Lawrence Rainey – In Memoriam

by Stefano Maria Casella


“Quando sarai a Yale, cerca di Lawrence Rainey” (When you are at Yale, look for Lawrence Rainey) advised me Massimo Bacigalupo when I asked him some tips about my first visit to the Beinecke, in late Summer 1990.

“Rainy? Reiny?”: uncertain about the spelling, I mis-jotted down the name on the back of a photocopy of a map, which I still have as a keepsake of that unforgettable first visit to New Haven, some thirty years ago.

Once arrived at New Haven, spotted the Beinecke, and registered at the Reception, I asked the librarians at the desk where I could find professor Lawrence Rainey.

Our first meeting took place some days later. The Beinecke librarians and assistants (at least at that time) were always so kind and active in helping newcomers to establish contacts with other scholars from various parts of the world working on the same topics and authors. I was introduced also to a most delightful and unforgettable Japanese lady, Akiko Miyake, and to an authentic American gentleman, always smartly dressed with light blue seersucker jackets and pink or lily neckties, James J. Wilhelm. I also met David Moody, whom I already knew, and I still am in debt with him for encouraging me to join the “T.S. Eliot Society”—which I did, thus becoming the first Italian member to be accepted in that assembly/gathering/forum of Eliot scholars.

But to Lawrence: a tall, slender gentleman with short hair often tousled, reading glasses, and frequently a cigarette in his fingers (where smoking was not banished/forbidden).

After a brief formal introduction and an exchange of information about my research on the Ezra Pound Papers, he gave me an appointment in his studio, but I do not remember in which college: after so many years, I really don’t.

What I remember are Lawrence’s deep and wide literary and historical knowledge – and not only of Pound and Eliot and Modernist authors – his thought-provoking and often puzzling questions, which he posed apparently in an absent-minded way, as if he were following the course of his thoughts, and his curiosity, witty irony, and jokes, as well as his spontaneous generosity and helpfulness: he never kept jealously for himself the results –and also the initial ideas-- of his research and projects, but always shared them with enthusiasm and selflessness: I remember he sent me a big batch of rare unpublished materials related to Pound, without ever thinking I could have “stolen” his ideas and projects about them.

“Have you never asked yourself why the Cantos begin with the conjunction ‘And’? What comes before that ‘And’?”

“Why does Pip ‘…want to be a gentleman”, not unlike Leporello who sings ‘Voglio fare il gentiluomo / E non voglio più servir’?”

“How many Fauns are there in the panorama of English literature at the end of the Nineteenth century, and why?”

He had a thorough knowledge of the Italian history of the “Ventennio”: what Pound did in Italy; his meeting with “The Boss”; the agency of Nancy Cox McCormack; the story of Lauro de Bosis, not to mention his topic of that moment: the “Malatesta Cantos”, their sources, the relationship with The Waste Land, Pound’s visits to Rimini and “il Tempio”, the fake new upon which Canto 73 is built.

Not less fascinating his research on T.S. Eliot and the drafts of The Waste Land: Lawrence always carried in his pockets a tiny instrument, a micro-caliper to gauge the thickness of the different kinds of paper used by The Possum in the various drafts of the poem; he taught me how important it is to check the kind and, when possible, the filigree of the leaves of manuscripts and typescripts used by the poets. I was so enthusiast about this method that whenever the librarians gave me new folders of Pound’s Papers, I examined in backlit every leaf of paper, and sometimes had interesting proofs of the validity of the method in my research about the Guido Cavalcanti mss for the 1931 Genoese Marsano edition. 

At that time, I had a one-year-old child, Sebastiano (whom he called “Sebastianino”). He remarked jokingly how the three of us had been given very special names of patron saints: San Lorenzo, who had been grilled, Santo Stefano, stoned to death, and San Sebastiano, pierced with arrows.

Apropos of our respective families, he introduced me to his Greek wife Sonia: they invited me to dinner in their house in the woods of Hamden/CT, where he showed me the wild fauna and flora of the place (in particular, I remember raccoons and venomous ivy), and the earliest signs of the Indian Summer. He also honoured me with his personal confidence, and we often confided each other personal and familiar episodes.

So, for several years in the Nineties, our autumnal meetings at New Haven became a pleasant appointment between friends. Every time there were literary, professional, and family news to exchange. I remember his enthusiasm when he founded Modernism/modernity in 1994 together with professor von Hallberg: he showed to me the blurb/flyer of the new-born magazine, explaining in detail the project, and also asked me to help him translating it into Italian – a language he however mastered in an excellent way, so that we could switch from English to Italian, and reciprocally learn from, and correct, each other.  

After the Nineties, we lost track of each other: he had moved to York, where I never had the opportunity to travel and visit him.

But he was always present through his new books and essays in modernist studies, which were most frequently mentioned in the Conferences with admiration for his authority in the field (I also happened to hear mean and venomous insinuations, evidently by envious people, worth only of the Dantescan dismissal “non ragioniam di lor…”).

For me, his had become a kind of “isolated superiority”, impossible to deny or not to acknowledge and recognize. As for the rest, his books speak for him.

“And then he went down to the ship…”: 

<<Ciao, Lawrence>>