As a novelist, his prose style has been described by some reviewers as contrived and a mix of cheeky wordplay, studied eloquence, slang and breezy spontaneity that melded interior monologue, conversation and external action. Some have dismissed his works while others have called him an American master. It seems you either love his books or you hate them.
In reviewing one book, A Little Decorum, the reviewer couldn't finish it. He described it as tedious, annoying and repelling with characters that are superficial, unreal and boring. Another of his books, Declarations of Intent, is described as the witty story of a wary woman editor wooed by a Princeton classicist. One reviewer wrote, “Studded with disarming observations and gorgeous, one-of-a-kind sentences, Spackman's writing is a sensuous delight. Like Jane Austen, he exposes savage passions lurking beneath civilized exteriors.”
Spackman began his literary career by writing fiction on the side and his first published work appeared in 1953. At the time he was living in Colorado and later moved to Philadelphia where he was employed in public relations.
William Mode Spackman was born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the son of George Harvey Spackman and Alice Pennock Mode on May 20, 1905. He was educated at Princeton University, Balliol College, graduating in 1927. Spackman, or “Spack” as he was known to friends, passed away at his home in Princeton after a career which made him one Princeton's most distinguished literary alumni.
Descended from Pennsylvania Quakers, he was described as “an irreverent wit” whose editorship of Nassau Lit, the country's second oldest college literary magazine, aroused the wrath of many of its readers.
Spackman called himself a "flaneur" (loafer), but was a real student who won a Rhodes scholorship. He returned to a varied American career as magazine editor, teacher of classical literature in universities. He served in media service in the Navy during WWII.
He was married to Mary Ann, daughter of Bishop Paul Matthews of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. Matthews served in that capacity from 1915 to 1937. Born in Ohio, he was the the son of Stanley Matthews, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Matthews married the Procter and Gamble heiress Elsie Procter and their son, T. S. Matthews, was editor of Time magazine. Bishop Matthews died in Florida at the age of 87.
For years the Spackmans spent several months of the year at a villa in Brittany, France and they eventually retired to an estate in Princeton where he renewed his literary career by writing five novels and a volume of essays which won an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. His first wife died in 1978, and in 1979 he remarried.
He left his chess collection to Princeton in 1955. The collection primarily consists of tournament books and bulletins, along with many game collections.
Spackman edited the CCLA's The Chess Correspondent in the 1940s and it was through his efforts that the club made it through some difficult times. In 1948 he announced a brilliancy contest in which there was no specified dates, but only that the game had to be played in a CCLA event. The games were judged by a panel with the names removed and it turned out that Spackman won first prize.
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