A Salute to Florence King

Matthew May
"I don't think I'm going to live much longer."

In her usual direct manner, 76 year-old Florence King announced that her column, "The Bent Pin," in the March 5, 2012, edition of National Review would be her last.

She has been dropping hints several recent pieces, not only in a column on famous last words, but seemingly at the end of her perfect tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens concerning the speculation of whether the atheist was in Heaven or Hell: "He's in the sea lane next to mine."

Longtime readers of NR will remember Miss King as the author of "The Misanthrope's Corner," prior to her sudden retirement in 2002. "The Bent Pin" came around in the mid-2000s. Happily, Miss King will be reviewing books in the literary section of National Review until can write no more. But her commentary on the political parade will be missed. She claimed in her final column that she had become "incompatible" with politics, but for reasons that most would undoubtedly recognize:

"Maybe it was the endless hours spent watching the Jacobins on MSNBC, maybe it was switching to CNN and finding cyberspacey John King, the high-tech finger-painter, noodling his living maps. Whatever it was, I was trapped in a cycle of revulsion, resignation, and exhaustion that became unbearable. It was cri de coeur time and out it came: 'I HATE POLITICS!'

"I'm sick of everybody on both sides, whether it's Obama making a fool of himself singing at the Apollo Theater, or the whole Nitt Gomney-Sanctus Santorum omnium gatherum on the right."

Who among us has not had the same reaction to this vile era in American history? Who among us could express it as well as Florence King?

While Miss King's political thoughts will be missed, her disgust with a world gone mad will be more so. To put it succinctly, the general shallow nature of our culture, the disappearance of simple etiquette, and the full-on embrace of the confessional repelled Florence King. As she put it when describing the contempt that she and Hitchens held for contemporary mores and their unspoken agreement to keep one another at arm's length:

"Holding back has become the last remaining art form in 21st-century America and Hitchens and I had perfected something that I did not want to give up. To do so would be to join the marauding armies of equal time; the buzzing swarms of twitters and tweeters who fill the nation's computer screens with their acronym droppings and call it 'communicating'; the screenwriters who stuff movies with so much unnecessary dialogue that it confuses what little plot there is; and the verbal bricklayers who write 10,000-page congressional bills nobody reads before passing. Brevity used to be the soul of wit, but in America it identifies a rapidly multiplying segment of the population with a three-word vocabulary consisting of 'surreal,' 'awesome,' and 'cool.'"

Miss King's final "Bent Pin" expresses the thoughts of most writers, which is her stated desire to "die in the saddle," to write until her light is extinguished. As she wrote, "A writer must write. Writing is oxygen; a real writer is driven to write as long as it is mentally and physically possible."

It is this writer's wish to say thank you to Miss King that she is able to stay in the saddle for a long time.

Matthew May welcomes comments at may.matthew.t@gmail.com

"I don't think I'm going to live much longer."

In her usual direct manner, 76 year-old Florence King announced that her column, "The Bent Pin," in the March 5, 2012, edition of National Review would be her last.

She has been dropping hints several recent pieces, not only in a column on famous last words, but seemingly at the end of her perfect tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens concerning the speculation of whether the atheist was in Heaven or Hell: "He's in the sea lane next to mine."

Longtime readers of NR will remember Miss King as the author of "The Misanthrope's Corner," prior to her sudden retirement in 2002. "The Bent Pin" came around in the mid-2000s. Happily, Miss King will be reviewing books in the literary section of National Review until can write no more. But her commentary on the political parade will be missed. She claimed in her final column that she had become "incompatible" with politics, but for reasons that most would undoubtedly recognize:

"Maybe it was the endless hours spent watching the Jacobins on MSNBC, maybe it was switching to CNN and finding cyberspacey John King, the high-tech finger-painter, noodling his living maps. Whatever it was, I was trapped in a cycle of revulsion, resignation, and exhaustion that became unbearable. It was cri de coeur time and out it came: 'I HATE POLITICS!'

"I'm sick of everybody on both sides, whether it's Obama making a fool of himself singing at the Apollo Theater, or the whole Nitt Gomney-Sanctus Santorum omnium gatherum on the right."

Who among us has not had the same reaction to this vile era in American history? Who among us could express it as well as Florence King?

While Miss King's political thoughts will be missed, her disgust with a world gone mad will be more so. To put it succinctly, the general shallow nature of our culture, the disappearance of simple etiquette, and the full-on embrace of the confessional repelled Florence King. As she put it when describing the contempt that she and Hitchens held for contemporary mores and their unspoken agreement to keep one another at arm's length:

"Holding back has become the last remaining art form in 21st-century America and Hitchens and I had perfected something that I did not want to give up. To do so would be to join the marauding armies of equal time; the buzzing swarms of twitters and tweeters who fill the nation's computer screens with their acronym droppings and call it 'communicating'; the screenwriters who stuff movies with so much unnecessary dialogue that it confuses what little plot there is; and the verbal bricklayers who write 10,000-page congressional bills nobody reads before passing. Brevity used to be the soul of wit, but in America it identifies a rapidly multiplying segment of the population with a three-word vocabulary consisting of 'surreal,' 'awesome,' and 'cool.'"

Miss King's final "Bent Pin" expresses the thoughts of most writers, which is her stated desire to "die in the saddle," to write until her light is extinguished. As she wrote, "A writer must write. Writing is oxygen; a real writer is driven to write as long as it is mentally and physically possible."

It is this writer's wish to say thank you to Miss King that she is able to stay in the saddle for a long time.

Matthew May welcomes comments at may.matthew.t@gmail.com