Frederic Raphael, the English novelist, screenwriter, and man of letters,
and Joseph Epstein, the American essayist, short-story writer, and literary
critic, exchanged e-mails sporadically over the years, usually commenting
on each other's various writings. Then one day in 2009, Raphael wrote to
Epstein to suggest that, since they enjoyed a benevolence toward each other
unusual among literary men, they begin an exchange of e-mail correspondence
on a regular basis. His thought was that, at the end of a year or so, the
result might be an interesting book. Epstein, who had long admired
Raphael's writing, agreed. The two men had never met, nor had they even
spoken over the phone. Their friendship was conducted entirely online. Each
week they exchanged e-mails of roughly 2,000 words. They discovered a great
many things about each other they hadn't previously known. They shared, for
example, a common birthplace in Chicago, where Raphael was born, though his
family moved to England in 1938, and his education after that was
exclusively English. Each man belongs to that dolorous fraternity of those
who have buried a child. Their literary tastes vary, though not widely,
since both grew up admiring the great modernist writers and both had an
enduring love for Greek and Roman culture. Both men share a fundamental
agreement about what, in artistic and intellectual realms, is serious.
Raphael and Epstein are artists who happen also to be intellectuals. The
result is that few subjects are off limits to them. They are of an age when
they have long ceased to worry about their reputations. Wherever else they
may look, it is not over their shoulders. Candor reinforced by comedy is
the reigning note of Where Were We? as it was of Distant Intimacy, their
earlier volume of e-mail correspondence. Writing about other writers,
actors, politics, the movies, intellectual fashions, the writing life, and
much else, both men say precisely what they think, and say it in high
style. Readers may or may not agree with their strong views, but they will
never find their thoughts other than fascinating.

Frederic Raphael, Joseph Epstein—Where Were We? - The Conversation Continues

  • 9781587319341