The American political novel has traditionally been a novel of protest, animated (with a few exceptions, such as Dos Passos’ second trilogy) by liberal ideology. ADVISE AND CONSENT (Doubleday, $5.75), a kingsized novel of Washington politics by ALLEN DRURY, is a departure from this tradition. Essentially conservative in sentiment, it is concerned with morality in politics rather than with ideology; and the United States Senate emerges as its collective hero.
Advise and Consent (a Book-of-theMonth Club selection) is set in the near future, against a background of mounting crisis with Russia. It opens with the President’s nomination of a new secretary of state, Robert Leffingwell, a brilliant but highly controversial figure, greatly esteemed by liberals and the general public and bitterly opposed in other quarters as a dangerous appeaser. Drury’s story, which is pinpointed on the battle over Leffingwell’s confirmation, carries the reader through the Capital’s political, social, and diplomatic worlds; records Senate debates, committee hearings, conversations with the President; and delves into the minds, motives, and personal histories of the major actors in this cause détèbre.
With its dramatic subject matter, its behind-the-scenes atmosphere, and its skillfully developed plot, it seems destined to become one of the big best sellers of the fall season. It falls far short, however, of being a first-rate novel of contemporary history.
When a writer turns contemporary history into fiction, it is fair to ask: Has he simply borrowed from history, or has he — as Koestler did so memorably in Darkness at Noon — heightened its meaning and impact by an act of the creative imagination? Does his book owe its interest to our knowledge that it is describing realities, or does it make the realities more interesting? By and large, Advise and Consent belongs in the borrowing category. One is interested in its fictional President because he is so clearly patterned after F.D.R.; in Senator Van Ackerman because he is a sort of Joe McCarthy of the Left; in the Leffingwell affair because of its parallels with the Oppenheimer drama. One feels throughout that the real figures are more remarkable, the real events more startling than the fictions they have inspired. A few of Drury’s major characters do have a solidly created and arresting identity of their own, but they do not raise the novel as a whole above the level of expert pastiche.
The authenticity of Drury’s portrait of the Capital is warmly vouched for by Arthur Krock and other Washington correspondents quoted on the jacket. His dialogue, however, frequently sounds artificial, and he makes a number of minor slips, such as the following: the Indian ambassador, a Hindu, is given a Muslim name, Khaleel. No British ambassador would say, “intend for things to happen.” And it is highly unlikely that a Soviet ambassador would refer to the United States as the leader of “the free world.”
THE FREUDIAN ETHIC: AN ANALYSIS OF THE SUBVERSION OF THE AMERICAN CHARACTER (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, $5.00) by RICHARD LAPIERE, professor of sociology at Stanford University, is a critical appraisal of “the social implications” of Freudianism. Mr. LaPiere’s exposition falls into three parts. The first argues that this country owes its dynamism to the so-called Protestant ethic, which prescribed self-reliance and enterprise, and that this ethic has been largely supplanted by one derived from Freud’s view that man is inherently weak, not responsible for his actions, and repressed by the requirements of society. Part two describes how the Freudian ethic has been propagated, with allegedly disastrous consequences, by the permissive home, the progressive school, the cult of adjustment, and the condonation of crime as sickness. The theme of part three is that the emergence and widespread acceptance of the Freudian ethic “reflect, and in turn implement, changes that are occurring elsewhere in our society": the adoption by the once vigorous bourgeoisie of a passive and irresponsible “style of life.” the development of a constricting form of “ guildism” in the labor unions, and the rise of a philosophy of “ maternalistic” government. All of these changes, LaPiere concludes, are designed to produce more security (emotional or economic), and in tota they are stultifying individual enterprise and may bring about an era of stagnation.
The exposition just outlined suffers from a basic confusion. It creates the impression, strongly supported by the book’s subtitle, that the author considers the Freudian ethic directly or indirectly responsible for the changes he is discussing. But LaPiere repudiates this position, which indeed would be untenable. (For one thing, socialist thinkers were framing the philosophy of ”maternalistic” government before the turn of the century, and legislation that heralded the welfare state was enacted long before the Freudian ethic took root.) In the preface LaPiere writes: “Concordance and cause are not synonymous; and nowhere in the pages that follow is there any intent to imply that . . . the Freudian ethic is the cause of concordant changes in our family life, in education, in judicial practices, or in our class, economic, or political organization.” In this case, his title is misleading, and his failure even to mention the various forces that have produced the “concordant changes” is a disconcerting omission, which leaves his argument lopsided. Another major weakness is the failure to distinguish between Freudian doctrine (which LaPiere sometimes misstates or at least oversimplifies) and abuses of it. The Protestant ethic, too, can easily be made to appear a social menace if cutthroat competition, unbridled greed, and the callous exploitation of child labor are taken as true expressions of its spirit.
In spite of these complaints, and the fact that I do not share the author’s point of view, I found myself reading his essay with considerable interest. It makes a compact, vigorous, and at least plausible assessment of the ways in which the Freudian ethic and concordant social changes are sapping the spirit of enterprise which this country requires if it is to retain its traditional dynamism.
From England there comes to us a satiric essay, THE RISE OF THE MERITOCRACY (Random House, $3.50), inspired by fears about the future radically different from those that trouble Mr. LaPiere. The author, MICHAEL YOUNG — a sociologist who helped to draft the Labor Party’s program for the welfare state — has taken a dig at one aspect of that program, the educational system, which puts the brainier children in special schools that open up to them larger opportunities. By depicting a Utopia where this practice and, indeed, the whole principle of social justice have been carried to their logical conclusion, Mr. Young shows that they could lead to a new form of hierarchical society, in which brains alone are the touchstone and other human qualities are discounted. (Mr. Young, apparently, is a supporter of social equality at all costs. He favors the American public school system precisely because, as its critics complain, it does not separate or give special attention to the brighter pupils.)
The Rise of the Meritocracy is cast in the form of an essay about the England of A.D. 2034, a Utopian society whose philosophy is, from each according to his ability, to each according to his merit. Scientific advances have made it possible to gauge a child’s I.Q. at the age of three or even earlier, and his I.Q. rating determines the education he will receive and the level of society into which he will be recruited. Naturally, family background no longer counts — there is equal opportunity for all — nor do experience or seniority affect advancement. Throughout life the individual’s position or “grade” is determined by the formula, “Intelligence plus Effort equals Merit,” and he has the inalienable right to have his I.Q. retested (once every five years) and to be regraded if his score rises. The tiresome old controversy about inequality of wealth has been irreproachably disposed of. All receive “the Equal” (wage), and the difference between grades is recognized by the payment of tax-free allowances which enable the recipient to live in the style he deserves.
This dispensation has brought about the rise of a brilliant new elite, the meritocracy—“the 5% of the nation who know what 5% means.”The distinction between classes is sharper than before, for the upper classes know that they deserve their superior status, and the lower classes, knowing that they have had a fair chance, recognize that they are made of inferior stuff. No one has any grounds for complaint. Nonetheless there are stresses within the system. The top class of one generation is breeding the top class of another generation to an even greater extent than in the bad old days, and conservatives hint that it would be only realistic to restore the hereditary principle. The suggestion inflames the unreasonable resentments of the rank and file, and a revolution breaks out, led by evangelistic women of the elite.
Young’s Utopia — or rather, antiUtopia — is a brilliant conception. It could have been much more richly exploited in the form of a novel, but the form in which it comes to us certainly deserves one and possibly two cheers. The dry style gives out sparks of wit. There is a nice undertone of spoofing in the earnest praise for the new order and the disparagement of the archaisms it did away with. And there is a steady flow of ideas that are fresh, amusing, and provocative.
PETEK S. FEIBLKMAN, author of that remarkable first novel, A Place Without Twilight. has followed it with a decidedly different book which, though not to my taste, is obviously the work of a writer with a powerful imagination, fine resources of language, and a vigorous storytelling talent, THE DAUGHTERS OF NECESSITY (World, $4.50) is composed in melodramatic strokes and bizarre, romantic colors; and I’m afraid I found it raspingly theatrical and unreal. Words, gestures, actions are heavily charged with a suggestion of portentousness, but what they portend for the most part remains enigmatic or indecipherable.
The story, which is climaxed by the revelation of an Electra complex, might be summed up as a parable about the secret logic of fate. Once upon a time not very long ago, in a Southern town in this country, a young man — well-bred and strongwilled, somber, troubling to women — kisses the girl who loves him and, not understanding that her laughter comes from happiness, turns away From her in anger. He goes to Italy and brings back with him a wife — a lovely courtesan, born of a prostitute and an English aristocrat. When sickness cuts short her life, he sends off her little daughter, whom he had adopted, and salves his conscience by endowing her with riches. Now he marries the girl he once broke with, and she too dies, leaving him a daughter of his own. whom he cherishes with all his being and who grows up to be his “ Princess.” Out of the blue, the daughter he rejected comes to live in the town but keeps her door closed to him, and he believes she has returned out of hate. But it is guilt that leads him to see hate where there is only pride. And it is the daughter he has idolized who harbors the wish to kill him and who, when he lies dying, is no longer his “ Princess.”
The point of the parable is presumably contained in the phrase, “The fates are only necessary facts,” which I take to mean that our destiny, however strange and fortuitous it may seem, is something we have shaped in our own image. Unfortunately, the motivation of the characters is so elusive, the action is so steeped in mystification, that a sense of necessity is precisely what the novel lacks.
LOUIS AUCHINCLOSS, who combines the writing of fiction with the practice of law, belongs in the relatively small group of American novelists under forty-five who have behind them not three or four books but a substantial body of work, PURSUIT OF THE PRODIGAL (Houghton Mifflin, $3.75) brings the total of his published books to eight, an output which, for a fastidious writer, shows remarkable stamina. Mr. Auchincloss’ novels are usually referred to as an insider’s subtle indictments of the upper class, but this seems to me a misreading of his intentions. (Incidentally. he has not confined himself to upper-class terrain, and some of his major characters are of modest origin.) Auchincloss’ primary interests are those of the psychological novelist rather than the social critic, He entitled one of his books The Injustice Collectors, after the label given by a psychoanalyst to a certain pattern of neurotic behavior, and something similar to this pattern keeps recurring in his books. His characteristic protagonist is an individual who overreacts to the flaws in his milieu, the compromises required by his job, and whose seemingly courageous dedication to his integrity or his freedom is the manifestation of an unconscious need to court disaster. To put it more broadly, Auchincloss has concerned himself largely with people whose conformity or nonconformity is a destructive compulsion. If his intentions have been misinterpreted, it is partly his fault. He puts himself in the shoes of his main character and makes the reader share his plausible but distorted perspective, and he has not succeeded, until Pursuit of the Prodigal, in setting up a corrective counterpoint that brings his meaning clearly into focus.
The hero of his new novel, Reese Parmclee, has grown up determined to get away from Parmelee Cove, the family estate on Long Island, and not to enter the law firm founded by his eminent grandfather. But in 1941 he marries and becomes a father, and when he returns from the war, he feels he has irrevocably lost what he values most: his freedom. However, he gets a second chance (by giving his wife good reason for divorcing him); and, moving to Greenwich Village, he embarks on a new job as assistant to a tough court lawyer. Soon he is married again — this time to a career girl who works on a fashion magazine — and they start leading the life of a successful young couple in New York’s Upper Bohemia. But once again his “nagging disapproval of the world” and his obsession with his integrity (which he persists in believing his boss has violated) lead him to want out. Auchincloss’ resolution of this situation seemed to me not in keeping with the book’s insights. For the rest, the people and the settings are admirably drawn, and the story is engrossing.
In THE BARREN BEACHES OF HELL (Holt, $4.95), BOYD COCHRELL has succeeded handsomely in doing what he set out to do: describe the experience of the representative soldier who faced the enemy on the ground, directly and daily; who was neither a hero nor a shirker but fought with courage and endurance and increasing skill; who disliked some officers but was not at war against the officer class; who lost his illusions but did not make an unconditional surrender to bitterness and self-pity. Mr. Cochrell’s hero. Private Andrew Willy, is seventeen when he enlists in the Marines in 1943, and the story follows him through the conquest of Tarawa, Saipan. Tinian, and Okinawa to the occupation of Nagasaki and his discharge after thirty months of active service. It is told without heroics and without ideology, and with few excursions into love and sex. Although it is a long story, it moves swiftly and is always thoroughly convincing. But in spite of its individuality and its appealing hero, its impact is not what it would have been a decade or so ago — a score of books have already graphically described combat in the South Pacific.
LAWRENCE DURRELL, the Proustian portraitist of love and politics in Egypt, also writes stories in the Wodehousian vein about “life among the diplomats.” The second collection, STIFF UPPER LIP (Dutton, $2.50), continues the reminiscences of Antrobus about his days behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria. The embassy, then, was rocked by crises: lashings of garlic in the soup at an important luncheon; the ambassador’s efforts to keep bees; the footman’s hand trapped in a mailed glove; the case of the swami who came, saw, and swiped; the attempt of a lovesick attaché to liquidate his Russian rival by suffocating the entire diplomatic corps at an underground wine tasting. Antrobus is a delight to listen to even when his story misfires, and his good ones are wonderfully funny.
ELSA MORANTE’S ARTURO’S ISLAND (Knopf, $4.50) is a study of boyhood and early adolescence almost as arresting as, though altogether different from, Agostino by Alberto Moravia, her husband. Its setting is a primitive island in the Bay of Naples, and its hero a motherless, imaginative boy who dreams of heroic deeds and travel to far places. When his father, whom he idolizes, returns from one of his frequent trips with a wife, a humble Neapolitan girl, Arturo treats her with contempt. But gradually his love for his father changes into hate, and he discovers, with agonizing embarrassment but also with exultation, that he passionately loves his stepmother. The story is told with great freshness and feeling, and the wild island is a felt presence. This is a fine novel.