Karen Christensen writes:
Penn historian Michael Zuckerman introduced me to the idea of a karass – a mysterious, fortuitous connection between a group of people. This came up because I had been in the Penn archives researching Sophia and Lewis Mumford and came across references to Mike, whom I was about to have supper with.
The term karass comes from the novel Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and I’ve thought of it while working on these two 100th anniversary editions. T. S. Eliot and Lewis Mumford were as different as could be in their politics, religious beliefs, and personal lives. Their wives were also very different. I worked for Valerie Eliot in London and then became friends with Sophia Mumford in upstate New York, and I’ve been working on a book in which I contrast the two women. I also made a list of things they had in common – notably that they first went to work as typists because they weren’t considered bright enough to go to college.
But it turns out that the idea of a karass, or “5 degrees of separation,” applies to the Eliots and Mumfords. These two books. The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot and The Story of Utopias by Lewis Mumford were published by the same New York publisher, Boni & Liveright in 1922. They had the same publisher, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, late in life, too.
Both men’s wives were involved with Scofield Thayer (Vivien Haigh-Wood in 1915 and Sophia Wittenberg around 1921). Both wrote for The Dial and had books published by Boni & Liveright in 1922. They had friends in common, among them Jean de Menasce (the French poet who translated Eliot’s Waste Land in 1922 and a series of lectures Lewis gave in Geneva in 1925), I. A. and Dorothea Richards, and Robert Lowell (at whose home they met on one occasion).