Usually I recoil from snarky letters to the editor pointing out errors in an article, although sometimes the unseemly back-and-forth between bitchy intellectuals in the back pages of the NY Review of Books is the best thing in the rag. When I see an error I usually think someone else will run with it so I just turn the page. But in yesterday's Wall Street Journal there was a review by Frederic Raphael, an English writer of some note, devoted to Alice Yeager Kaplan's Dreaming in French, a book about three redoubtable American women who spent formative time in Paris: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Mr. Raphael is not terribly impressed with Ms. Kaplan's writing: not all of it is "sycophantic gush," he writes, but "banalities and imprecisions abound."
In discussing the treatment of Jackie Kennedy, Mr. Raphael writes that "A gauche juvenile poem in French ('Who knows why an April breeze / Never remains / Why stars in the trees / Hide when it rains') is gravely admired, and construed for us, by Ms. Kaplan." Although I admire the critic's adroit use of the adverb ("gravely"), the errors here are too splendid to go unremarked. The lines that the reviewer (and, I infer, the book's author) believes are taken from a "juvenile poem in French" are actually from Johnny Mercer's lyric for Hoagy Carmichael's song "How Little We Know," which Lauren Bacall sings in her screen debut in To Have and Have Not (1943). Gauche? I don't think so. It's a gem of a song, and it must be said that Jackie remained loyal to Mercer: everyone knows she adored "Moon River," which Johnny wrote for Henry Mancini's tune in Breakfast at Tiffany''s (1961).
Here's the scene from To Have and Have Not. Judge for yourself. -- DL