Reader's Choice

FEW living writers have displayed a more glittering comic artistry than Evelyn Waugh did in his early novels. The Loved One (Little, Brown. $2.50) — a burlesque on the burial customs of Southern California — is on the surface a return to Waugh’s early manner. But there is a difference.
The world of Vile Bodies, Decline and Fall, or Black Mischief was one of anarchic fantasy, floodlit with a bland, devastating brilliance. The characters reeled their lunatic way, with sublime insouciance or sublime rascality, through a harlequinade ending in gruesome but hilarious calamity. Waugh’s people were of two classes, both of whom he knew intimately: the giddy rich and adventurers of vast caddishness. He handled them with ironic affection or amused detachment, and betrayed no trace of rage or disgust. The wit was radiant and incessant, the absurdity entrancing.
Then Mr. Waugh ceased to be detached, and he began to grow angry. He wrote a life of Edmund Campion which revealed a weird animosity toward the Anglican Church. He wrote a salute to Mussolini’s Abyssinian victory, deriding “the whinney of the nonconformist conscience.”He assumed the lone of an emigré in a world of parvenus, and appeared to be subject to gusts of nostalgia and truculence, to deepening dogmatism and acrimony. This mood is not explicit in The Laved One, but I think it underlies the failings of the book, which in part is extremely funny.
An English poet, Dennis Barlow, summoned to Hollywood to write up Shelley for the screen, has fled his odious job and found congenial employment in a pet cemetery. At Whispering Blades, the nationally famed necropolis, Dennis meets a cosmetician of indecent beauty, Aimee Thanatogenos. Aimee is being archly courted by the senior mortician, Mr. Joyboy, to whom she is drawn both by admiration for his professional genius (they say he could make a stiff who has sat on the atom bomb presentable), and by ambition to achieve the rank of embalmer. Moreover Joyboy, if unattractive, is “ethical.” Dennis is handsome but extremely “unethical,” and what’s more “he is British and therefore in many ways quite un-American.” Poetry, however, gives Dennis the lead, since Aimee fails to recognize some of the best-known lyrics in the English language. Thereafter it’s a Jamesian conflict— “American innocence and European experience”— with a ghoulish climax.
Waugh’s caddish hero and the Hollywood English — Sir Francis Hinsley (“I was always the most defatigable of hacks”); Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, arbiter of the Cricket Club code for expatriate sahibs — radiate some of the old outrageous fun. The mortuary lore of Graustark has been somewhat staled as a subject for satire by Huxley and others. Still, there’s macabre hilarity in Waugh’s mock clinical report on the ritual for disposing of Loved Ones (“by inhumement, entombment, inurement or immurement, but many people lately prefer insarcophagusment. That is very individual”).
But Waugh’s Americans — and they are the point of his cadaveric fable — are about as pointed as the stage Englishman in a Broadway farce. Acrimony has blurred his vision and turned his fantasy sour.
His generalizations run to such hoary clichés as the standardized good looks of American women and the mass production of smartly shod, nylonencased legs. His caricature of Americans is so extravagant it becomes silly. Joyboy is a crude pastiche of the sanctimonious middle-aged Mom’s Boy. Aimee is lifted out of a Dorothy Dix column, the only place where she belongs. Some of their talk is downright embarrassing. One wishes Mr. Waugh had boned upon what the natives have said about themselves.

The “spoiled giant”

“What the world needs is a first-class dogmacatcher,” a speaker said last fall at Washington’s National Press Club. In The Turning Stream (Doubleday, $5.00), Duncan Aikman goes dogmacatching along the highroad of American tradition and the bypaths of the contemporary scene, seeking to clear the way for adjustment to critical change. Aikman writes with Menckenian scorn for the “nostalgic fixations of USA folk life” and with a destructive wit of his own. His book skips deftly from transportation to soil erosion and birth control; from religious revivalism to Luce and Lippmann. It discourses pungently on money as “a branch of theology”; on the sectarian clashes of “a sex-based near theology"; on witch-hunting, ” womb-seeking,” and The Wealth of Nations. The author’s equipment in certain fields is inferior to his zeal, but he has turned out a lively and hard-hitting book, which some will find salutary, some provocative, and some wickedly subversive. Here is a sampling of his ideas: —
The revolution which handed down America’s “liberating inheritance” was won in Europe: it began with the Italian Renaissance and Martin Luther. The early colonists relapsed into “a kind of Calvinist Dadaism, crossing at times the borders of religious psychosis.” In the McKinley era, Americans acquired the “dangerous illusion” that the practices of dog-eats-dog competition, which had solved the problems of growth, could solve those of a country “almost as different from the [pioneer] Republic ... as from Athens or Sparta.”They “fell in love with the bigness of business and industry,” and acquired the composite personality of a “spoiled giant.”
Buttressed by the dogma of non-stop expansion the Spoiled Giant has since abused his soil, wasted his timber and his oil, and resisted change under pretense of keeping his “basic inheritance ‘ intact. American education is a “self-admiration cult,”which teaches that the U.S.A. is close to Arcadia and which fosters patriotic “priggery.”Thought has grown flabby in high places from a hypertrophied “cult of nostalgia.” A Congressional committee, for instance, tried to silence the “Voice of America” broadcasts on the ground that “our forebears” believed the American ideal would “reach out into the world . . . through its own dynamics.” Nostalgia oven decrees that use of mass communications to defend America is unAmerican.

The “automobileer”

Paradox confronts you at every turn in The Legend of Henry Ford (Rinehart, $5.00). Ford introduced the Five-Dollar Day, and he boasted, “I give nothing for which I do not receive compensation.” He was an empire-builder who had trouble with figures. When he was boomed for the Presidency, Arthur Vandenberg said: “Ford has to his debit more erratic interviews on public questions, more dubious quotations, more blandly boasted ignorance of American history, more political nonsense, more dangerous propaganda, than any other dependable citizen.” But he was the national idol and a poll showed he might well sweep the popular vote. He made billions and he proclaimed that capitalism was the cause of war, inveighed against Wall Street “multi-millionaires.”He waged an infamous campaign against the Jews, publicly recanted, but kept Fritz Kuhn on his payroll and accepted the Grand Cross from Hiller. When he resigned direction of the company to Edsel, he made an ex-boxer, Harry Bennett, the real boss and allowed him to maintain an army of thugs to beat down union activity.
Keith Sward’s enormously detailed chronicle goes far toward resolving these contradictions. The legend of the “folk hero” gets pretty tarnished in the process.
Mr. Sward — a former Stanford Research Fellow and teacher at the University of Minnesota, now a clinical psychologist spent ten years gathering material for this book. He has woven a phenomenal number of facts into a smoothly written and completely fascinating narrative, excitingly climaxed by the story of the Ford Motor Company’s bitterend fight against unionization, its defeat, and the dismissal of Bennett and his gang when control passed to Henry Ford II. Sward’s tone is always measured; the evidence he sets down — much of it explosive — is documented to the hilt. The appendix lists 1038 references to written sources, the main ones being Ford’s own newspaper and books, public documents and the records of legal actions, the leading Detroit papers, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.
Most of Ford’s social ideas came to him from the old platforms of agrarian revolt and from his idol, Thomas Edison. His Populism was sincere enough in theory, but, judging from this dossier, it seldom affected his practice. He had a genius, though, for publicly spreading what Mark Twain called “soul butter.” His private generosities (which were notable) notwithstanding, Ford’s treatment of workers and dealers was, according to the testimony assembled, harsh in the extreme. Fortune magazine said in the thirties that the Ford Company was ruled by chronic job anxiety. Ford’s maneuvers to buy up Muscle Shoals for a song (exposed and balked by Senator Norris), his company’s manipulation of local politics and administration, are two more of the many damaging items in Mr. Sward’s bill of particulars.
The credit side of the ledger takes first place in a book by William C. Richards published earlier this year, The Last Billionaire (Scribner, $3.75). It is essentially a sprightly collection of anecdotes, designed — the author disarmingly admits — to present Ford as a very human personality. Mr. Richards skims rather lightly over Ford’s labor policy, politics, racialism, and so forth, and it is precisely his record in those fields which, in Sward’s book, punctures the popular myth.

Proust revisited

At the age of thirty-eight, Marcel Proust was little known as a writer. He was well known in Paris society as a semi-invalid who frequented the salons muffled in a greatcoat, had a passion for sending flowers, and wrote letters of cloying effusiveness. In the spring of 1909 Proust underwent a profound emotional experience. A chance association of sensations made him relive a moment of the past in all its forgotten details. It left him with the feeling that, beneath the opaque and fleeting surface of time-encased experience, there was a timeless essence, a crystalline reality. This was the germ of the philosophy which animated A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Proust started work on his great novel in 1909, withdrawing into the isolation of his famous corklined room and dosing himself with caffein and adrenalin. He died in 1922, at the age of fifty-one, just after the 4000-page work was completed. A few hours before his death he rang for his maid, Céleste, and dictated additions to the scene describing the death of the novelist, Bergotte. The tenth volume of Remembrance of Things Past had just been published; the last—there are sixteen—appeared in 1927.
A survey of critical literature on Proust made in 1940 listed 1700 items. But almost all of them were studies of some special aspect of Proust’s work. There was not at that time in any language a comprehensive synthesis which took into account the important material brought to light in the previous decade. Harold March, a professor at Swart hmore College, tills that surprising gap with The Two Worlds of Marcel Proust (University of Pennsylvania Press, $3.50). Written with sound scholarship, it is in general an intelligent, compact (270 pages), logically organized study addressed to the general reader. But Edmund Wilson’s essay in Axel’s Castle (though, of course, it cannot be compared in range) is a more vital and profound analysis of Proust’s work.
Professor March opens with an incisive discussion of “the climate of ideas” into which Proust was born. A biography follows. Here the subjects which French critics have handled with singular malaise are dispatched with sobriety and precision: Proust’s Jewish ancestry, the question of snobbery, his homosexuality. The treatment of Proust’s asthma and general neurosis, which loom so large in his life and work, is unfortunately somewhat superficial. Mr. March recognizes that Proust was “a beautiful Freudian case, complete with mother fixation, father rivalry, fantasy, perversion,” but he neglects the implications of this diagnosis. And he states, loosely if not incorrectly, that there is “nothing Freudian” in Proust’s point of view. One of the most arresting aspects of Proust’s work is the parallelism between his emotional researches and Freud’s analysis of the workings of the neurotic personality.
Mr. March’s elucidation of Proust’s “religion of art” leads into a picture of Proust at work on Remembrance of Things Past, which is then carefully analyzed in terms of structure, characters, intellectual themes, and so forth. The book closes with an excellent summation of “The Meaning of Proust.” Mr. March sifts it down to this: —
There are two worlds, one the world of time, where necessity, illusion, suffering, change, decay, and death are the law; the other the world of eternity, where there is freedom, beauty, and peace. Normal experience is in the world of time, but glimpses of the other world may be given in moments of contemplation or through accidents of involuntary memory. It is the function of art to develop these insights and to use them for the illumination of life in the world of time.
Society is used by Proust to build up an impression of uncertainty, confusion, and change. The series of social scenes punctuates the novel with pessimism. A second series, that of the “privileged moments,” provides a compensatory optimism.
Thus the over-all effect is that of “a somber panorama of time lit by flashes of eternity.” In effect Proust has, to quote Edmund Wilson, “re-created the world of the novel from the point of view of relativity; he has supplied for the first time in literature an equivalent on the full scale for the new theory of modem physics.”