“Claim to Fame #1 – 9”

Lydia Davis

October 3, 2023 
The following are stories from Lydia Davis's Our Strangers. Davis is the author of Essays OneThe End of the Story: A Novel and many story collections, including Varieties of Disturbance, a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award for Fiction, Can't and Won't, and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Davis is also the acclaimed translator of Swann's Way and Madame Bovary, both awarded the French-American Foundation Translation Prize, and of many other works of literature.

Claim to Fame #2: Karl Marx and My Father

Karl Marx and my father both had daughters. Both daughters grew up to become translators. Both translated Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary!


Claim to Fame #7: A. J. Ayer

The older half-sister of an early boyfriend of mine, it was revealed many decades after her conception, was the daughter, until then unacknowledged, of the British philosopher and Oxford don A. J. Ayer. (Upon his death what he left her was the choice, out of his library, of a single book.)


Claim to Fame #8: On the Way to Detroit

In the airplane on my way to Detroit, on a recent trip, I sat next to a woman who turned out to be the widow of the nephew of Lewis Mumford!


Claim to Fame #9: In Detroit

In Detroit, standing in a line, I met a woman who turned out to be the daughter of Samuel Beckett’s publisher Barney Rossett.


Claim to Fame #3: June Havoc

My parents bought a small house in Connecticut from June Havoc, a talented actress and tap dancer even as a tiny child. She was not as well known, however, as her sister, Gypsy Rose Lee.


Claim to Fame #1: Ezra Pound

I don’t know quite how to express this. I’ll try a few ways: Pound’s son Omar was the husband of my half-sister’s father’s niece. My half-sister’s father’s niece, that is, my half-sister’s first cousin on her father’s side, was married to Ezra Pound’s son Omar. My half-sister’s father’s sister had a daughter who married Pound’s son Omar. One of the two daughters of my half-sister’s father’s sister Louise Margaret married Pound’s son Omar. My half-sister’s aunt Louise Margaret’s daughter’s father-in-law was Ezra Pound. My half-sister’s aunt’s daughter’s father-in-law was Ezra Pound.

Later I explain this as best I can to a friend who is an expert on Pound, since I think it might interest him. He is mildly interested, but then points out that Omar was not in fact Pound’s biological son. His only biological child was one he did not acknowledge. That child was the illegitimate daughter of Olga Rudge.

I don’t mind having my facts corrected.


Claim to Fame #4: Sally Bowles

My mother’s second husband, after their divorce, married the nightclub singer and writer Jean Ross, model for Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret. Their relationship resulted in a daughter, my half-sister’s half-sister.


Claim to Fame #5: Rex Dolmith

In Taos, New Mexico, in 1949, my parents in their rental apartment were bothered by the constant noise from the tenants in the apartment above them. Their upstairs neighbors were, it turns out, the Taos painter Rex Dolmith and his family!


Claim to Fame #6: Theodoric

I have at least one thing in common with Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths. We have both taken an interest in the city of Arles, in France, and invested some of our personal money in it.

Theodoric, in the sixth century, residing part of each year in the city, gave a substantial amount of cash to the bishop, St. Caesarius, toward the founding of a convent which was to be built high on the hill at the northern end of the city and headed by the saint’s sister, Caesaria.

My own contribution has been more modest. After paying, as a visitor in Arles, for a hotel room and many meals in restaurants, as well as for a few souvenirs, including postcards, books, and some lengths of cloth, I found, after returning home, that my interest in the city was only increasing, as I read further about its history, including the history of St. Caesarius and Theodoric, and I eventually sent a membership fee of $42 to join the historical association called Les Amis du Vieil Arles, which means “Friends of Old Arles.” I have continued paying my yearly dues ever since, in return for which I receive a tri-quarterly Bulletin containing detailed articles generally of great interest to me, on the history of the city, though, to my disappointment, the latest issue was wholly devoted to bullfighting.


From Our Strangers by Lydia Davis. Used with permission of the publisher, Bookshop Editions. Copyright © 2023 by Lydia Davis.

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