The second volume of THE WAR MEMOIRS OF CHARLES DE GAULLE: UNITY 1942-1944 (Simon and Schuster, $6.00), which will be published in mid-May, is the chronicle of a triumph of faith and will which has few parallels in history. “France is only herself when in the front rank,” De Gaulle wrote in The Call to Honour. “Vast enterprises alone are capable of offsetting the ferments of dispersion which her people bear within them.” From this quasimystical belief De Gaulle derived, with perfect logic, the propositions which governed his wartime conduct and which are his justification for its Olympian inflexibility: the Vichyites were simply the “ferments of dispersion”; the real France was Fighting France, and as its leader De Gaulle became the repository of French sovereignty; but only by asserting that this sovereignty remained undivided and undiminished, by forming a government to exercise it, and by playing a role worthy of “the soul” of France could Frenchmen hope to restore the destiny of their lacerated country. Thus, when Churchill was urging De Gaulle to be more pliant toward Roosevelt, De Gaulle found it natural to reply: “I am too poor to bow.” And when Eden, after a friendly meeting, said, “Do you know that you have caused us more difficulties than all our other allies combined?” De Gaulle answered, “I don’t doubt it. France is a great power.”
It is understandable that Roosevelt, for whom sovereignty resided in the polling booth, should have been suspicious of De Gaulle’s mystique and dubious about his claim to speak for France. But it is hard to justify the persistence of Roosevelt’s implacable hostility to De Gaulle long after it had become overwhelmingly obvious that French unity was crystallizing around him, that the attempt to cast Giraud in the leading role was a dismal failure, and that the Darlan deal (as Churchill has testified) had caused dismay and dissension throughout the Allied camp. Churchill’s memoirs support De Gaulle’s view that the Prime Minister, with whom most of his battles were fought, kept in step with Roosevelt’s French policy only because he felt he had to. Demolishing persuasively the argument of expediency, De Gaulle attributes this policy to a messianic urge: “Roosevelt meant the peace to be an American peace. . . . France in particular [must] recognize him as its savior and its arbiter. Therefore the fact that France was reviving in the heat of battle ... as a sovereign and independent nation thwarted his intentions.” De Gaulle’s opinion of Roosevelt is compressed into a barbed compliment — “This artist, this seducer,”
The second major theme of Unity is the military contribution of the Fighting French and the appalling losses incurred by the Resistance — a contribution which the supporters of Roosevelt’s flirtation with Vichy have churlishly slighted. The third theme is De Gaulle’s struggle to draw together the various French factions and achieve agreement on plans for the administration of France and its empire. De Gaulle warned against a constitution which would once again make governmental paralysis the first principle of French politics; he called for democratic reforms in Algeria and held in check the maneuvers of the Communists. His frigidity, his hauteur, his grandiloquence have, I think, obscured the fact that by and large his wartime grasp of realities was remarkably acute and far-sighted, that behind his exalted patriotism there was also statesmanship of an exceedingly high order.
From the literary standpoint, De Gaulle’s memoirs — granted that they inevitably lose some of their luster in translation — are the most distinguished of any by the war leaders with the exception of Churchill’s. De Gaulle’s style — and there are critics in France who place him among the best French stylists of his era — is neither brightened by anecdote nor stained by pettiness. With its commanding lucidity and logic, its classic periods, its patriotic eloquence and stately dignity, it is the style of a man who dwells on the remoter heights, who speaks with the voice of “an instrument of destiny.”
CLASS AND STATUS
THE STATUS SEEKEUS (David McKay, $4.50) by VANCE PACKARD, author of The Hidden Persuaders, challenges the widespread belief that the prosperity of the nineteen fifties is causing the United States to become what official myth proclaims it: a classless society. It is Mr. Packard’s thesis that the truth is quite the reverse, that “class lines in many areas of our national life appear to be hardening. And status straining has intensified.”
American society, according to Packard, is beginning to resemble the pattern which prevails in the armed services, a college diploma being the equivalent of a commission. Packard rejects the conventional labels, Upper-Middle and Lower-Middle Class, because they suggest an association between two groups which seem to him as decisively separated as officers and other ranks: he refers to them as the Semi-Upper and the Limited-Success Class. Packard’s chart of the social structure divides it into the Diploma Elite, which comprises the Real Upper and the Semi-Upper Class, and the Supporting Classes, which are the Limited-Success Class, the Working Class, and the Real Lower Class. Superimposed on this five-class system, Packard goes on to emphasize, is an ethnic class system, in which the rankings are based on national background, religion, and pigmentation. The main body of The Status Seekers is a study of class behavior and of the marks of status. Among the spheres it explores are jobs, real estate, the social conventions of the organization world, dress, taste, and manners, clubs, the churches, politics, and education.
Unfortunately, Mr. Packard has handled a subject that calls for subtlety and sophistication in the manner of an Innocent who has just discovered the prevalence of sin: though praiseworthy for its honesty, The Status Seekers is a pedestrian job. A number of Packard’s findings, to be sure, are genuinely interesting; and some (pertaining to current snobberies and the zanier manifestations of status consciousness) have an element of grotesque comedy. But much of Packard’s material is familiar and even crashingly obvious. He has succumbed to an occupational failing of writers on sociology, which consists in announcing, with the testimony of surveys and an air of discovery, something that everybody knows. We are solemnly informed, for instance, that cocktail lounges (according to Social Research, Inc.) are tonier than taverns and that caviar is relished by the classes rather than the masses. The writing does not help matters; it is drab and soiled with the jargon of sociology — the loathsome use of “typically” for “usually” or “generally” (“You can typically tell”) is an incessant torture. And it does not take an American Nancy Milford to detect boners in the passages that deal with what is U and non-U.
The analytic chapters do register a certain number of provocative points about the way unions “are developing a system of fixed ‘estates’ in life reminiscent of medieval guilds” and about the other factors which are causing American society to become more rigidly stratified. But, all in all, the book’s analytic content does not reach far or dig deep — a crucial area in which no serious excavations are made is human psychology. The whole inquiry is flawed by a failure to recognize and explore the radical difference between class, which is (usually) specific and immutable, and status, which is elusive and changeable. In a rigid class system, everyone “knows his place,” and status-seeking is at a minimum. It would therefore seem that the frantic pursuit of status charted by Packard — and, significantly, something quite similar is taking place in Russia is a result of the withering of the class system rather than, as Packard concludes, a symptom of its recrudescence. I suspect that Packard is right in asserting that social stratification is becoming more rigid, but what is taking shape is hardly a class system in the conventional sense but rather a hierarchy of prestige with a great many gradations of status.
Forty-five years ago, Sir Ernest Shackleton left England with twentyseven men to attempt the crossing of the Antarctic continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the South Pole. Shackleton never even reached land: his ship, the Endurance, became icebound in the Weddell Sea and was eventually crushed to pieces by the pressure of the ice pack, and after incredible adventures Shackleton led his party back to an outpost of civilization. Four decades later, an expedition led by Sir Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary achieved the first crossing of Antarctica, which may well be the last great exploratory adventure on this planet. A book about each of these expeditions has recently been published, ENDURANCE (McGraw-Hill, $5.00) by ALFRED LANSING and THE CROSSING OF ANTARCTICA (Little, Brown, $7.50) by SIR VIVIAN FUCHS and SIR EDMUND HILLARY.
The Fuchs-Hillary volume suffers from the restraints and obligations that must be heeded in the writing of an official account; its tone is comparable to that of Sir John Hunt’s sober chronicle of the conquest of Everest. The most dramatic part is the thirty-two pages of magnificent color photographs (there are many more in black and white), which bring us a majestic panorama of the Antarctic landscape. The group led by Fuchs had to contend with terrifying hazards (among them, treacherous crevasses of vast dimensions), and it endured great hardships. It is no slur on the courage and prowess of these men to say that, from the standpoint of the armchair observer, contemporary science and technology have robbed exploration of some of its grandeur and romance. When you begin to think of just a few of the resources which contributed to the success of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition — radio and radar, airplanes, Snocats and other motorized vehicles, a great diversity of canned foods, an American base at the South Pole — you are awed by the thought that Shackleton and the other early polar explorers challenged the most formidable weapons in the arsenal of nature with not much more than human flesh and spirit.
In Endurance (a Book-of-the-Month Club selection), Alfred Lansing, an American reporter, has reconstructed Shackleton’s voyage from diaries, interviews with the surviving participants, and other sources. The enthralling story he unfolds is a superb feat of re-creative chronicling, as precise and vivid and charged with feeling as though it were an eyewitness account. When Shackleton abandoned ship on October 27, 1915, he and his party, after spending nine months in the frozen Weddell Sea, found themselves marooned with flimsy tents and three small open boats on an ice pack of nearly a million square miles. Their first plan was to try to march to the nearest outpost of humanity, twelve hundred miles away, but patches of water halted them. They had no choice but to camp on a drifting ice floe and hope it would carry them northwestward into waters open enough for them to launch the boats. They depended for their food on killing seals and penguins, and there were periods when they suffered terribly from hunger. They were perpetually soaked and frozen and frequently tortured by fearsome gales. The ice floe which was their refuge kept breaking up until it was less than a hundred yards wide.
In April, they took to the boats and fought their way through tempestuous seas to a desolate, forbidding island. From here a rescue party under Shackleton made a still more nightmarish voyage to South Georgia — sixteen days in a twentytwo-foot boat across the Drake Passage, the most dreaded stretch of ocean on the globe. And after landing in South Georgia, Shackleton was faced with yet another ordeal: to reach the whaling station on the opposite side of the island he had to climb across an unmapped and ferocious range of mountains. It is difficult to comprehend how any human being could have survived the appalling and prolonged hardships which Mr. Lansing has so graphically described. But the amazing truth is that no member of Shackleton’s party lost his life. The story of Shackleton’s expedition is unquestionably one of the epics of human endurance.
SOMERSET MAUGHAM has announced that POINTS OF VIEW (Doubleday, $4.50), a collection of essays, is the last work he will publish. Its subjects are the novels of Goethe; the life of a twentieth-century Indian saint, the Bhagavan Maharshi, whose hermitage Maugham visited in 1936; the prose of Archbishop Tillotson, which, by its influence on Dryden and Addison, was a primary source of the great change in English writing from the ornate style to the plain; reflections on the short story; and the journals of the Goncourt brothers and of two of their contemporaries.
The piece on the short story is largely a restatement of earlier dissertations, and none of the other items represent Maugham at his best. But all of them, with their skillful use of compressed biography to complement and humanize the lucid discourse, show that Maugham is still in full possession of his uncanny knack for capturing the reader’s interest with any subject to which he turns his hand. This is a considerable gift, and in Maugham’s case it is allied to a rich and varied experience of the world and an erudition which, though he has worn it lightly, is larger than that of many certified heavyweights. But in spite of all these resources, Maugham has expressed, in his nonfiction as well as his fiction, a curiously limited vision. In his neatly ordered, well-lit world, the complexity of human behavior is for the most part reduced to tidy paradoxes that illustrate Maugham’s favorite platitude, “human beings are not all of one piece”; and life seems to take its cue from one of a handful of cut-and-dried themes, inspired by a psychology whose pillars are the pat insights of urbane cynicism.
This psychology and the emotional aridity that underlies it are apt to cause Maugham to simplify or to diminish in some way whatever he touches. In Points of View, the invincible matter-of-factness with which he draws the portrait of the Maharshi, whom he speaks of as “a saint,” is better suited to encourage skepticism than to suggest spiritual nobility. And granted that Goethe’s greatness is not to be found in his novels but in his poetry, I cannot help feeling that the figure in Maugham’s essay is a Goethe from whom something has been subtly subtracted. Whatever his limitations, Maugham is a writer whose best fiction will probably outlive that of a number of novelists currently esteemed by serious criticism. Even in the essays on Goethe and the Maharshi, one is always pleasurably aware that the hand at work is that of a magisterial storyteller.
THE AMBITIOUS AMERICAN
Of the American novelists now in their thirties, one of the best is HERBERT GOLD, who has just published his fourth novel, THE OPTIMIST (Atlantic—Little, Brown, S4.50). It is written in a style that is vigorously charged with both passion and humor; and it brings subtlety and individuality to the treatment of a classic American theme, the price of ambition, which has demonstrated a sinister capacity to make novelists resort to overemphatic strokes and obvious colors.
The story focuses on episodes in three phases of the life of Burr Fuller: college, the Army, and his entry into politics at thirty-five, when he is a lawyer in Detroit. Fuller bears no resemblance to the conventional ruthless careerist who consciously subordinates everything to the pursuit of success. At seventeen, he “dreamed of nothing less than perfection — intellect, body, achievement . . . friendship . . . and the love of some faceless beauty who . . . would be a profound palper of souls and a swell dancer. He saw no reason why he shouldn’t get everything he wanted if he rinsed out his own socks and obeyed his own dreams.” As a man, Fuller still wants the whole of his life — work, love, family — to be of one piece. He does not recognize despite the reproaches of his idealistic friend, Mike, a stereotyped characterization — how decisively he has let ambition take precedence over human responsibilities and convictions.
When he is invited to run for Congress, Fuller has been married for ten years to Laura, who, when he fell in love with her at college, was an all-American dream girl. Though he still loves her, Laura feels neglected and deprived; she has changed into a jittery, dissatisfied young woman who worries about her skin and her neuroses. The political campaign increases their separation, and Fuller gets involved in an affair with a sexy beauty who is working on his team. Mr. Gold’s climax leaves unresolved the dilemma of the American optimist; Fuller recognizes that somewhere, somehow he has gone wrong, that his desires have not brought him satisfaction. But an inner voice continues to say to him: more, more, more!
The structure of The Optimist is not as tight and coherent as it might be: one feels that Gold has struggled with his subject without achieving full command of it. But the main characterizations are persuasive and interesting; one of the minor ones is first-rate — the portrait of a fraternity big shot, a slimy, demagogic conformist — and the language and feeling are those of a real writer.
SPINSTER (Simon and Schuster, S3.75) by SYLVIA ASHTON-WARNER, the first novel of a retired New Zealand schoolteacher now in her forties, is one of those rare books that create a world of their own. The narrator, Anna Vorontosov, is an “infant mistress" in an outpost school in New Zealand, and her story is in effect a portrait — and a wildly original one — of the artist as a teacher.
In the distant past, Anna has loved a man who did not offer her marriage, and now, no longer young, she dreams of men but is allergic to philanderers. Lonely, impulsive, hypersensitive — in fact, more than a trifle dotty — she is burdened with guilt about her inefficiencies, braces herself for the day with half a tumbler of brandy, comforts herself with luxurious weepings, and is hounded by titanic headaches. For all her hysteria, she is vibrantly alive and brave and dedicated to her “Little Ones” — Maori, white, and halfcaste. An inspired teacher, she seeks, by love and understanding, to prize off the lids that weigh on infant hearts and minds. She knows that her crusade against orthodoxy and tradition is ruining her professional status, but when the time comes to leave her job, she can look back on it with a deep sense of fulfillment.
Some readers may well find that Anna’s overintensity grows monotonous and cloying. For my part, I felt that the novel would have gained from some compression but that it has considerable enchantment. The sentences have the precision, sensuousness, and élan of the movements of a beautiful dancer, the feeling is tender and often wryly amusing, everything is fresh and spontaneous. And throughout the story, the voices of the “Little Ones” - Matawhero, Patchy, Ronga, Bleeding Heart—are raised in a beguiling chorus: “Miss Wottot! Miss Poppoff! Miss Vorontokok! . . . Seven he punch my stomat for notheen, Seven. . . . Miss Vorontosov, how old do you weigh? . . . Somebodies, they taked my paper. . . . Somebodies, they tread my sore leg for notheen. Somebodies.”