Stock Image

The Archivist

Cooley, Martha

1,941 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0316158720 / ISBN 13: 9780316158725
Published by Little Brown & Company, New York, NY, U.S.A., 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
Buy Used
Price: US$ 30.00 Convert Currency
Shipping: US$ 7.00 Within U.S.A. Destination, Rates & Speeds
Add to basket

30 Day Return Policy

Offered By

Kennedy Books
Jamestown, ND, U.S.A.

5-star rating

AbeBooks Seller Since March 13, 2004

About this Item

A Fine/Fine unread copy protected by Archival Brodart Cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000401

Quantity Available: 1

Ask Seller a Question

Bibliographic Details

Title: The Archivist

Publisher: Little Brown & Company, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.

About this title


Matthias is a man of orderly ways, a librarian whose life rarely strays from its narrow channels. At the library where he works is an archive of letters from the poet T. S. Eliot to an American woman, written during the years Eliot was undertaking "Four Quartets" and wrestling with problems of marriage and of faith. Matthias' marriage to Judith in the years following World War II forms the core of this novel. Despite their differences -- Judith is unruly, an artist -- their shared love of poetry and jazz at first lends strength to their bond. But their good intentions cannot bridge their essential divergences. A growing alienation is complicated by Judith's increasingly erratic behavior, which culminates in a severe breakdown and her incarceration in a mental hospital. Judith's own voice, in the form of a journal she kept in the hospital, is the transfixing middle passage of this novel. The journal opens onto the psyche of a woman haunted by questions about love's worth in a world filled with war's evils. As Matthias wrestles with his own reawakened longings and his memories, he is forced to reconsider his role in his wife's death. After years of carefully tended caution, he realizes that he must acknowledge emotion as much as logic. This time, the result is an act of rebellion intended as reparation -- and a provocative disruption of our own ideas about debts to the dead. In the masterful tradition of A.S. Byatt's "Possession," a rich and thoughtful debut novel about passion and loss woven against a backdrop of poetry.


Matthias Lane is the proud gatekeeper to countless objects of desire, the greatest among them being T.S. Eliot's letters to Emily Hale. Now in his late 60s and archivist at an unnamed East Coast university, Matthias is--as one of his colleagues tells him--"exceptionally well defended." He's intent on keeping the Hale collection equally remote, and when a young poet first seeks access, Matthias rebuffs her with little difficulty. Still, Roberta Spire does remind him of his wife, Judith, who had also written poetry but had committed suicide 20 years earlier. And he is much taken with the student's self-possession: "Pleading never works with me," he concedes, "but authentic and angry self-interest does."

Betrayal figures heavily in The Archivist. For starters, Roberta feels betrayed by her parents, German Jews who had spent World War II in hiding and emigrated to the U.S. soon afterward, re-creating themselves as Christians. She has only recently discovered her Jewish background. The irony is that Matthias's wife had also been an Eliot adept and had felt violated by a false version of her own past and destroyed when confronted with the realities of the Holocaust. No wonder Roberta sees the Hale letters as a Holy Grail, the key to her questions about religious conversion and identity.

What holds this exceptionally ambitious and layered first novel together is the love all three main characters have for the pleasures of the text and the knowledge they share that time is, as Eliot writes, both preserver and destroyer. Eliot, after all, had wanted Emily Hale to destroy his letters (and in reality they are sealed until 2020, safe at Princeton University). Martha Cooley is deeply concerned, as are her characters, with questions of conscience, privacy, action and inaction, and security--personal and scholarly. If there is one parallel too many in this impressive work, perhaps that is more like life than some of us care to admit. --Kerry Fried

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Store Description

Welcome to Kennedy Books. We have spent many years collecting modern firsts, many signed. We focus on fiction, poetry, biography and books on the craft of writing and the joy of reading.

Visit Seller's Storefront

Terms of Sale:

North Dakota residents add 5% sales tax. All items are subject to prior sale;
prices are subject to change. Any book may be returned within ten days of receipt.
Notice of decision to return is requested.

Shipping Terms:

Shipping costs are based on books weighing 2.2 LB, or 1 KG. If your book order is heavy or oversized, we may contact you to let you know extra shipping is required.

List this Seller's Books

Payment Methods
accepted by seller

Visa Mastercard American Express