If you were to look for words and themes that come up in Stanley’s conversation, “Jewish” would get a lot of hits, and so would “Sartre”; but the frequency count would fall overwhelmingly on terms pertaining to sex. In fact, it sometimes seems like every topic with him is destined to go careering loinward. I ask him where he went to school, and he replies, “I learned French being in France and sleeping with Lucy. I learned German being in Germany and sleeping with Ana Lisa Schmidt!” Then he pauses. “Ah, how many women I have squired across the English Channel.”
A conversation about Proust derails like so: “Proust says of a love affair, it is as if having heard a tune, that you knew somewhere in the middle of it that you could whistle the rest. Mind you, all he wanted was a man’s penis to suck, but I happen not to be Marcel. About a third of my staff are gay, another third are androgynous, and the third third are still trying to figure out where to put it.”
As for the students’ sexuality, Stanley’s paramount concerns are, as usual, passion and personal freedom. “We had some idiot half-dyke, you’ll forgive me, some health counselor who said, We’re going to talk about condoms, blah, blah, blah. And I said, ‘Why don’t you talk about clits?’ I get worries from parents if they sleep together. If they’re affectionate, they’re affectionate! We don’t require anything, but what I’m saying is they’re not inhibited by the desperate borders which sexism incurs. I came from the working class, for which I have no respect at all . . . They would say, in my childhood, if they were talking about women, Look at that broad. Sartre once said the obscene is subject as object. When you reduce the human being to whatever word they used, you are saying it’s a thing. We’re not things! We’re humans. I have no tolerance, least of all for sexism. I’ve had so many daughters.”
I ask him how many daughters, and he shrugs.
“I’ve been around. A long time. And why not? And why not, and why not. We live. We live! We fall in love, we fall out of love. We marry, we don’t marry. We do what we do, and our kids do what they do. And I think, that is, I hope, I don’t hope, I know, that my daughters have self-respect and believe that they are as sacred as any other human being. Therefore, that world of ass-pinchers, I regard them as something to be destroyed. To this day, I would probably knock one down. I’m strong for an old man.”
When Stanley steps into the sunlight on Pierrepont Street, he looks almost boyish with his confident stride and his jacket slung over his shoulder. Outside the school, even his conversational style seems to change.
“So what’s your name? Ariel Levy? That’s like being called Fred Yiddish,” he says.
Stanley is Jewish himself, raised in Washington Heights, by parents he calls “the greatest bumblers in the world.” The name of his Russian ancestors was Pesahovich, which he says was changed to Boscovitz at Ellis Island. “And then it came to pass ye verily the next generation changed it to Bosworth. They didn’t even know that historical names meant something! I’ve had the name all along. I was accused of hiding behind it when I became the head of an Anglican school—which it would have been had I not made it immediately nonsectarian!”
A former student, now in her forties, says, “He’s a self-invented guy; he’s sui generis. When people found out he was a Jew, they were shocked because he was always wearing clothes cut to fit within an inch of his life and he spoke in this pseudo-British lockjaw and was married to this British librarian”—wife two, as Stanley calls her. “He was inappropriate with me as a student,” she continues. “He didn’t make a pass at me, but he talked about things you shouldn’t talk about. The understanding was that a number of the teachers were having sex with students—and for all I know, this was an act of the imaginations of teenagers—but Stanley was condoning it by making fun of it. He told me, ‘I don’t know why any [teacher] would want to have sex with a virgin: It’s like having a mummy!’ Stuff would come spilling out of him. I think he has a belief system about personal liberation that includes sexual freedom, and I’m sure there are French critical theorists who are the brand names of his style of thinking: no boundaries.”
Stanley has one brother, who is alive and well and also living in Brooklyn and is a kind of therapist. They rarely speak. “He’s a psychopath,” Stanley says. “He looks like a homeless person.”
“If you saw the two of us together, we look very much alike,” says Bob Bosworth, 80. “We are both, I suppose, libertarians, whatever that is. He’s done it in the school, and I do it with my patients.” Both men are charismatic, nontraditional thinkers who have cultlike followings, and both are contemplating retirement. “I’m looking for a successor to continue my work,” Bob says excitedly. “It would be a great burden off me.” Bob did not graduate from high school, and offers his own unique course of treatment. “My method is my own,” he says. “The problems with patients are partly to do with puritanism and repressionÂ—sexual repression being the most deadly. I work with the conscious and the unconscious, and I work with the physical. I work with their chests, which are almost always constricted, and I work with their rigid pelvises.”
Stanley’s two living ex-wives both work at Saint Ann’s. Annie Bosworth is the librarian. “Did you see her? Shuffling around her books? She’s been shuffling since she was 19!” Stanley says. “You forget, I’m 5,000 years old. When Annie and I were married, we were very close to the Van Dorens and the hoi polloi of the intellectual set. I didn’t know anything about the upper class, I did because I met Mark Van Doren, and he liked us more than he liked his son, whom I also knew . . . a huge scandal.” The Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Mark Van Doren’s son Charles, a Columbia professor, knocked the wind out of American quiz-show fans in the late fifties when they found out his remarkable winning streak had been fixed. “I went to Charles—Charlie, as I called him—I said, you know, your only sin is not that you perjured yourself, it’s that you didn’t laugh at the stupid fuckers.”
Beth Bosworth, wife three, “my last duchess hanging on the wall,” Stanley says, is an English teacher and a former Saint Ann’s student herself. (Both Mrs. Bosworths declined to be interviewed for this article.) “Annie was a very giving person,” says Stanley. “Like The Giving Tree, you must remember that book. The other one, Beth, is more scintillating. And the husband she’s with now is a poet. I guess I still love her.”
Stanley became involved with Beth when she was in her mid-twenties and he was in his mid-fifties, just after she’d gotten back from a stay in Paris that rendered her pregnant and heartsick. “The father wasn’t going to take responsibility,” Stanley says. “She came here. She had been at this school. It was alumni night, and I said, ‘Let’s go to my house,’ and we did. I knew I was connecting with a woman who’d been a student here and that she was brilliant. I find brilliance sexy,” he says. “I always have. So we exchanged writing. I do philosophical writing about Sartre and whatever whatever. She writes fiction.”