White, Katharine S(ergeant Angell) 1896-1977
WHITE, Katharine S(ergeant Angell) 1896-1977
PERSONAL: Born September 17, 1896; died of congestive heart failure, July 20, 1977; married Ernest Angell (a lawyer; divorced); married E. B. White (a poet and children's book author), November 13, 1929; children: (first marriage) Roger, Nancy; (second marriage) Joel. Education: Bryn Mawr College, graduated, 1914. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.
CAREER: Writer and editor. The New Yorker, New York, NY, fiction editor, 1925-60.
Onward and Upward in the Garden, edited with an introduction by E. B. White, Farrar, Straus, (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2002.
Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence, a Friendship in Letters, edited by Emily Herring Wilson, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: On board the New Yorker staff almost since its inception, Katharine S. White's integrity and intelligence helped turn the magazine into the cultural icon it had become by the end of the twentieth century. In 1958, as her job as fiction editor was coming to an end, she wrote the first of a series of fourteen garden pieces that ran in the New Yorker over the next twelve years. Though she was encouraged to turn those pieces into a book, White never did, and it wasn't until her death in 1977 that her husband, noted author E. B. White, collected them and had them published under the title Onward and Upward in the Garden.
By all accounts, Onward and Upward in the Garden is no ordinary gardening book. As Michael Demarest of Time explained: "Fortunately, Katharine White was not obsessed with petal detail. … Onward and Up ward can be savored by the reader whose closest acquaintance with nature is the corner florist. It is a heady compost of observation, taste, wit and scholarship." Eden Ross Lipson reviewed the book for the New York Times Book Review and noted the its breadth of subject. "The book can be read as notes for Katharine White's autobiography. It includes bits about her New England girlhood, her sisters and aunts and their gardens, their habits, eccentricities and passions. … The details are discreet, of course, but endearing."
Another posthumously published book, Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence, a Friendship in Letters, is a collection of the correspondence between White and fellow gardener Elizabeth Lawrence. The women's relationship began in May of 1958, when Lawrence wrote to White suggesting a few little-known seed and plant lists for White's review of garden catalogs. White recognized in Lawrence an invaluable source and then some—the two became quick friends whose relationship revolved around horticulture and garden catalogs. Verlyn Klinkenborg's review in the New York Times Book Review acknowledged Lawrence as the "great find" in this book. "Two Gardeners is one of the finest gardening books published in years, largely because it reveals as much about the character of these two remarkable women as it does about the plants they loved."
Over the period of twenty years that the letters span, Lawrence and White met just once, in 1967. They had been writing for almost a decade and naturally anticipated their meeting somewhat nervously. Whatever happened during that meeting was not worth mentioning and did not change the nature of the women's friendship one way or the other. Their writing remained affectionate and respectful, no more and no less. Sheila Cobb reviewed Two Gardeners for Journal Now. "Gardeners and writers tend to be private people. Katharine White and Elizabeth Lawrence did not need to meet each other. Their friendship grew, and their vulnerabilities were revealed to each other behind the veil of a letter. This unpretentious, human correspondence makes us remember that there is no adequate substitute for written expression between two people."
White's widower, writer E. B. White, recalled his marriage to New York Times contributor Nan Robertson: "She was a divorced woman, but a conscientious mother with two children. I was six years younger than she. We finally went off and got married one day. I soon realized I had made no mistake in my choice of a wife. I was helping her pack an overnight bag one afternoon when she said, 'Put in some tooth twine.' I knew then that a girl who called dental floss tooth twine was the girl for me."
White died of heart failure—after surviving four previous heart attacks—at the age of eighty-four. William Shawn, who wrote her New Yorker obituary, said of her, "More than any other editor except Harold Ross himself, Katharine White gave The New Yorker its shape, and set it on its course."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, Brad Hooper, review of Onward and Upward in the Garden, p. 1491; April 1, 2002, Carol Haggas, review of Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence, a Friendship in Letters, p. 1291.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Two Gardeners, p. 321.
Library Journal, April 1, 2002, Phillip Oliver, review of Two Gardeners, p. 130.
Newsweek, July 30, 1979, Jean Strouse, "Of Cabbages and Snapdragons," pp. 67-68.
New Yorker, February 26, 1996, Nancy Franklin, "Lady with a Pencil," p. 172.
New York Times, April 8, 1980, Nan Robertson, "Life without Katharine: E. B. White and His Sense of Loss."
New York Times Book Review, September 2, 1979, Eden Ross Lipson, "Autobiography with Flowers," pp. 10, 21; June 2, 2002, Verlyn Klinkenborg, "Gardening."
Ms., July, 1981, review of Onward and Upward in the Garden, p. 90.
Publishers Weekly, March 11, 2002, review of Two Gardeners, p. 64.
Time, September 17, 1979, Michael Demarest, "Green Thoughts," p. 106.
Angelfire,http://www.angelfire.com/ (June 7, 2002), Sarah Ban Breathnach, review of Onward and Upward in the Garden.
Crossroads,http://xroads.virginia.edu/ (June 7, 2002).
Ellsworth American,http://www.ellsworthamerican.com/ (July 23, 2002), "Townspeople Protected Famed Writer's Privacy."
Journal Now,http://info.journalnow.com/ (April 21, 2002), Sheila Cobb, review of Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence, a Friendship in Letters.*