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Charlotte’s Web, Sixty Years On

This fall marks the 60th anniversary of E.B. White’s masterpiece (depending, of course, on how you feel about The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, The Elements of Style, or the delightful Is Sex Necessary?), and it is still as lovely as you remember.

Let’s briefly revisit White’s 1948 Atlantic article (The Death of a Pig), and dream of a world in which all of us can write prose like this:

It was a Saturday morning. The thicket in which I found the gravediggers at work was dark and warm, the sky overcast. Here, among alders and young hackmatacks, at the foot of the apple tree, Howard had dug a beautiful hole, five feet long, three feet wide, three feet deep. He was standing in it, removing the last spadefuls of earth while Fred patrolled the brink in simple but impressive circles, disturbing the loose earth of the mound so that it trickled back in. There had been no rain in weeks and the soil, even three feet down, was dry and powdery. As I stood and stared, an enormous earthworm which had been partially exposed by the spade at the bottom dug itself deeper and made a slow withdrawal, seeking even remoter moistures at even lonelier depths. And just as Howard stepped out and rested his spade against the tree and lit a cigarette, a small green apple separated itself from a branch overhead and fell into the hole. Everything about this last scene seemed overwritten – the dismal sky, the shabby woods, the imminence of rain, the worm (legendary bedfellow of the dead), the apple (conventional garnish of a pig).

Not to overwhelm you with further tasks on a Monday morning, but Roger Angell, White’s stepson, shares his own memories here, and you won’t regret it.


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