THIS reviewer has been as sedentary during the last month as Mr. Weeks has been peripatetic — sedentary, however, not in the home office, surrounded by all the latest fruits of the publishers’ trees, but in a distant city and dependent on such boxes of selected fruit as might be forwarded. The choice proffered me was a downright tribute to my catholicity of tuste. My friends at 8 Arlington Street chose to send me, for instance, How to Pick a Mate, The Guide to a Happy Marriage, by Dr. Clifford R, Adams and Vance O. Packard (Dutton, $2.75). Presumably they thought that my interest in the subject must be purely abstract and academic.
I found the book, which is aimed, naturally, at members of a somewhat younger set than the one in which I am sitting, filled with interesting and arresting argument. Moreover, I started with a prejudice. I dislike the word “mate.” It reminds me of those stories, so muscular and gristly, by Jack London, which in my youth I felt I ought to read. My memory is a trifle vague as to the subject matter of Mr. London’s stories and novels, but a strong impression remains that, all too often, the climax was reached in a formula which may be summarized as: —
He: “ My Woman! ”
She: “My Man!”
Both: “My Mate!!”
You may have gathered that I was repelled rather than attracted by the title of this work.
Yet the book does contain suggestive statistics. Let us suppose that you are a girl, white, single, in the twenty-five to thirty age-group, and that you want to get married (pick a mate). Where would you be most likely to find the picking good? New York City? Brooklyn? Philadelphia? Boston? Oh, no indeed! The best picking in all America is in San Diego, California, and the worst in Hartford, Connecticut. The ten best states for women to pick in are all west of the Mississippi. The worst are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. This shocked me at first, for, as a New Englander, I had always flattered myself that New England men were not inferior to others in the pickable qualities. Statistics are silent as to their quality, however, and refer only to their quantity. There just aren’t enough of them in proportion to the available number of young women. The competition is too keen. It is no joking matter for a girl, white, single, in the twenty-five to thirty age-group.
Chapter III, “Are You Ready for Married Love?” we may pass over with a simple Yes or No, but Chapter IV, “Is It Love — or Infatuation?” raises an ugly question. Are Marlowe and so many other poets wrong? Love at First Sight, according to Messrs. Adams and Packard, is really Infatuation at First Sight, which “may or may not later mature into love” — and so another large fragment of romance goes down the drain. There are twenty-four questions listed which you should ask yourself and answer correctly if you are to decide that You Are Really in Love. Check and double check; check mate, in fact.
By successfully answering eighteen questions you can decide the question, “Are you warm or cool by nature?” This would be a good thing to know. Chapter VII, “Do You Frighten Possible Mates Away?” is really an unpleasant one. The questions asked are so impolite: “Do you bore people by your talking?” “Are you argumentative?” “Are you repelling physically?” And so on. Thirty repelling trails and thirty appealing traits are listed. Let us turn the page.
In Chapter VIII, “Attracting the One You Want,” I was much interested in the tactics suggested, which seemed to me constructive, but I grew downright indignant when I read the following on page 85: —
For people who are still a little baffled about the whole business of courtship, we can pass on a tried and true formula for winning a mate. We have seen it work wonders in scores of cases.
The amusing thing is that it was not designed for snaring mates but for snaring customers for American products such as refrigerators. It is sometimes called the AIDA advertising formula, named from the first letters of the formula’s four key words — Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. To get a person to buy a refrigerator, you must first attract his attention, then generate an interest, instill a desire to own the refrigerator.
I stopped reading there. If I’m going out to snare a mate, I won’t need any AIDA advertising formula, and if anybody as much as hints that the girl I’m picking as a mate is a refrigerator, he’d better start looking for a foxhole.
It is a far cry from How to Pick a Mate to Mr. Hesketh Pearson’s Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (Harper, $3.75), but that is the way books come to a sedentary reviewer. Mr. Pearson has written an admirably frank, objective biography. His primary purpose, he says, is “to re-create him first and foremost as a genial wit and humorist, because in my opinion the essential Wilde was expressed in spontaneous laughter, not in the pose of a martyr.” He does full justice to Wilde’s extraordinary wit, his unique brilliance as a talker, his generosity and genuine kindness, but he is fully aware of Wilde’s persistent adolescence, his posings and selfdramatization, his phantasies and posturings which so offended the conventional that only his amazing brilliance and charm made him endurable.
In reading this - perhaps the best and fairest of all biographies of Oscar Wilde — one is impressed, as in reading its predecessors, by the shallowness, the artificiality, the essential “phoniness” of the men, the artists, the society of his time and place. How dead are their spiteful quarrels, their letters to the papers, their pontifical pronouncements, their strident gestures made pour épater les bourgeois! They had talent, they had wit, they thought they had sincerity in their approach to art, and yet there was a deep vice in all of them — they were constantly concerned with themselves, with their appearance on the scene, their importance, the effect they produced on the public.
From this devastating atmosphere of competing egotisms, little of genuine artistic integrity could emerge, and little did. So much of their work was trivial, self-conscious, mannered. Whistler’s genuine talent labored under the stifling folds of a monstrous and spiteful arrogance; Aubrey Beardsley’s precocious genius was cracked from top to bottom; the Yellow Book authors were steeped in unreality; the Pre-Raphaelites had something but not enough; Swinburne was almost superb, but not quite. They were brilliantly vocal in talking about themselves and they were not altogether sound without sense — vox et praeterea nihil; yet it is hard not to look back on them as a generation of “phonies.” Among them, Oscar Wilde was the most brilliantly vocal and, perhaps, the kindest and most generous. But his artificiality, his phoniness, was the most obvious and glaring of the lot ; it was wonderful while it worked, but it was fatal in the long run. Only the ghastly experience of two years in jail reduced Wilde to something like reality. As a result he wrote the one poem in all his career which will endure. Even in the Ballad of Beading Gaol, the bitter sincerity of the emotion is expressed with borrowed, self-conscious artistry. Wilde could never escape himself.
Mr. Pearson is sympathetic with his subject, but he is never blinded by his sympathy. His book is fair, careful, wise, and temperate. It is a must for admirers or students of Wilde and his times.
Men and Power, by Henry J. Taylor (Dodd, Mead, $3.00), has been highly praised by better men than I. As a foreign correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspapers during the war and pre-war years, Mr. Taylor won an enviable reputation for getting to and interviewing the key men in the world picture, for integrity as a reporter and a man, and for an admirable accuracy in his presentation of people, situations, and problems. This book is concerned chiefly with his experiences as a journalist dealing with such key men, with the men in power during the last war. He has little to say about the really top men — Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek — but much to say about the men who held the instruments of power - Eisenhower, Montgomery, Hitler, Göring, Salazar, Franco, the Pope, de Gaulle, and the like.
This is an age in which men, and not institutions, hold power. Its possession does things to the possessors. They grow in wisdom, they deteriorate into megalomania, they inflate, they lose proportion, they twist and turn; sometimes they achieve greatness. Mr. Taylor knew all or most of them. His impressions are vivid, his descriptions patently honest, his judgments fair and temperate. He plays no favorites and pulls no punches. His book is not only extremely readable, but also informative. My only criticism — and that a feeble one—is that Mr. Taylor’s conclusions, when all is said and done, teach us no new thing. They are not platitudes, perhaps, but they might have been written by a scholar in his library. Mr. Taylor, busy as a bird dog, — or rather as a bird, — flew 150,000 miles and interviewed the top extroverts of the world to reach the same conclusions which he might have found in reading the Lives of Pericles and Alcibiades. Firsthand details about powerful men make interesting reading. Their philosophy, the effects of their incidence on society, the reactions set up in their own souls and spirits, can be found with equal force and freshness and with a profounder insight in the pages of Thucydides.