The Inmost Leaf

byAlfred Kazin. Harcourt, Brace, $4.75.
I had previously read and admired most of the essays which Mr. Kazin presents here as a selection from his literary criticism, and I found that taken together they are still more impressive. For in book form something new is added: the cumulative effect of an intense, penetrating, and, in the fullest sense of the word, coherent approach to literature. Mere elegance, wit, or narrative power leaves Mr. Kazin indifferent: his minimum requirement is a serious confrontation of man’s fate, and it is clear that he is most deeply stirred by those artists, such as Joyce, Proust, or Flaubert, who in effect totally committed their lives to the creative struggle. It might be said of Mr. kazin — as Winston Churchill once said of himself when accused of being demanding — that he is “easily satisfied with the best of everything and it is, after all, an eminently respectable position for a critic.
Most of the essays in this collection have to do with writers who, in Melville’s phrase, were never “done growing"; among them are Blake, D. H. Lawrence, Gide. and Faulkner. The other items include a devastating essay on the Broadway theatrical audience; a first-class appreciation of the criticism of Edmund Wilson; and the best piece I have read on Fitzgerald’s curious semi-confession, The Crackup. All in all, this book has an emotional vitality that is extremely rare nowadays in serious literary criticism.