Greek Fire

I HAVE only just been made aware of the smug, patronizing letter from Elijah White (Book World, October 4). In it Mr. White takes me to task for what he calls a redundancy in my review of John Tytell's Ezra Pound, arguing that because the Greek word hoi means the, I should not have placed the word the before the term hoi polloi.

He is mistaken. Yes, hoi means the, but since my review was written not in Greek but in English, and since the term hoi polloi appears in dictionaries of the English language, the established usage in English must be followed. The entry on hoi polloi in A.J. Bliss' Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases states as follows: "Although the first word is the Greek definite article, the English definite article is commonly affixed: 'the hoi polloi.' " Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable follows this usage, and the entry in the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary contains several examples of the use of the term in English -- examples drawn from the works of Dryden, Byron and other classic authors -- and in all of them the word the precedes hoi polloi.

Mr. White ends his letter with a snide crack to the effect that someone who's trying to show off his erudition should be especially careful lest he slip up and look foolish. I wasn't trying to show off by using the very familiar term hoi polloi, of course. But it might be a good idea for Mr. White to heed that admonition.

Bruce Bawer New York, N.Y.

Scenes From a Marriage

I BELIEVE Chris Chase has shown a considerable lack of understanding and sensitivity in her appraisal of Charlotte Fedders' reaction to her husband's abuse (Book World, October 25). Advising a woman to "leave her husband" when she is abused is a fairly easy thing for a relative or doctor or lawyer to do, but for a woman with several children -- and a terror of being left without the means to support these children -- a bad marriage seems better than no marriage at all.

Helen G. Wise Lexington, Va.

CHRIS CHASE replies:

If I have shown a lack of understanding and sensitivity toward Charlotte Fedders, I am truly sorry, because I think she has been battered enough. But I strongly disagree with Helen G. Wise that "even a bad marriage seems better than no marriage." In New York right now we have a case of an alleged wife beater (or at least a common-law wife beater) who is charged with having beaten to death a little girl in his care. If Hedda Nussbaum had left Joel Steinberg, 6-year-old Elizabeth might still be alive.

Critic's Corner

HAVING just read and thoroughly enjoyed Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys, I was dismayed to see Joyce Johnson's negative review (Book World, November 8). While I agree with some of her criticisms, I find her overall deprecating tone completely unjustified. Yes, the heroine and narrator Lucille Odum is at times irritatingly precocious, but she is also compassionate, lovable and often extremely funny. She makes you care as much as she does about the fate of her father and sister. The novel has a wonderful sense of place, so that the city of Charleston comes vividly and, at times, distrubingly to life.

Roberta T. Davis Columbia, Md.

I SHARE reviewer Michael Kernan's desire and concern that Elizabeth Kytle's The Voices of Robby Wilde be widely read and succeed (Daily Book World, October 19). Therefore, I am deeeply distressed that his review contains several serious errors of fact, as well as seeming more generally to miss the point of what I believe Mrs. Kytle has so beautifully accomplished.

Kernan's generally condescending attitude to the book is disturbing. When he states that what this narrative needs is "an anchor in reality, some footnotes," it seems to me that he totally misreads the author's thrust. This book is not meant to be a clinical case history. By the employment of secondary "first-person comments" she provides a telling counterpoint, bringing into play many characters who play a vital role in Robby's development. Their input enables the reader more completely to appreciate his grim and tormented life, but also themselves provide a leavening element, a buffer between the anguish of Robby's perceptions and the realities of the outside world. As the unrelieved misery of Robby's world makes for painful reading, it is Mrs. Kytle's artistry that has inspired her to offer the reader these often delightful, often humor-laden and ironic characterizations.

Joanne R. Chewning McLean, Virginia

Homage to Monaghan

HOSTS of readers will sorely miss Charles Monaghan's Book Report, a column which thoroughly satisfied our need to be kept au courant in the ever changing world of books and authors. We can only hope that Book World's editors will see fit to call him back now and then to write an occasional column.

Reuben Lozner Chevy Chase, Md.

Authors' Query

FOR A book on "Beauport," the Sleeper-McCann House in Gloucester, Mass., built 1907 to 1934, I am seeking the personal papers of Henry Davis Sleeper, interior designer. Sleeper built and decorated the 40-room house over a period of 27 years for his own residence. Two trunks of Sleeper's papers, known to have existed at the time of his death in 1934, are now missing.

Nancy Curtis Society for the Preservation Of New England Antiquities 141 Cambridge Street Boston, Massachusetts 02114

Book World welcomes letters from its readers. Letters should be signed and must include the writer's address and daytime telephone number. Because of space limitations, those selected for publication are subject to abridgment. Address letters to Book World, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.