BY WILLIAM BARRETT
RICHARD HUGHES has suffered the unpleasant fate of being a one-book author. High Wind in Jamaica, published in 1929, was a book like no other, as innocent and cruel as the beautiful and murderous innocence of the children’s minds that it portrayed. Thereafter, Mr. Hughes was not altogether silent; nine years later he brought out a brief but brilliant novel, In Hazard, about a storm at sea, and there were also two slight but very charming books of nonsense stories for children. But none of these caught the public’s attention, and Mr. Hughes was thought of as dead or as having given up writing. If his name came up at all in discussion, it was usually with the accompanying query, “But what has Richard Hughes been doing all these years?”
Well, all these years Mr. Hughes has been writing (though most of it, we are told, is unpublished manuscript), and he is now a one-book author no longer, THE FOX IN THE ATTIC (Harper, $4.50), the first of three or four historical novels projected by Mr. Hughes under the title The Human Predicament, ought to satisfy even the most ardent of his early admirers. If “genius” was the right and inevitable word one had to apply to High Wind in Jamaica, just as surely is it the word for the qualities of writing and vision of this new novel – even now, when the design of the series is still to come.
Mr. Hughes’s principal theme is already abundantly clear. Born in 1900, he is just as old as this century, whose history he consequently feels as his own personal fate. When World War I ended in 1918, he was waiting to be called to the trenches. Between himself and the young men who had been at war and had come back there was a gulf; between himself and his elders, an abyss. World War I had severed his generation from the past. It also had knocked the props of tradition out from under this century. Henceforth, those who were to grow up in our time would be pushed into a search for their souls without the help of the props of the past.
Accordingly, the young hero, Augustine PenryHerbert, is twenty-three (just as old as Mr. Hughes and the century) when the action starts in the year 1923. Nowadays, historical novels more often than not suggest ponderous pachyderms stuffed with cotton wool. Nothing could be further from Mr. Hughes’s spare and agile style, from the rapidity with which he can shift his camera to catch whole galleries of characters, or from the kind of cinema suspense with which he can keep us on the edge of our chairs toward the end. All the same, his opening pages, vivid as a footprint on wet grass, lead us to expect only a poetic and intimate study of English country life, with its squires, servants, and tenants. But when Augustine, uncomfortable at the ferocity of his Welsh neighbors, flees abroad, this intimate poetry of rural England gives way to the Gothic panorama of Germany in the twenties, including a detailed historical narrative of Hitler’s abortive beer-hall Putsch in 1923.
At this point the novel seems to split right down the middle. Abstractly, of course, we know the general theme that is supposed to unite the two halves: though the past has irremediably vanished, nobody is yet aware that this has happened, and both in Germany and England the post-war world is being built out of pre-war people. But how, concretely, these two parts ol the animal are going to rejoin each other in the living flesh of the story, I Mr. Hughes will have to show us in the novels that follow. If he does bring it off, The Human Predicament is bound to be one of the major works of the sixties.
LONG JOURNEY INWARD
Would you like a tried-and-true recipe for novel or play? Take assorted characters and throw them together on a small steamer (that way they are bound to rub against each other) outward bound for some exotic port, and then watch the sparks fly. Suppose, now, that each of the characters is on the brink of some very dramatic discovery about himself or some drastic change in his way of life; and suppose, further, that the ship is headed toward Crete, with its mysterious labyrinth that is even supposed to harbor a Minotaur. The long voyage out then becomes the long voyage inward to the self. There, my friends, you have it: an adventure story and depth psychology all rolled together!
This summary of LAWRENCE DURRELL’S THE DARK LABYRINTH (Dutton, $3.95) omits only one indispensable ingredient: the author’s superior literary gilts, which can make an unfinished story into something infinitely more exciting and significant than any neatly wrapped, no-strings-hanging novel of a secondrater.
The Dark Labyrinth was written in 1945, but Mr. Durrell put it aside in order that he might devote time to his now famous Alexandria Quartet. Apparently, he wanted to elaborate more systematically certain ideas that had just begun to sprout in this book. The philosophical superstructure of the Quartet has always seemed to me somewhat top-heavy, so I do not mind the fact that this earlier book wears its symbolism more nonchalantly. Instead of the laborious working out of ideas, what comes through is the fine saline breeziness of Mr. Durrell, the accomplished spinner of yarns. And, of course, that wonderful Mediterranean atmosphere, clear and Grecian here, while the Quartet was turgid and Levantine. I find travel posters altogether handsome and decorative; and Mr. Durrell, it seems to me, writes just about the best travel posters going.
HOLLYWOOD AND VINA
Utopias are not very promising subjects for novels. We may quarrel with this world, distort it in fantasy, or caricature it in satire, but when we try to project another world altogether and make it wholly ideal, then our poor earthbound imagination falters and drops back on this, our poor best of all possible worlds because it is our only one.
Premonitions of this kind might have visited ALDOUS HUXLEY while he was writing ISLAND (Harper, $4.00), a novel about a South Seas utopia, because he abandons the novelist’s task for three quarters of the book in order to operate as a simple propagandist of ideas.
In Brave New World Mr. Huxley satirized the ghastly future when technology will have reduced humankind to a race of empty robots. Now, as if to balance that negative by a positive, Mr. Huxley portrays the ideal of what human society might be if it should overcome the dualism of flesh and spirit and unite science with mysticism, intellect with intuition. This is what has been done on the island of Pala – but why should it have to be in the South Seas? – where the natives not only enjoy these nondualistic benefits but arc also one hundred percent adjusted sexually, and spiritually at peace in a religion compounded of Buddhism, Vedanta, Tantrism, Taoism, and whatever else Mr. Huxley can anthologize from the Orient.
But Brave New World turned upside down is Brave New World still. The Palanese, without conflicts or tensions, are as humanly insipid as the denizens of a world ruled by mass production. Inevitably, they drift into the same scientific-sounding alphabetese: MACs–Mutual Adoption Clubs to supplant the family; DF and AI –Deep Freeze and Artificial Insemination, by means of which Palanese women can have babies by their great men long dead. One mother gushes about her wellplanned offspring in purest scientese: “My baby at least will be a lot more endomorphic and viscerotonic than his brothers.”
How could Mr. Huxley have perpetrated so fatuous a tale? His novels, to be sure, always tended to the abstract and cerebral, but they were brought back to life by the biting edge of satire. Now. satire gone, the novelist’s sharpness of perception seems also to have evaporated into some bland transcendental haze. On the other hand, there is the outside chance that he may have meant this whole thing as a satire on his own most cherished ideas.
CHRISTOPHER ISHKRWOOD, who has played the same Yoga circuit in and around Hollywood as Mr. Huxley, seems to have reacted to his contact with Oriental religion in a very different way; the exposure has exacerbated the novelist’s vision of human personality as a complex, prickly, and perverse fact not to be conjured away by any transcendental formula.
DOWN THERE ON A VISIT (Simon and Schuster, $4.75) is Mr. Isherwood’s best work of fiction since The Berlin Stories, back in the 1930s. For robust realism this book cannot match the earlier stories, but the author has gained in depth, reflectiveness, and compassion. Compared to the thick impasto of The Berlin Stories, the present book rather resembles a subtly felt and carefully thought-out line drawing.
Perhaps Mr. Isherwood’s material must get somewhat thinner because of the special world that he has staked out for himself as a writer the cosmopolitan world of sexual adventurers, the sexually queer and perverse in all the near and far corners of the globe. But there is no sensationalism in the treatment of this subject matter; Mr. Isherwqod is concerned with the souls of his people, and their sexual abnormality is treated only as a manifestation of a universal human loneliness and despair.
War, Clemenceau remarked, is too serious a matter to be left to generals. By the same token, psychology concerns all of us so deeply that we cannot leave it entirely in the hands of the psychologists. Emboldened by this conviction, GERALD SYKES, distinguished critic and novelist, has dared to venture into a field where the fratricidal war among the professionals is notorious, and he has returned from this foray with a masterly condensation of the psychoanalytic schools of our time, THE HIDDEN REMNANT (Harper. S4.00).
Mr. Sykes’s writing is brilliant, and his talent for condensation, extraordinary. To condense intelligently requires the insight that can put the psychologist together with his theory and re-create both imaginatively. No doubt, Mr. Sykes’s insight will nettle some of the sectarians. For the rest of us, however, his great value is that he is able to place the various schools – those of Freud, Jung, Adler, and others – in dialogue with each other. The truth about the human soul is wide and deep enough to embrace the differing points of view of all the contending schools.
But, more than an expositor, Mr. Sykes is a lay preacher writing an urgent tract for the times to point out how in crucial areas of our life today – art, politics, and the uses of science – self-knowledge might mean salvation while its absence must mean disaster. Like Richard Hughes, Mr. Sykes believes that this century has embarked upon a unique adventure in self-knowledge from which there can be no drawing back. His saving remnant is those persons scattered throughout the amorphous mass of modern society who are willing to become individuals and for this purpose will take upon themselves the labor and the risks of self-knowledge. Only this remnant – not our arms, not our technology, not even our splendid institutions – will be able to save a foundering civilization.
TWO STRICKEN BY THE MUSE
Are artists condemned to be more unhappy than less sensitive folk? There is a tradition of the suffering poet in classical antiquity. But only in modern times has the figure of the writer, indissolubly wedded to his neurosis, become so potent a figure in our culture.
Perhaps no two more powerful cases in point could be cited than Scott Fitzgerald and Eugene O‘Neill, it is an interesting coincidence that noteworthy biographies of these two writers should appear at the same time: SCOTT FITZGERALD, by ANDREW TURNBULL (Scribner’s, $5.95), and O’NKILL, by ARTHUR and BARBARA GELB (Harper, $12.50). Anybody who wants ammunition for the debate on art and neurosis will find plenty of it in these books.
Biographers can become absorbed by the styles as well as the lives of their subjects. The biography by Mr. and Mrs. Gelb is comprehensive rather than selective and runs to the enormous lengths of O‘Neill himself–almost a thousand pages. Yet, wonderful to say, the book does not drag. Without any pretense at literary polish, the Gelbs have presented plainly and directly the facts of O‘Neill‘s life, unearthed by their patient and laborious digging for the last five years; and the facts about this baffling personality are enough by themselves to carry our interest.
Mr. Turnbull has the advantage of having been at his book much longer -from the age of eleven, he tells us in the foreword, when he first came to know Fitzgerald as a neighbor in Maryland. Here, unmistakably. is first-rate biography which displaces every work before it, including the earnest and admirable pioneering effort of Arthur Mizener a decade ago. Mr. Turnbull renders vividly the many people in Fitzgerald’s life; and, most important of all, he re-creates in human and poignant terms . Fitzgerald‘s tragic relationship with his wife, Zelda, which has been pictured so often as merely clinical and weird.
Apart from the fact that they were