In this letter (and elsewhere) AR used the term “rationalist” to mean an advocate of reason. In later writings she used the term in its technical, philosophical sense, meaning an advocate of the view (which she strongly opposed) that knowledge is derived from mental content divorced from perception of physical reality. See her title essay in For the New Intellectual.
October 10, 1946
I hope that you have remained a good rationalist—because if you have, you won’t feel too badly about any of it. I’ve read some of the New York reviews and my feeling is: to hell with the bastards![*]
I know that it’s hard to take, but I also know that it’s not as hard as it might seem to lesser people. Since you’re not one of the lesser people, I hope you have discovered already that it’s not too damn important. And it shouldn’t hurt you too much.
The only important thing is what you think of it yourself. If, according to your own best judgment, the critics were wrong (and I think they were)—then you should feel angry and disgusted, but nothing more than that. If you think that they were justified to any extent, if the play was not produced as you wanted or did not satisfy you when you saw it acted—then look at it as an experiment, as experience, and make your own conclusions about what was right or wrong. But make conclusions yourself, as you saw it—not because of what critics or anybody else has said.
Personally, I say it’s a good play and I will say so no matter who disagrees. But you saw it acted—and you must not take my opinion, any more than anyone else’s. Judge it for yourself.
If you are not sure of your own estimate of the production, then let it go honestly at that—that you’re not sure, and that you’ll decide in the future. But don’t take the word of others.
There is only one thing which can be tragic and terribly wrong for you—and that is, if you were satisfied with the play and the production, to let yourself doubt your own judgment because of the opinions of others. That is the only permanent and fatal damage that the occasion can cause you—and it will be caused by yourself, not by anyone else. I hope you do understand and believe rationally that there is no escape from your own judgment, and no substitute for it, that it’s the final, crucial one, the only one that counts.
Whatever you do, don’t doubt yourself because of others. That’s the only thing I want to impress upon you, as strongly as I can. Don’t let second-handness make you suffer unnecessarily.
If you don’t let that happen, the rest is not too important. Of course, it’s unpleasant—but that’s all. It’s just a practical disappointment for you—not a spiritual or artistic one. It means that you won’t make as much money as you could have made, and that you won’t get, for the moment, the prestige which you have a legitimate right to want. But what of that? You don’t need money, and you have plenty of time ahead to get the prestige. It is only one of those chances which any writer has to take and be prepared for, before he starts his career. If you don’t let it get inside you—it won’t matter very much. I can tell you that from first-hand experience. I know.
I gathered from the reviews that you had a very successful opening night and that the audience roared with laughter. (I noticed how the bastards had to mention it, yet tried to cover themselves.) So I don’t know what the fate of your play is now. If it is financially possible to keep it open and give a chance to word-of-mouth—I hope your producer will do it. If he can beat that dirty little gang of “Broadway intellectuals”—I wish he would.
If you don’t feel like writing letters, don’t, until later. If you can—I’d like to hear from you, at least a few words. I miss you, and I wish I could be with you right now.
All my love, darling—(and also, which is more important, all my philosophy—if you’ll use it).
*AR is referring to The Bees and the Flowers, a play that Mannheimer co-authored with Frederick Kohner. The play ran on Broadway for just 28 performances. In his American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1930–1969, Gerald Bordman wrote that “several critics” pointed out a simple plot flaw that led the authors to “waste their time” with the play.