I was saddened to see this morning that Florence King had passed yesterday. I don't have time to write much here. National Review Online has a proper obituary, written by Jack Fowler, and it’s great. Here’s an excerpt:
Florence King was one of the premier writers of the 20th century. In particular, as a book reviewer, she was unrivaled. And was there a better scourge of multiculturalism than the crotchety, gin-swilling, chain-smoking, off-colored prose perfectionist who fired off verbal mortars from a nicotine-and-tar patina-d apartment on Caroline Street? I don’t think so. She is an important part of the history and fiber of this institution known for harboring great writers. Her thousands upon thousands of adoring fans — many of whom she counted as pen pals (she loved getting letters from her readers) — will agree.
One private thing: Florence was spiritual — at least that she felt the spirit of a few departed souls, especially her famous Granny. That led her to think, maybe . . . A few months back she asked me to pray for her, and I did, and she was happy to know that rosaries on Bill Buckley’s old beads were being said for her. It gave her comfort, and maybe there were other consequences. But tonight I will say another prayer for her, and I hope you will too, because if you were someone who derived great enjoyment from reading Florence King, know that, at the end, she sought peace, and if we can help her rest in it, we should.
When I was young and a budding conservative, I devoured the old National Review magazines, and one column I could not miss was the Florence King column, which I believe was on the back end of the issue. When I proclaim the rightful superiority of traditional conservatism, Florence King was one of those writers that had an impact on my thinking. Here's how her Wikipedia entry characterizes her conservative philosophy:
King was a traditionalist conservative, but not a "movement conservative," and she objected to much of the populist direction of the contemporary American Right. King labeled herself a "misanthrope." She was an active Episcopalian (though she often referred to her agnosticism), a member of Phi Alpha Theta, and a monarchist.
Monarchist? Well, she probably was and that's about as traditional a conservative as one gets. To be fair, King's father was British, and so that may be referring to her British, Tory leanings.
But she most definitely was a misanthrope. That characteristic is the one I most remember about her. I pulled up a few of her quotes posted on Goodreads. Let me share a few.
She never married and from what I gathered she was mostly a hermit:
“Keep dating and you will become so sick, so badly crippled, so deformed, so emotionally warped and mentally defective that you will marry anybody.”
She was always ready to touch on her misanthropy:
“Misanthropes have some admirable -- if paradoxical -- virtues. It is no exaggeration to say that we are among the nicest people you are likely to meet. Because good manners build sturdy walls, our distaste for intimacy makes us exceedingly cordial. “Ships that pass in the night.” As long as you remain a stranger we will be your friend forever.”
She had the ability to read the very core of people:
“Hell hath no fury like a liberal arts major scorned.”
“The belle is a product of the Deep South, which is a product of the nineteenth century and the Age of Romanticism. Virginia is a product of the eighteenth century. It's impossible to extract a belle from the Age of Reason.”
Being a southerner, she frequently wrote about it.
“One of the most startling phenomena I ever witnessed occurred in the South after the Arab-Israeli Six-day War. I doubt if the world has ever seen such a rapid ceasefire in antisemitism. I heard one Southern man after another say in tones that i can only describe as gleeful: 'by dern, those Jew boys sure can fight!' One man seriously recommended that Congress pass a special act making Moshe Dayan an American citizen so that he could become Secretary of Defense. He had obviously found a new ‘hero;' as he put it 'That one-eyed bastid would wipe out anybody offin the map whut gave us any trouble.”
“Southerners have a genius for psychological alchemy ... If something intolerable simply cannot be changed, driven away or shot they will not only tolerate it but take pride in it as well.”
But her greatest gift was her wit and way with words:
“A woman must wait for her ovaries to die before she can get her rightful personality back. Post-menstrual is the same as pre-menstrual; I am once again what I was before the age of twelve: a female human being who knows that a month has thirty days, not twenty-five, and who can spend every one of them free of the shackles of that defect of body and mind known as femininity.”
Rest in peace Florence King, I shall forever remember reading you at night in that beloved magazine.