Alfred University News

Alfred University alumnus Alan Littell publishes third book: "Caroline," a memoir of the late Caroline Littell    

A new book of nonfiction by Alan Littell ’53 has been listed by Amazon in this country and in Europe following its Aug. 1 release by Jericho Hill Publishing, based in Alfred, where the author makes his home. The book, Caroline, is a memoir of Littell’s late wife, Caroline Byass Littell.


A new book of nonfiction by Alan Littell ’53 has been listed by Amazon in this country and in Europe following its Aug. 1 release by Jericho Hill Publishing, based in Alfred, where the author makes his home.

The book, Caroline, is a memoir of Littell’s late wife, Caroline Byass Littell. It is available locally at the university’s campus branch of Barnes & Noble retail stores.

Caroline touches principally on the early years of the woman Littell one day would marry, from her birth as a British colonial in Egypt in 1939 to their life together in the Europe, England and America of the 1960s. The book is episodic, shifting back and forth between the late 1930s and 1962 in settings that include Cairo, Paris, Suez, Copenhagen, London, Lisbon and New York.

In addition to the author himself, the memoir is peopled by an array of characters including Caroline’s father, Lt. Col. F.W. Byass, a professional soldier and regimental commander, and her beautiful mother, Constance Mary. Caroline also had an older sister, who would die of heart disease in a Cairo hospital, and two brothers, both at school in a suburb of that city. A succession of nannies, or surrogate mothers, briefly appear.

As the book opens, Caroline and the author meet by chance on the street in front of the small hotel in Paris where they both had taken lodging. The year was 1960. “She was twenty,” Littell writes. “I was thirty. She was a pretty girl of middle-height, with pale features cropped short, unruly. Her voice was low-pitched, her accent unmistakably English but modulated, restrained, an echo of class, though not of the working class.

“For whatever reason, or for no particular reason at all unless escape from unpleasantness and tedium was a reason, we had drifted into this ancient city. Paris then was magic. Paris was that almost mythical idyll of youth and freedom, and Paris had seduced and bewitched us.”

Littell’s book also relates the two-year-old Caroline’s evacuation from Egypt at the beginning of World War II. She sailed with her brothers in a wartime passenger liner whose lifeboats had been swung out in readiness for instant lowering in case of U-boat attack. In a dash across the South Atlantic to Trinidad, the ship outran the German threat before doubling back by zig-zag to safety in a northern English seaport, recently bombed and in flames.

The brothers’ chief memory of their seagoing adventure, however, was not of flight from danger but of stationing themselves on opposite sides of the liner’s deck and of careening their baby sister between them in her pram. They would catch the toddler on the ship’s downward roll, then send her back on the upward swing. Caroline, they recalled, loved every minute of it. A pair of accompanying nannies reportedly were not amused.

The eldest member of a modern American literary family, Alan Littell is the brother and uncle, respectively, of novelists Robert ‘56 and Jonathan Littell. He is the author most recently of Winter Passage: Essays, Memoirs, Journeys (Six Mile Creek Press, Ithaca, 2018). His novel of the sea, Courage, was published in 2007 by St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Caroline Littell in later life became a noted photojournalist. Over several decades her work illustrated articles on travel published by dozens of newspapers and magazines in the United States and Europe. In 2016 the Eastman Museum, Rochester, the world’s largest repository of photographic images, acquired for its permanent collection a portfolio of her gelatin silver prints.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s she directed Alfred University’s overseas study program, eventually resigning to devote more time to travel and photography.

She died, at 75, in Pasadena, Calif., in 2015.