Missing Persons by Thomas Banks

Missing Persons

Delightful People by Stephen Schmalhofer

It is pleasant, when poring over a new volume of essays, to find oneself in the company of an author who does not prove to be a mere hydrant of loud opinion. Mr. Schmalhofer's Delightful People is a good sort of literary hors d'oeuvre: never brazen or argumentative, it is ever leisurely, concerned chiefly with the lives of unnoticed or forgotten figures whose privilege it was in their time to associate with celebrities of the social, literary, and ecclesiastical spheres. Here we meet Winthrop Astor Chanler, adventurer, veteran of the Spanish-American war, and friend of Theodore Roosevelt; Viola Roseboro, editor of McClure's, patron of O. Henry and Jack London, and fairy godmother to Willa Cather's My Antonia; painter and traveler John La Farge, who in his peregrinations enjoyed the company of Henry Adams and Robert Louis Stevenson; and the sprightly priest Monsignor Cyril Fay, bon vivant, diplomat, intimate of Pope Benedict XV and spiritual advisor to a young F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Before picking up this book, I had known the names of few of its protagonists, who for all their many differences leave a common impression of having known nearly everyone one could wish to have known. They shared connections with one another, familial and professional, and spent the prime of their lives in the last decades of the nineteenth century and first years of the twentieth, a period the author evokes with a nostalgia that may be appreciated for its lack of lugubriousness. Mr. Schmalhofer is visibly and contagiously fond of his subjects, and his all-too-slender book is a pleasant testimony to their talents and their graces, natural and spiritual. He compares his chosen company to the miraculous wine at the Feast of Cana, and the savor of these characters, and the author's self-possessed style, make good on his advertisement.

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Thomas Banks lives in North Carolina and teaches online at the House of Humane Letters. His poems, translations, and essays have appeared in First Things, The New English Review, Quadrant, The Imaginative Conservative, Crisis Magazine, The St. Austin Review, and other publications.

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