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Charles Wertenbaker letter to Libby [Holman]


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

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Overview and metadata sections

American author and editor Charles Christian Wertenbaker was born in Lexington, Virginia, on February 11, 1901, to William Wertenbaker and Imogen Peyton Wertenbaker.

He was raised in both Lexington and Wilmington, Delaware, and entered the University of Virginia in 1919. Wertenbaker graduated from the University in 1925, having taken two years off between his sophomore and junior years to work as a house painter, seaman, and reporter.

After graduation Wertenbaker worked as a reporter for the

Alexandria Gazette and Washington Star. While employed by these papers, he wrote and sold a number of short stories. The proceeds from these stories enabled Wertenbaker to travel and write throughout Europe. During this period he contributed stories to the Saturday Evening Post, published his first two novels, Boojum (1928) and Peter the Drunk (1929), and wrote a collection of short stories titled Before They Were Men (1931).

Wertenbaker began his career as a magazine editor in 1931 after entering the employ of magazine mogul Henry Luce. Though he would be alternatively fired and hired by Luce three times in 16 years, Wertenbaker would ultimately serve on the staffs of both

Fortune (as associate editor) and Time (acting at various times as contributing editor, associate editor, foreign correspondent, editor of the Foreign News and War sections, and Paris bureau chief).

In 1947 Wertenbaker ended his relationships with

Time and Henry Luce. He moved from Paris to the village of Ciboure in the French Basque country and began to focus fully on his writing career. While working as an editor he had published the autobiographical novel To My Father (1936), a review of international relations titled A New Doctrine for the Americas (1941), and a novel on the French resistance titled Write Sorrow on the Earth (1947). From 1947 until his death in 1955 Wertenbaker wrote two additional novels The Barons (1950) and The Death of Kings (1957). These novels were to be the first and third books of a trilogy, however Wertenbaker's death in 1955 at the age of 54 kept him from writing the second volume. His last novels were written while he alternated residences between Ciboure, France, and Sneden's Landing, New York.

Wertenbaker was married three times, first marrying Henrietta Hoopes a year after his graduation from the University of Virginia. He divorced Hoopes in 1935 and married fellow writer Nancy Hale Hardin the same year. Together Wertenbaker and Hardin had one son. Wertenbaker and Hardin divorced in 1941. In 1942 Wertenbaker married another writer, Lael Tucker Laird, with whom he had two children.

Wertenbaker died from cancer at the age of 54 on January 8, 1955. His widow, Lael Tucker Wertenbaker, wrote of his death in her 1957 work,

Death of a Man. "Charles Christian Wertenbaker." Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951-1955. American Council of Learned Societies, 1977. Available online via the Biography Resource Center at (accessed 8 March 2010).

American journalist for

Time magazine and author, Charles Wertenbaker, typed and signed this letter addressed to Libby (possibly Holman) on July 27, 1931, discussing, among other items, Wertenbaker's inability to visit Baltimore.

Though not expressly indicated in the letter, it is likely that the Libby to which Wertenbaker was writing was American stage actress and torch singer Libby Holman. The typed letter, bearing the typed signature "wert," consists of 11 paragraphs of general correspondence written mostly in a stream-of-consciousness style. Indeed, in closing the letter Wertenbaker begs forgiveness from the letter's recipient for the unconventional writing style of the letter, stating, "If this [letter] seems unintelligible, remember only that the novel is written in the purest of God's classical English, and that we writer fellows must have our vacation from the inflexibility of so many sentences […]."

Throughout the letter, Wertenbaker apologizes for his inability to travel and visit Libby in Baltimore due to the fact that he cannot cease to work on his novel. He also indicates that both the heat of Baltimore and his current financial situation prevent him from traveling. Additionally, Wertenbaker's letter makes references, in passing, to literary figures Henry Mencken and Gertrude Stein.

Box 7, F0182: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0098 manuscript boxes

Purchase, 2009.

Processed and encoded by Lora J. Davis, March 2010. Further encoded by George Apodaca, March 2015.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2015 February 11
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

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Collection Inventory

Charles Wertenbaker letter to Libby [Holman], 1931 July 27.
Box 7 Folder F0182

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