Putnam, Phelps, 1894-1948

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Born in Massachusetts in 1894, Putnam attended Philips Exeter Academy before enrolling at Yale. A member of the secret society Skull and Bones, Putnam has been named among the Renaissance generation at Yale, which includes Stephen Vincent Benét, Henry R. Luce, Archibald MacLeish, Cole Porter, and Thornton Wilder. Following graduation, Putnam traveled to Europe and worked a series of jobs, including a period as an assistant editor for The Atlantic Monthly Press and writing advertising copy for an insurance company. Putnam’s first book of poems, Trinc, was published in 1927. Following publication of Trinc, Putnam set to work on an epic, to be titled "The Earthly Comedy," which would recount modern life and feature characters such as Bill Williams and his alter ego Bigelow Hasbrouck. The publication of The Five Seasons (1931) features these characters and marks the beginning of Putnam’s work towards producing "The Earthly Comedy". Putnam never completed the work before his death in 1948, however, thwarted perhaps by ill health (asthma and alcoholism) and the paralyzing ambition of his plans. As F.O. Matthiessen acknowledges in his essay “To the Memory of Phelps Putnam,” “he sketched a poem too vast ever to be able to shoulder the weight of writing it”.

Putnam married twice, to Ruth Peters and Una Fayerweather, and had numerous affairs, including trysts with Katharine Hepburn and painter Russell Cheney.

Summary information on Howard Phelps Putnam taken from an October 2007 description of the Farwell Knapp Papers in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library poetry blog (see http://beineckepoetry.wordpress.com/2007/10/).

From the guide to the Phelps Putnam papers, 1914-1951, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Knapp, Farwell. Farwell Knapp journal : love story of a stoic philosopher, [ca. 1947]. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Russell Wheeler Davenport Papers, 1899-1980, (bulk 1930-1954) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Farwell Knapp papers, 1891-1947, 1907-1942 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Knapp, Farwell, 1893-1942. Farwell Knapp papers, 1891-1947 (bulk 1907-1942). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Wilson, Edmund, 1895-1972. Edmund Wilson papers, 1829-1986 (bulk 1920-1972). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Putnam, Phelps, 1894-1948. Letters, 1927-1934, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Edmund Wilson papers, 1829-1986, 1920-1972 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Phelps Putnam papers, 1914-1951 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf Putnam, Phelps, 1894-1948. H. Phelps Putnam papers, ca. 1913-1948. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Cheney, Russell, 1881-1945 person
correspondedWith Davenport, Russell W. (Russell Wheeler), 1899-1954 person
associatedWith Knapp, Farwell. person
associatedWith Knapp, Farwell, 1893-1942. person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Rosenfeld, Paul, 1890-1946 person
associatedWith Stewart, Donald Ogden, 1894-1980 person
associatedWith Tate, Allen, 1899-1979 person
associatedWith Walker, Charles R. (Charles Rumford), 1893-1974 person
associatedWith Wilson, Edmund, 1895-1972. person
associatedWith Young, Stark, 1881-1963 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Authors, American--20th century--Archives
American literature--20th century


Birth 1894

Death 1948


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