33; writer from 1930; Paris-based journalist for Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, 1938-48.
Cinderella Married, A & C Boni (New York, NY), 1932.
No Apology for Poetrie and Other Poems Written 1922-31, Bruce Humphries (Boston, MA), 1934.
Salutation to Valediction, Bruce Humphries (Boston, MA), 1938.
(Editor as Terence Phelan) Frederick Lang, Maritime, Pioneer (New York, NY), 1943.
(Translator) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Idomeneum, King of Crete, Juilliard Opera Company (New York, NY), 1955.
Contributor to periodicals, including Pagany. Work included in the anthology Americans Abroad: An Anthology, edited by Peter Neagoe, Servire (The Hague, Netherlands), 1932. Author, under name Sean Niall, of column "Paris Letter" for Partisan Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Sherry Mangan is best known for the European-influenced fiction, essays, and criticism through which he helped introduce American readers to innovative modernism. Though his interest in surrealism at times stifled Mangan's writing career, it enriched his editing career. As Alan Wald wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "A number of Mangan's experimental prose writings were partly inspired by the techniques of the French Surrealists, and Mangan was responsible for introducing work by several Paris-based writers to the American public."
Mangan took honors in classical literature at Harvard University. Soon after graduating, he moved to Paris, where he quickly connected with literary and artistic expatriates. Through Harvard friends such as Virgil Thomson and Maurice Grosser he befriended the likes of Gertrude Stein, Robert McAlmon, and Georges Hugnet. Mangan's stay in Paris introduced him, most importantly, to French surrealist writing and to the experiments of modernism. When he returned to the United States, Mangan edited the small literary journal Larus, The Celestial Visitor, and worked under Richard Johns at Pagany: A Native Quarterly. In those journals, he published the work of those he had met abroad. According to Wald, Mangan, through his connections, helped publish "The Revolving Mirror" by McAlmon, "Five Words in a Line" by Stein and other works from Paris by Hugnet, Mary Butts, and Bernard Fay.
Mangan also published much of his own creative work during this period; Cinderella Married, which Wald called a "highly mannered social satire, stylistically imitative of Ronald Firbank," tells of a modern Cinderella after she marries Prince Charming. Princess Ella, the novel's heroine, is confused during her marriage to the Oxford-educated, riding-boot-wearing prince, but her fairy godmother helps her manage. Reviewers, though praising the book for its wit, were still lukewarm. A Bookseller reviewer wrote: "There is no doubt about Mr. Mangan's cleverness. He is complete with quips, cranks, and wreathed smiles, with winks, innuendoes and ambiguities. If you poured some extract of James Branch Cabell into bottled essence of Anita Loos, shook them up together and, at the last moment, added a drop or two of Hemingway, you could approximate the Mangan punch. You should be warned, however, that too much of this refreshment will put you under the table." However, Mangan's sheer cleverness won over others: "Mangan's poetry and fiction exhibited a remarkable versatility," Wald explained, "but his difficulty in communicating a philosophic vision caused Virgil Thomson to describe him as 'a sterile virtuoso.'"
Critics also brushed off Mangan's poetry as mere clever word trickery; his collection No Apology for Poetrie and Other Poems Written 1922-1931 was considered technically superior, but lacking in subject matter. John Wheelwright, reviewing it for Poetry, said: "Thirty of these poems are in academic styles: epigram quatrains, antique meters, John D. Harvard sonnet (D. standing for Donne). In half of them the pre-cast forms for thought and sound do not let the ideas inside show through. But the bulk of the book (solid beating narrative arguments and ruminations upon sex) is in a counter-academic style, rich in muted metrical variants." A Boston Transcript writer, though, still said Mangan's poems seemed empty: "Mr. Mangan is deserving of praise, because he knows how to write good poetry, because of his easy wit, and because he makes himself very much at home with the romanticists in the grand manner. But turning to the substance of his work, one feels that he is rather given to wasting his talent on a type of sensualism and unchecked hedonism that we find not particularly tasteful. In fact, were it not for the wit in the volume, we would be inclined to drop it in the first convenient bucket."
Mangan excelled in journalism more than in poetry or fiction. From 1938 to 1948, after moving to Paris, he wrote for Time, Life, and Fortune magazines. A Marxist, he helped organize the French unit of the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art. He also wrote "Paris Letter," a feature for Partisan Review under the pen name Sean Niall. In "Paris Letter," Wald wrote, "he provided unusual information about the French publication of works by Benjamin Peret and Nicholas Calas, and in great detail he described the literary conflicts among radical writers in Paris." After the Nazis occupied Paris, however, Mangan's writing career began to decline. He stayed briefly in Paris as a journalist, but because of his work on behalf of the underground French Trotskyite movement, he was expelled in 1940.
Mangan worked variously as a translator and editor in his later years. "After World War II he drifted into literary obscurity and died penniless and alone in Rome," Wald wrote.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Wald, Alan, The Revolutionary Imagination: The Poetry and Politics of John Wheelright and Sherry Mangan, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1983.
Bookseller, April 17, 1932, review of Cinderella Married, p. 15.
Boston Transcript, April 27, 1932, review of Cinderella Married, p. 3; January 23, 1935, review of No Apology for Poetrie, p. 2.
Poetry, March, 1935, John Wheelwright, review of No Apology for Poetrie.*