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The Woollcott Reader and the short story, "Margaret Ogilvy"

~ Edited by Alexander Woollcott. One of the stories, "Margaret Ogilvy", is by J.M. Barrie ~

May 12, 2010

Posted by Kimmy Sophia Brown

Alexander Woollcott
Alexander Woollcott

Sometimes we stumble upon an old book out of print that turns out to be an utter delight to the heart. One such book, which we bought at a library book sale, is entitled The Woollcott Reader.  Alexander Woollcott, an editor for the New Yorker Magazine during the 1930s, compiled the book. He was a good friend of Dorothy Parker and part of the Algonquin Round Table crowd, which was a group of well-known New York City actors, writers and critics that met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. The Woollcott Reader is a collection of some of Woollcott’s favorite stories by writers he dubbed, “his betters”.

The opening story is by J.M. Barrie, about his beloved mother, entitled, “Margaret Ogilvy”. We’re all familiar with his work, Peter Pan, but chances are that “Margaret Ogilvy” is not being widely read at the moment. I love the title of the first chapter: “How My Mother Got Her Soft Face.”

When Mr. Barrie was six years old, his older brother died in a tragic accident and his mother was broken with grief. To aid the healing process, J.M. Barrie made it his mission to try to make his mother laugh every day.

J. M. Barrie
J. M. Barrie

He wrote:

“I kept a record of her laughs on a piece of paper, a stroke for each, and it was my custom to show this proudly to the doctor every morning. There were five strokes the first time I slipped it into his hand, and when their meaning was explained to him, he laughed so boisterously that I cried, “I wish that was one of hers!” Then he was sympathetic, and asked me if my mother had seen the paper yet, and when I shook my head he said if I showed it to her now and told her that these were her five laughs he thought I might win another.”

Besides “Margaret Ogilvy”, there are stories in the Woollcott Reader by Thornton Wilder, Lytton Strachey, Evelyn Waugh and more. It’s fun and cultivating to the soul to peruse things written long ago. We learn how things have changed and how they haven’t, which contributes to greater understanding of the world we live in, its foundations and how we choose to live our own lives.

Image(s) from Wikimedia Commons

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