following letters were written to Barbara Singleton Beury, a twenty-year-old
student from Sweet Briar College whom Yates met in August 1960 at the
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont. At this time Yates was thirty-four
years old, separated from his wife Sheila and two daughters, living in
a squalid basement apartment in New York City, teaching creative writing
at the New School, and seeing his brilliant, breakthrough first novel,
Revolutionary Road, through the press. he was drinking and smoking heavily
and on the verge of a major nervous breakdown, which Beury witnessed during
a visit to New York. He spent Labor Day Weekend in the Men's Violence
Ward of Bellevue Hospital and, after his release, wrote to Barbara Beury.
Friday, Sept. 9, 1960
I love you.
I'm terribly sorry you had to go through all that crap on my account.
And now down to business:
They let me out of the pokey yesterday feeling good, and I'm feeling much better today because your letter came. It's a beautiful letter and very, very well written.
The worst possible way for a young lady to be introduced to her suitor is for him to have a nervous breakdown in her lap, and nobody is more painfully aware of that fact than me. But I also know-and it didn't take Bellevue to teach me this one, buddy-I also know that there are certain happenings which nobody on earth can help. (This is the secret of tragedy in writing, by the way, and it's also the secret of comedy).
Please understand that I have never been as "crazy" (i.e. disorderly, irrational, out of control) as when you saw me last; understand too that the chances are about 108 to one that I never will be again, if only because I have given the Bellevue authorities my solemn promise to avail myself of what they call "voluntary psychiatric assistance" whenever too many good or bad things start crowding in on me in bunches in the future.
. . .
Please read this next part carefully:
Everybody I know wants to read Dark Significance into the fact that my wife and I have not yet taken any steps toward getting a divorce, and from time to time over the past year I've read a little Dark Significance into it myself. But in the white light of day there is really nothing mysterious about it at all. When we broke up we agreed that there was no point in getting a divorce (needless expense, etc.) until one or the other of us found somebody else we wanted to marry. I've found somebody now, and I'm planning to tell her so the next time I go out to see the children, which will be next Wednesday.
As your Sweet Briar training will be quick to inform you, this is not a very substantial proposal of marriage-very likely it's not very substantial even by standards other than Sweet Briar's-but it's a hell of a lot better than the one you got in Arthur Roth's apartment that night, if only because I'm sitting straight up at the table while delivering it.
. . .
I'm enclosing a poem. It's not very good, but it was written in the hospital with a borrowed pencil on a very, very small piece of paper.
Please write to me again.
Friday, Sept. 23, 1960
Your letter came yesterday and I've read it seventeen times; eighteen if you want to count the time I read it backwards.
. . .
I want more than anything to get to know you better in some atmosphere less drunken and frantic than Bread Loaf; . . .
Next point: please for God's sake don't go reading personal significance, Dark or otherwise, into my book. Every snickering little wise guy in the United States is going to assume that I'm Frank Wheeler and my wife is April, and I'm counting on you to be among those intelligent readers who know better, if only because I did tell you who I had in mind as the original of Wheeler (and I'm certainly not mentioning any names, but his initials are Daddy Boo.) If all I'd wanted to do in the damn book was to put my own marital problems down on paper, it sure as hell wouldn't have taken me five years to write; I was trying to do much more than that. . . .
One other sore-headed objection to your letter: I wish you wouldn't "worry" about me. God knows you have every reason to think of me as an unstable type who's apt to be hauled off to the riot ward again any minute, but the fact is I'm boringly well-adjusted most of the time, and as able to look after myself as any other solid citizen. Please try to believe this.
The present money problem is simply that I'm still living on what's left of the publisher's advance and the Esquire dough; . . . In other ways, though, things are sort of humming. It seems that after Little Brown got that letter from [Alfred] Kazin I stopped being another chancy first novelist and became something of a celebrity up there;... Kazin has persuaded them to let me keep the original title (Revolutionary Road) after months of my ineffectual wrangling over it. I've now got a definite publication date out of them too-March 2-and the Esquire piece is scheduled for February; and my agent is coming on like Gangbusters with talk of a quick and colossal sale to the movies. . . .
. . .
I can only guess at whether this next bit of news will astound, bore, embarrass, vaguely please you or leave you cold, but I want you to know it anyway. I did have the formal divorce talk with my wife last week; very friendly and pleasant, maximum cooperation guaranteed. The only trouble, of course, is that this like everything else must wait until some more dough comes in. Please write again as soon as you can. I love you.
Friday, Sept. 30 
Dear Barbara Singleton:
. . .
I'm afraid I'd sort of rather you didn't call me until you've cut loose from your roommate, however much of a breathless little sweetheart she may be. There's going to be damn little time, and I'm going to be very, very reluctant to let any of it get spent in jolly foursomes, even with the nicest other couple in the world. . . .
Is the picture coming in a little clearer now? It's simply that I want to see you, and if possible to see you alone, for as many waking hours as God in his infinite mercy may grant.
It's very hard to say this without being afraid that I've conjured up any number of Frightful Visions inside your exquisitely close-cropped head. Like, for instance:
Dick, sinister behind his tight-lipped simper of welcome, greets Barbara under the Biltmore clock with a courtly offering of his well-tailored arm; then in the taxi, while she chatters prettily of schoolgirl enthusiasms, he lapses into an ominous silence. Flustered, she accepts his muttered invitation to "Stop in at my place for a second"; and once inside that subterranean apartment he seems to brighten again. he even becomes rather charming as he helps her with her coat, tunes the radio to a soothing waltz, and prepares the drinks. Not until after tasting something odd and alien in her second brandy does Barbara feel herself sinking helplessly into a drugged lethargy; and only then-Courage, girl!-only then does she notice that the door has been double-locked and the phone wires cut. Too late! for as the walls begin to blur and revolve in her swooning vision, her last horribly vivid recollection is of Dick, eyes aflame and nostrils aflare, as naked as the day he was born, advancing slowly toward her with a small and inscrutable smile.
Or, Worse Still:
Barbara, nervous and uncertain, twists one slightly soiled white glove in the other as she stands beneath the Biltmore clock, an hour and forty-five minutes past the carefully appointed time of her date. Peering down the carpeted stairway, she sees a sudden moil of confusion near the revolving door. The doorman, three cab drivers, seven bellhops and a Bellevue attendant are engaged in some frantic grappling activity; and somehow, out of this muddle, wobbles a man. Almost unrecognizable, his clothing caked with filth and bristling with the snouts of bourbon bottles, his face swollen and streaked with maudlin tears, he reels and fumbles his way upstairs. There he topples, falls headlong, grasps Barbara around the knees and says: "Help."
And finally, the Worst and Most Frightful Vision of All:
Gay as a day in May, laughing and humming a happy tune, Barbara bounces up the Biltmore steps and finds a hollow-eyed, tragically haggard apparition under the clock. "Well, hi there!" she trills, but the spectre only fixes her with a tortured stare and says: "Let me take you away from all this." he then propels her through laughing crowds and down into the subway, from which they emerge into the bleakest, dimmest, and most fourth-rate of all Tenth Avenue saloons. And there, surrounded by saw-dust and urine puddles and tired prostitutes and lurching longshoremen, he begins a droning recital of all his Problems. Every time she interrupts to say "Yes, but couldn't we sort of go out and have a little fun?" he only groans and shakes his hanging head; then he starts telling her all over again-ever and ever more boringly-about his unhappy childhood and his unhappy marriage and his unhappy love affairs and his grinding, soul-wrenching, general all-around unhappiness; and this goes on for two nights and two days until it's time for Barbara to sink gratefully into the sports car and turn back toward sunnier climes and sweeter briars.
All this was supposed to be funny, but I've just read it over and it doesn't give me any chuckles. Forced humor, you see. . . .
. . .
My New School class began yesterday, after a semi-sleepless night of certainty that I'd make a Hopeless Fool of myself in the opening session; but it came off okay. Good group, too.
Got a date with my old pen-pal Alfred Kazin Monday night, after his New School class (he teaches there too). he sounds very nice and unawesome on the phone. Also I've just learned that he's only 45 years old, which means he published On Native Grounds at the incredible age of 27.
. . .
Just get on up here, and I absolutely promise that none of the Frightful Visions will come true. . . . and in the meantime try your very best to miss me. I love you.
Sunday [Oct. 24, 1960]
Now that you've gone it's almost as if you were never here. The whole three days went by so fast, and I spent so much of it being tired or half drunk or asleep, that I don't quite believe it happened and I'm full of regrets for all the things I should have said and didn't, or shouldn't have said and did, and most of all for having failed to take very good care of you-irregular food, too much booze, not enough sleep, etc., etc., etc. . . .
. . .
One of the main things I wish to God I'd managed to get across to you while you were here is that I know only too well what you mean about playing for keeps, because I'm an incurable keeps-player myself. This, you see, is yet another way in which we're alike. . . .
The trouble is that Alfred Kazin put his finger on it when he said (in his letter about my having "located the new American tragedy squarely on the field of marriage") that "no other people has made of marriage quite what we have, has taught itself to invest so much in what is essentially a romantic idea. Mr. Yates understands this very well, but never points."
Well, Barbara, let me do a little pointing here, where neither Kazin nor anybody else but you can read me. The fact of the matter is that I'm the best living example I know of a man who invested much too much into that essentially romantic idea, to the point where it very nearly destroyed both my wife and myself. Mr. Yates may understand things very well when it comes to writing fiction, and it's terribly nice for him that he can locate an American tragedy, but the awful part is that in real life he has come painfully close to participating in one, and causing one, and being one himself, squarely on the field of marriage.
. . .
Friday, Nov. 11 
. . .
I don't know why it's become so hard to write letters to you. We do seem to have a hell of a time with the old communication problem lately. Your latest letter has now been read thirteen times and still seems pretty enigmatic (also it's so very nearly illegible that the reading of it requires its tilting at a certain angle under a certain kind of light) and I have the feeling that my own letters to you have gotten steadily more and more obscure. I guess there are just too many areas of uncertainty in this whole deal to permit a rational correspondence. The trouble for me is that the only absolutely straightforward thing I have to tell you is that I love you and want you to be near me all the time, and I doubt if anybody could figure out enough different ways of saying that to fill very many pages. So I guess I'd rather let the heavy communicating wait until you get up here, and fill this particular letter with news.
Kennedy was elected president.
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller have split.
There's a revolution in Viet Nam.
There's no heat in my apartment because the furnace is being converted to oil, and I'm now wearing forty-three sweaters.
Sam Goldwyn Junior's shrill announcement that he'd Never Read a More Brilliant First Novel (which I heard about the day you and I were swilling it up at the Leroy, you'll remember) has come drearily to naught, because cooler heads in his organization decided that the moviegoing public "is not ready for a story of such unrelieved tragedy, for so relentless a probing of the sources of pain." Sic transit the hell Gloria.
A very reputable English publisher bought the book for a 300 pound advance, which assures groceries for another month.
An ancient and not bad story of mine is being enthusiastically considered for purchase by CosmoGoddamnpolitan magazine, for one thousand degrading and painful dollars, but this mixed blessing may fall through any minute. . . .
. . .
The New School gave me a second job teaching non-fiction in the spring term.
A man named Anatole Broyard who has two towering reputations, namely (1) the Most Brilliant Writer of Our Time and (2) The Greatest Lover in Greenwich Village, has expressed a keen desire to have dinner with us during your visit, and I said okay, maybe. . . .
It's now 3:30 a.m. . . . and I'm sort of drunk & have to get up tomorrow to go to Princeton so I guess I'll wind this whole beautifully constructed letter up and get it the hell into an envelope.
. . .
I love you.
late Monday night, Sept. 21
[misdated, probably Nov., 1960]
. . .
Barbara, I'd give anything to turn the clock back to last Thursday and make everything work out better than it did; . . .
The Presentation today came off with maximum glory: everybody solemnly sitting in silence around an enormous leather chair containing me, while the advertising manager read his script and flipped the frames of a visual-aid demonstrator, just like Madison Avenue. Their new jacket copy is overpoweringly reverent-starts out "Rarely does a publisher introduce a first novel filled with such devastating power and compassion that it seems destined to become an enduring comment and influence upon our very way of life, etc, etc, etc"-and I was so overpowered by the reverence that I allowed them to seduce me into accepting a somewhat modified version of the dreary photographic jacket design. Can't win all the ball games, and besides, it was fun watching the relief spread over their faces when I said okay. Other interesting facts: they have based their advertising budget on an expected sale of 20,000 copies, which is about 15,000 copies-worth more dough than most first novels get; and they've sold it to a paperback house, which will mean a first installment of $2500 for me in January. The meeting broke up with many high-powered handshakes and floods of drink, after which Sam Lawrence (editor) fed the hell out of me on about seven pounds of roast beef at the Algonquin; then he took me to a criminally expensive nightclub featuring giant Negress strip tease artists,. .. Now I'm back in the old subterranean roach ranch feeling much less like a celebrity than a bedraggled bastard who wishes to hell he didn't have to climb into a cold and narrow sack.
I would like everything between us, always, to be the way it was when we rolled out across the Jersey swamps in that bar car yesterday afternoon, and I don't know why this shouldn't be possible. There are all kinds of reasons why it might not, but I don't believe any of them. I love you.
. . .
Thursday Dec. 22 
. . .
It's now 8:30 Thursday night, and I'm a little loaded for two reason: (1) because I've only recently come back from my big Celebrity Interview with the South American newspaper lady, which was a boozy business, and (2) because it's getting close to the time when you said you might call me up and the only way I can keep from getting anxious about listening for the phone is to continue soaking up the hooch.
The interview was sort of fun but now I'm beginning to feel bottomless chagrin at having been a garrulous clown and am wondering how many of my ill-considered pronouncements on literature and life got scribbled down for the edification of fifty trillion South Americans, . . .
Another trauma: a proof of the final book jacket came in the mail today and looks Perfectly Awful, and it's now too late to do anything about it.
. . .
Got a Christmas card today from John Nims, inscribed: "Did Breadloaf really exist? Hallucination? Nightmare?" and am tempted to write back "Hallucination." Because that's exactly what I often think it was-oh, not the damn "writers conference" itself, but the whole magical business of meeting a golden girl in an alcoholic mist on a mountain- . . .
Does all this sound lovesick and drunken arid callow and sloppy? I plead guilty on all counts, . . .
. . .
Sunday night [Jan. ?, 1961]
Promised I'd write to you tonight and your old daddio never forgets a promise even though he's half in the bag. . . .
. . . Am very fuzzy with beer and fatigue and got to get up early to have my ever-shrinking head shrunk one more notch, after which there are to be Big Doings with Sam Lawrence (publisher), . . .
Read a Fitzgerald story in your Christmas book today that I'd never read before-The Rough Crossing-and thought it very good. Prompted me to re-read the Crack-Up for the 400th time, and discovered that once long ago (probably early in the writing of Rev. Road) I had drawn emphatic pencil lines around these words:
"I only wanted absolute quiet to think out why I had developed a sad attitude toward sadness, a melancholy attitude toward melancholy and a tragic attitude toward tragedy-why I had become identified with the objects of my horror or compassion. Does this seem a fine distinction? It isn't: identification such as this spells the death of accomplishment. It is something like this that keeps insane people from working."
Pretty significant, buddy. Because it was identification such as this that hustled me into Bellevue, and I guess I won't really be back to decent professional shape until I've managed to get the whole delicate equation straight again in my mind-as straight as it was last winter when I was finishing the book (and the only way I know it must have been straight then is because I wouldn't have been able to finish the book if it wasn't).
Old Fitz really does have an uncanny way of laying my problems on the line. In any case the point is that I just plain can't afford to be as doomed as the people I wrote about. I do know this, but keep failing to live up to the knowledge, which results in too much brooding and too much booze and terrible nights like the one we spent in posh Washington.
What I keep wanting to say to you is that I hope you'll wait for me; I hope you'll stick around until my brains are less scrambled. I have no right to ask you to do this because I can't make any promises, but I hope you will, because I love you.
Tuesday night (very late) [Feb 1961]
I guess I was a bit of a bastard on the phone yesterday, and am now achingly sorry. I did try to warn you long ago that I could be a demanding, greedy, importunate bastard where love is concerned, and now you're beginning to find it out.
You certainly have every right to withdraw, or ease off, or whatever it is you want to do for the rest of the school year, for your health's sake; you don't, in other words, owe me anything, and I've begun to dislike myself intensely for having somehow managed to imply that you do.
. . .
Went with Ed Kessler to hear Robt. Lowell read poems last night. Very Good. Later had many drinks with Kessler, who ended up spending the night on the folding cot in my place. he says he thinks he can fix it for me to be hired by B. Loaf as an instructor in fiction this summer if I want to; I said I'd just as soon hold off for a while until I see how things shape up this spring. . . .
. . .
Got my final divorce decree in the mail last Friday.
. . .
Had dinner tonight with an old boyhood friend from the years 1937-9 when I lived in a town called Scarborough, N.Y. whose amateur-theatre group ("The Beechwood Players") served as the original for "The Laurel Players" in my book. he found it incredible, and I found it spooky, that I had completely failed to remember the name of a winding blacktop road in that town on which he & I & many of our schoolmates used to pass the most impressionable hours of our formative years: "Revolutionary Road." Pretty Freudian, buddy.
. . .
Please write to me, and forgive me, and stay well.
Wednesday, April 26 
I can't tell you how sorry I am about all the drunken, shouting, self-pitying phone calls I've been going in for lately, and how grateful I am for all the good, quiet, encouraging letters you've been sending in return. . . .
Am gradually getting less hysterical, I think. Had a couple of good working days, though today wasn't one of them. . . .
. . .
Had a dreary class tonight after which an enormous fifty-year-old matron who can neither spell, punctuate, nor write coherent English cornered me to demand, frankly, whether I thought she Had Talent. Tried to evade the question for twenty minutes and ended up saying sure. Depressing experience.
Got my other class tomorrow morning and ought to be reading manuscripts now. Am beginning to look forward strenuously to the end of the damn term, and have pretty well decided that teaching does sap the old creative energy after all. Why do so many sad clowns want to be writers? For that matter why does anybody? It's hard, no fun, scrambles your brains and leaves you unfit for practically all other kinds of human activity. Apart from which there's no dough in it except for Leon Uris and Alien Drury.
. . .
Don't worry about exams or the Glamour job or Bread Loaf or anything.
Thursday, May 4 
You hung up so poutily after that 30-second telephone call last Sunday, that I've been expected to get another of your It's all Over letters. . . .
Nothing much happening here. No work getting done, no money coming in, no good news at all except that Dorothy Parker plans to rave about me in the June Esquire and there's going to be a big ad in the June Atlantic (Big, big deal) and I got turned down for the job at Bard (which is really good news in disguise).
. . .
Forgot to tell you that my mother spent approximately forty-nine hours telling me how Lovely and Nice and Intelligent you are-"just the sort of girl you can't help liking right away" etc. etc. etc. . . . Hell of a lot more gracious than your parents' reaction to me, I might add. . . .
If I get free of my big literary evening early enough . . . I'll try calling you again later tonight. . . .
Monday June 26 
Thank you for your letter. I'm sorry it was so hard to write; and now I'm up against the problem of how to write to you, which isn't exactly going to be easy either.
It's a funny thing that for all the time we've spent together we've never really been able to talk very well . . . Not that either of us could have said anything very great if we had been able to talk better . . . but at least we might have established an atmosphere of candor in which it would be impossible for either of us to be shy in the other's presence. . . .
. . .
My jobhunting is over for a while because the Bantam Books-Esquire deal came through-I'm to edit a short story anthology for them, for a considerable amount of dough, and I figure that this combined with the two teaching jobs, the novel income and other assorted goodies will be enough to tide me over until early 1962, by which time my own book of stories will be out and with luck I'll have made enough of a start on the new novel to get another advance. I've been working a little lately, too-nothing very good, but it does seem that the worst of the paralysis is over. Also seem to be drinking less.
. . .
Please write to me or call me up. . . . I wish to God you were here.
July 23 
The only reason I've been out of touch so long is that I've been involved in a family crisis. My mother had a cerebral hemorrhage last week and has been in a semi-coma ever since.
. . .
Meanwhile I've been living with my sister & her family out here in Ass Hole, Long Island, and my time has been wholly given over to the round of hospital visits, conversational banality, drunken slobberings, quarrels and all the other Thomas Wolfean goodies that accompany emergencies like this. My sister is in a constant state of near-hysteria, which doesn't help things much, and she and I have hardly anything in common, which makes it even less jolly. Worst week I've had in years, buddy.
. . .
Won't pretend to try and make this a real letter-I've got thousands of things to say but they wouldn't come out right if I tried to say them now and anyway I'm tired as hell. . . .
. . . I miss you.
Aug. 11 
I didn't mean to let such a long time go by between letters-things have been pretty hectic . . .
My mother is still holding her own; no real improvement but no very marked decline either. . . .
In any case her condition seems stable enough to warrant my making the Bread Loaf scene; I'm going up with Kessler next week and will play it by ear from there. . . .
. . .
Is your tentative plan to come up over Labor Day still on? Please let me know about this-a simple yes or no-by writing to me at Bread Loaf within the next two weeks. I hope you do come then-it would be an appropriate time for a reunion (the anniversary of my Bellevue caper) and it's just possible that if we had a couple of uninterrupted days to talk we might be able to sort things out in some faintly logical way.
Barbara, I feel terrible about the way things have gone so rapidly to hell between us this summer. I can't hold out much promise for Happiness if you come here to stay, but neither can I tolerate the idea of losing you, which is what will happen if you stay down there. Please write to me.
Sunday, Nov. 26 
You are not "crap in my book" (your phrase) at all. The only reason I haven't written is because I haven't known what to say. I still don't, for that matter, but feel like writing to you anyway because I remember a time when we did seem able to please each other without trying too hard, and am beginning to believe that there aren't too many times like that for anyone, ever; therefore it seems too bad that we should be totally out of touch.
Don't worry; I won't start demanding to know How Soon You Can Come Up Here, because I'm not about to resume the fruitless habit of sweating out telegrams and phone calls whose only purpose is to add one delay to another, nor am I prepared to enter into any more endless sophomoric discussions about "fate" and "bridge-burning" and "responsibilities"-it can be well & truly said that I've had all that; just as I suspect you've had your fill of hearing about my own instabilities and uncertainties and inability to make promises. It seems to me that all of that crap, on both sides, ought to be relegated to the ancient history files of last year, where it belongs.
It might be nice, though, if we could establish a new pattern for this year-an undemanding, friendly-correspondence type thing that would enable us to keep in touch without driving each other crazy. . . .
Nothing here is very different from the last time you heard from me, except that my mother is now physically stronger but mentally off her trolly. . . . The Movie Deal that seemed to be so certain for my book all summer and fall came to a dreary end about a month ago, but I'm now almost equally excited & nervous about another deal which is said to be 90 percent of a sure thing-a job to write the screenplay for Styron's lie Down in Darkness, in exchange for such a colossal amount of money that it would buy my freedom for the next two years. If this does happen I will go to Hollywood the first week in January and earn all the dough before summer; if it doesn't I'll stay here in the old mousetrap and continue with other freelance droppings. In any case I'll have a reasonably steady income and have pretty well recovered (I think) from the rather exaggerated emptiness & despair that followed Rev. Road. Meanwhile my book of short stories [Eleven Kinds of Loneliness] comes out next March, same month as the paperback edition of the novel.
. . .
. . . I think of you very often, with great tenderness.
biographer, Blake Bailey, describes the final breakup of the relationship
as follows: "Barbara Beury decided to . . . stay in West Virginia, though
she continued to write Yates and even spoke of visiting now and then.
Yates's response was irascible but gracious on the whole. . . . A few
weeks later Yates decorously confessed to 'a new involvement/ and though
Beury tried to assure him that she wanted to remain friends anyway . .
. she never heard from him again."
of the page