Details from my article “Hidden Wives, Hidden Lives” was picked up by the Times Literary Supplement a couple weeks ago. I enjoyed reading the TLS writer’s additions – including Robert Caro’s note about his wife, Ina Caro. In fact, a colleague had suggested I include the Caros in my piece, mentioning that Ina Caro had gone so far as to wear gingham dresses and make jelly with Texas hill country women to get them to talk to her husband about Lyndon Johnson.
The Acknowledgments page is a familiar part of a book’s scaffolding, but it may be younger than you think. The OED, for example, dates its first reference of the usage only to 1955, when David Butler thanked his “psephological mentors” under that heading in his book on the recent general election. Nowadays, academics and non-academics, and even novelists and poets, acknowledge with abandon, though it is still the specialists who spread themselves most impressively, sometimes over several pages, thanking collaborators in quantities that rival the credits of Hollywood blockbusters.
Naturally the phenomenon is overdue some academic investigation. In the latest number of The Author, there is a report by Karen Christensen on a conference in which she participated called Thanks for Typing: Wives, daughters, mothers and other women behind famous men…. [Full article (subscribers only): TLS: October 4 2019, No. 6079, p. 36.]
I was intrigued to learn that acknowledgments are as recent as that. I suppose they previously got tucked into introductions, and of course there were dedications. But dedications are different: they acknowledge inspiration, a muse. In a review of Francine Prose’s The Lives of the Muses, Stacy Schiff, herself the author of a biography of Vera Nabakov, explains, “The ‘art wife’ is the long-suffering soul who brings up the rear in the author’s acknowledgments. The muse reclines in splendor on the title page.”
Now that I’ve written so much about acknowledgments, I will have to answer the question, “Why aren’t you acknowledged in the first volume of the T. S. Eliot Letters?” There is a reason, and another story to tell about working with Valerie Eliot.