New Acquisition: Arthur Miller’s Letters to Oscar Saul

August 12, 2013

By Melissa Barton

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

“The title for the next play is Death of a Salesman. Isn’t that a beaut?”  

Beinecke has acquired a group of letters from Arthur Miller to his friend screenwriter Oscar Saul spanning almost forty years of Miller’s career. The letters discuss some of Miller’s major works, including his first work of nonfiction, Situation Normal (1944), his first novel, Focus (1945), and his first hit play, All My Sons (1947), as well as the Pulitzer-Prize winning Death of a Salesman (1949) and The Crucible (1953).

Candid and at times searching, the letters offer a window into Miller’s creative process. While working on All My Sons, he writes, “Having finished a very good first act of my play I have not been able to continue. For the past three weeks I have been sterile as a fence post. It is growing more and more impossible for me to believe that a man will condemn another for a traitorous act three years after its commission. That is to say I am coming to disbelieve in the moral reality of the world, or the world’s morality. It is so weird. They went into the war believing nothing.” 

On working with directors, he writes around 1944, “Next time the guy who directs my stuff is going through a grilling he will never forget. I am going to act arty and temperamental and they are going to quiver before they change anything. It’s the only way because the real estateniks have got the theatre by the arse and I didn’t lose my hair for their enjoyment.”