Perenyi, Eleanor (Spencer Stone) 1918-
PERENYI, Eleanor (Spencer Stone) 1918-
PERSONAL: Born January 4, 1918, in WA; daughter of Ellis S. and Grace (Zaring) Stone; married F. Sigmond Perenyi, September 23, 1937 (divorced); children: Peter. Education: Attended Phillips Gallery of Art School, 1936.
ADDRESSES: Home—53 Main St., Stonington, CT 06378.
CAREER: Harper's Bazaar, New York, NY, decoration editor, 1947-50, copy editor, 1955-57, feature and travel editor, 1956-58; Living for Young Homemakers, New York, NY, copy editor, 1951; Charm, New York, NY, feature editor, 1958-59, managing editor, 1959; Mademoiselle, New York, NY, managing editor, 1959-62; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination, 1974, for Liszt: The Artist As Romantic Hero; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for literature, 1982.
More Was Lost (memoir), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1946, reprinted, Helen Marx Books, 2001.
The Bright Sword (novel), Rinehart (New York, NY), 1955.
Liszt: The Artist As Romantic Hero, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (London, England), 1975.
Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden (essays), Random House (New York, NY), 1981, new edition, with an introduction by Allen Lacy, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor of articles to popular magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Esquire.
SIDELIGHTS: Editor and writer Eleanor Perenyi first attracted critical attention in 1974 with Liszt: The Artist As Romantic Hero. In this biography of the innovative Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, Perenyi traces the musician's life from his birth in 1811 until 1861, when he entered the Franciscan Order in Rome, Italy. Throughout the work, the author presents Liszt as a prototypical romantic hero by revealing his abiding spirituality—he is considered by many to be the nineteenth century's greatest religious composer—and his generosity. Liszt's efforts to aid his contemporaries, in fact, were often offered at the expense of his own musical reputation; he popularized the operatic and symphonic works of Richard Wagner, for instance, through his own piano transcriptions. Augmenting his reputation as a great romantic, Perenyi maintains that women were quite attracted to Liszt and often pursued him relentlessly. Yet the author discredits many of the scandalous rumors surrounding the Hungarian composer's life, in particular his alleged mistreatment of his first mistress, Marie d'Agoult, the mother of his three children. Although critical reaction to Liszt was mixed, many reviewers agreed that Perenyi possesses a thorough understanding of the romantic period. "Her intelligence is most obvious in her penetrating treatment of Liszt's relationship to the Romantic movement," declared Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times. National Review contributor Aram Bakshian, Jr., similarly praised the biography as "a real tour de force as both a character study and an overview of the Romantic movement." Perenyi has written, lauded Richard Howard in the New York Times Book Review, "surely one of the most searching, sophisticated and sensible books about . . . the romantic hero."
Perenyi wrote a memoir of her marriage to the young liberal Hungarian baron Zsiga (F. Sigmond) Perenyi, followed by a novel about the American Civil War battle of Chickamauga, The Bright Sword, published in 1955. Her memoir, More Was Lost, first published in 1946, was republished in paperback in 2001 and released to a new audience, for whom it is still fascinating. Perenyi married the young baron in 1937, and the couple lived in a castle in Hungary (or Czechoslovakia, as Nazi German ruler Adolf Hitler changed the boundaries of his possessions). With 700 acres of farmland, a vineyard, a forest, and a way of life that was still quite similar to that of the 1400s, young Eleanor and her husband stayed busy gardening, preserving food, and making their own repairs. Eleanor learned Hungarian from her mother-in-law, and became friends with the local people, including the old steward Gyorffy, the massive hunter Bottka, and the patriotic and proud Cousin Laci. Perenyi writes about her perception that Hungarians vaguely "looked down on" the Jews, as quoted by Gore Vidal in an article for the New York Review of Books, because they took on work in business and the professions that no one else wanted to do. As World War II broke out, Zsiga Perenyi persuaded the pregnant Eleanor to return to the United States to have their child. She first went to join her parents in Paris, where her father was a military attaché to the American embassy, telling Zsiga she would come back "war or no war," as quoted by Vidal. On September 2, 1939, Eleanor and her mother watched from their window in Paris as war was declared on Germany. Although Eleanor rejoined her husband for a short time that fall, he was soon called to fight in the Hungarian army, and, home on leave, insisted that she return to the United States. "I left as if I expected to be back the following week," Vidal quoted, "[with] a hasty glance around the garden over which I had worked so hard. . . . I didn't pay any farewell calls. I didn't go to take a last look at my trees in the orchard. I walked out with only one bag, got into the carriage to be driven to the station . . . and never looked back." As Eleanor and Zsiga parted in Budapest, Perenyi writes, "We had only a few bad moments . . . and I don't remember how we got through them." She returned to New York and made a new life in publishing. Zsiga stayed in Hungary, where he lived under a Russian Communist government. Their castle became a museum. In 1947, he visited Eleanor in New York, and they arranged for a divorce before he returned home. Eleanor stayed in New York with her parents and raised her son. She sums up her marriage in More Was Lost by recalling her husband's liberalism and "hatred of bigotry and cruelty and prejudice," while also remembering his cynicism and pessimism. A contributor to Turtle Point commented on Perenyi's "lucid, crisp, and unpretentious" style in the book, which "yields much that history and dispatches omit."
In 1981 Perenyi capitalized on her more than thirty years of amateur gardening experience with Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden. In this collection of seventy-two meditations and witty essays inspired by her own garden, Perenyi offers practical wisdom on such horticultural topics as compost, gardening failures, weeds, and weather conditions. Yet Perenyi's ruminations extend further than her garden. Greek legend, European history and politics, world literature, and religion and spirituality number among the sundry topics addressed in these essays, arranged alphabetically from "Annuals" to "Woman's Place." Literary figures, including Cato, John Milton, Edith Wharton, and Robert Frost, are quoted and deliberated over, as is the subject of mazes: "Should you ever find yourself lost in one," Perenyi writes, as quoted by Mary McCarthy in the New York Review of Books, "choose either the right or the left wall and follow its every turning. You can't fail to emerge." Green Thoughts met with an enthusiastic critical response. "As I read, I was constantly delighted by the nuggets of knowledge and [Perenyi's] enchanting turns of mind and phrase," claimed Brooke Astor in the New York Times Book Review. This volume "is quite unlike any other gardening book I know," the critic continued, "with its Old World charm, its down-to-earth practicality, its whimsy and sophistication." Washington Post Book World reviewer Bertha Benkard Rose simply proclaimed Green Thoughts "a delight," while New Republic reviewer John Hollander concluded: "This perennial book springs from the ground of intelligence, candor, and good humor which has not yet, artificial fertilizers to the contrary, been worn out." Jane Barker Wright, in a review for Horticulture: The Magazine of American Gardening, compared Perenyi's book to "a soft cheese, a hunk of good bread, and a glass of strong red wine," something to chew on and savor. "Perenyi is unapologetic in her opinions, robust in her arguments, and disarmingly graceful in her prose style," Wright concluded. "This combination," she said, "would ensure success in almost any genre; it is without doubt the key to the timelessness of Green Thoughts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 19, 1984.
Horticulture: The Magazine of American Gardening, October, 1995, Jane Barker Wright, review of Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, p. 71.
Library Journal, December, 2001, Michael Rogers, review of Green Thoughts, p. 182.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 3, 1994, review of Green Thoughts, p. 1.
National Review, March 28, 1975, Aram Bakshian, Jr., review of Liszt: The Artist As Romantic Hero.
New Republic, January 25, 1975; October 7, 1981, John Hollander, review of Green Thoughts.
Newsweek, October 12, 1981.
New Yorker, October 5, 1981.
New York Review of Books, February 6, 1975; November 5, 1981, Mary McCarthy, review of Green Thoughts; February 28, 2002, Gore Vidal, "Everything Is Yesterday," review of More Was Lost, pp. 22-23.
New York Times, December 10, 1974, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Liszt.
New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1974, Richard Howard, review of Liszt; October 11, 1981, Brooke Astor, review of Green Thoughts; May 31, 1998, "Dear Mr. Jefferson," p. 7.
Observer (London), February 27, 1994, review of Green Thoughts, p. 22; November 26, 1995, review of Green Thoughts, p. 8.
Spectator, October 23, 1982.
Times Literary Supplement, November 7, 1975; November 26, 1982; August 4, 1995, review of Green Thoughts, p. 12.
Washington Post Book World, October 11, 1981, Bertha Benkard Rose, review of Green Thoughts.
Turtle Point,http://www.turtlepoint.com/ (April 30, 2002), review of More Was Lost.*