November 18, 2015
Germaine Greer’s 30,000-word love letter to Martin Amis and his “tobacco hair”
by Zeljka Marosevic
Last week, MobyLives wrote about the correspondence of Ernest Hemingway, who, before he died, issued explicit instructions that his letters were not to be published after his death. A seven-volume edition of his letters is currently in the works.
The cultural theorist Germaine Greer might be thinking of Hemingway this week. In 2013, Greer sold her personal writing archive to the University of Melbourne. It contained thousands of personal documents, but one in particular struck journalist and academic Margaret Simons—a 30,000-word love letter that Greer wrote in 1976 to the (then) enfant terrible of London letters Martin Amis, with whom she was having a love affair.
Simons has written about the letter and what it can teach us about Greer and Amis in an essay to be published in the Australian journal Meanjin in December. But what we know already might be more than most readers can bear.
According to The Guardian, Greer began the letter on March 1, 1976 as she waited at Heathrow airport for a flight to Boston to begin her U.S. book tour. She provisionally titled the letter, “The Long Letter to a Short Love, or … ” but never filled in what that “or” might be. Simons calls the letter “part love letter, part travelogue and part literary criticism.” So, thus far, it’s I Love Dick.
Then come the descriptions of Martin Amis:
It astonishes me with that tobacco hair and those tangled black eyelashes that you do not have brown eyes. Your eyes…are cool-coloured, sort of air force blue-grey, and strangely unreflecting. You slide them away from most things and look at people through your thick eyelids, under your hair, your eyebrows and your lashes. You look at mouths more than eyes. Is it because you hate to look up? It is very shy and graceful and tantalising, as well you know.
And a sharp critique of his then-most recent novel, Dead Babies:
You have voided in the public eye. You will not be thanked for it. It is not the unpleasantness of your vision that excites reproof but the vulnerability of the author, for once casually revealed. As for me, it makes me helpless with desire for you.
Greer appears to see their affair in everything. Giving a description of the Grand Canyon, Greer writes:
…by the canyon not as a huge cunt, but as the biggest arsehole in the world…I was induced to laugh at the obvious when I came across a sign saying ‘rim worship.’
But by the end of the notebook, Greer’s passions have begun to cool, not least because she knows Amis is also seeing other women. She writes:
Now I know that I shall never force this letter upon you. The thought of it makes my heart pound, as if we were to shit together.
It may come as a surprise that Melbourne University Press had planned to publish the letter as a book. Upon rereading her notebook, however, Greer had second thoughts. Sally Heath, executive publisher at MUP told The Guardian:
Once Greer had read it, she said she felt it wasn’t actually written for publication…While the university may not need her permission [to publish], if her consent counted for anything she felt it was important for people who were named that she had not given her consent.
We may hear more about the Grand Canyon yet.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.