As I WALKED OUT ONE MIDSUMMER MORNING, by Atheneum, $5.95
Laurie Lee was nineteen when on a June morning in 1935 after a hearty breakfast and a pat on the back from his mother, he walked away from his country home in the Cotswolds. He was propelled by the traditional forces that have sent so many younger sons out into the world, and the Depression had doubtless strengthened his resistance to the local girls, whispering “Marry and settle down.”For his journey he carried a small rolled-up tent, a violin wrapped in a blanket, a change of clothes, a tin of treacle biscuits, and a hazel stick in hand. He planned to walk to London by way of Southampton so as to have his first look at the sea, and for sustenance he would fiddle his way through any hospitable town, his hat at his feet, with a couple of coppers in it pour encourager les autres. After London he would take ship for Spain, drawn there by boyhood fancies of Seville. He had already published some of his early pastoral poems and hoped to compose and sell others along the way. But the violin was to be his mainstay, and a bystander warned him not to play too long at any spot lest he lose his audience and the collection.
Mr. Lee’s adventures compose a lighthearted, resourceful travel book. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, and the hardihood with which he endured the heat, and when in the mountains, the cold, is a part of the picture. When in town he frequented the disreputable inns—or brothels—where he rarely paid more than a sixpence for a night’s lodgings, and when in the open he slept in the fields, bathed in the nearest stream, and as the sun dried him, made a breakfast of goat cheese and berries. Walking, fiddling, or talking in the taverns, all of his senses were employed, including his sense of smell, and his figures of speech are sharp and delightful, as when he speaks of “tea so strong you 1 could trot a mouse on it.”The girls were generous to him; so was a professional beggar like Alf, who was “a tramp to his bones”; and a tavern keeper hearing his gay tunes kept Laurie playing for as long as he chose to stay. In London he supported himself by working for a contractor, pushing “barrows of wet cement till my muscles stretched and burned.” After he had got toughened up to the job and could use his evenings for something other than sleep, he found friends in the pubs, won a poetry contest, and in the early summer bought a one-way ticket to Vigo, with a handful of shillings to see him safely in Spain.
Laurie was to walk from one end of Spain to the other—“I’d accepted this country without question, as though visiting a half-mad family”— and his impressions are as fresh now as when they first hit him. Here is his first: “I landed in a town submerged by wet green sunlight and smelling of the waste of the sea. People lay sleeping in doorways, or sprawled on the ground, like bodies washed up by the tide.” The medievalism, the garish colors, the sudden hospitality of the peasants and the equally sudden cruelty—he reacts to each in his disarming way. Valladolid, with its beggars, conscripts, and priests, he found a heartless place, and he has few good words for Segovia, with its Roman aqueduct and its blood-stained Cliff of Crows. But his spirits rose as he crossed the Sierra Guadarrama at a point almost two miles high (“Gulping the fine dry air and sniffing the pitch-pine mountain, I was perhaps never so alive and so alone again”). Madrid he enjoyed for its cool and succulent taverns; in Toledo he was befriended by Roy Campbell, the South African poet, and they spent hours together in El Greco’s house; Cadiz he calls “a diseased hulk on the edge of a tropic sea”; and in Valdepeñas, where the wine was genial, he was happily at ease.
Lee holed up for the winter in an Andalusian village, where he became half of a two-piece orchestra in a seaside hotel. Here as an outsider he shared in the innocent hope and the fumbling beginning of the Spanish war. But it is never quite clear why he was so insistent on rejoining the Republican forces once he had been picked up and escorted to safety by a British destroyer. His year in Spain had fired his imagination, but his attachment to the people was less than skin-deep, nor had he a mistress to call him back. Why then did he return and what happened after his re-entry?
BLACK OPPORTUNITY, by Jerome H. Holland. Weybright & Talley, $6.95
When in 1939 Jerome Holland graduated from Cornell, where he had been an all-American end and an elected member of the junior and senior honor societies, he was the only one of his class not interviewed for a job—because he was black. In the spring of 1968, 195 recruits from major industrial companies visited the campus of Hampton Institute, of which Mr. Holland is now president, and 85 percent of the Hampton seniors were offered jobs “at a professional, technical or managerial level, at salaries identical with those paid to white college graduates with equal training.” This positive comparison, which he states on the opening page of his book Black Opportunity, is indicative of the swift change for which President Holland has been in part responsible (prior to 1960 no interviewer visited Hampton), indicative also that America’s need for educated Negroes is now two or three times greater than the supply.
Of the nine chapters in this thorough and informative book the first three trace the evolution of “the caste-class, two-race system” under which the Negroes had come to exist ever since that summer day in 1619 when a Dutch sea captain sold the first shipment of twenty blacks to the English settlers in Jamestown. The early Negroes in Virginia had the same status as the indentured whites, but race prejudice soon took over: Negroes, whether free or indentured, were not permitted to attend the white man’s church or tavern; the family unit, basic in the African tribe, was destroyed; and later, when laws against teaching Negroes came into being early in the eighteenth century, the die was cast for the Slave Codes and for the downgrading of the male, the apathy and the corroding sense of inferiority which resulted. When in 1868 General Armstrong founded Hampton Institute, go percent of American Negroes were illiterate.
There were a few Negro leaders articulate enough to protest against this imprisonment, and President Holland cites their remonstrance in words that burn. He quotes Frederick Douglass, the runaway slave and renowned speaker, as he described the welcome he was accorded in Massachusetts on a lecture tour shortly before the Civil War. At a meetinghouse in New Bedford a deacon told him in a pious tone, “We don’t allow niggers in here!” On the steamer Massachusetts bound for Boston, as he entered the cabin, he was touched on the shoulder and told, “We don t allow niggers in here! At a Boston restaurant, he was met by a lad in a white apron, “We don’t allow niggers in here,” and as he was attempting to board the bus to Weymouth, the driver spat at him, I don’t allow niggers in here.”
In a more serious vein Douglass pleaded with William Lloyd Garrison not to dissolve the Anti-Slavery Society at the war’s end. Its mission, Douglass said, was “not merely to emancipate, but to elevate,” and Emancipation had left the Negro with “neither money, property, nor friends.” But Garrison was adamant.
Holland cites Booker T. Washington, who at the turn of the century, when “forty-three national unions had not a single black member,” toured the country pleading for a vocational education of Negroes which would admit them to the factories. And he cites W. E. B. DuBois, with three degrees from Harvard, the best educated Negro of his day, who would not accept Washington’s premise that Negroes should be grateful for work at the lower level, and who in 1905 nailed these objectives at a meeting in Niagara Falls: “We want full manhood suffrage and we want it now. . . . We want discrimination in public accommodations to cease. . . . We want the Constitution of the country enforced. . . . We want our children educated. . . . We are men! We will be treated as men. And we shall win.'’ Holland adds that in the frustration of old age DuBois became a convert to socialism and to isolationism for Negroes in his advocacy of a black cooperative commonwealth, a bitter alternative which attracts the militant.
The tonic in President Holland’s book is the six progressive chapters documenting and commenting on the improvement of education and the opening of opportunities which have occurred since the publication of Gunnar Myrdal’s classic report: “Never in the history of America,” wrote Myrdal, “has there been a greater and more complete identity between the ideals of social justice and the requirements of economic progress.” Holland shows that the percentage of Negroes attending college has more than doubled in the past twenty years, that American Negroes represent the tenth richest nation in the world, with a buying power greater than that of Canadians, a group approximately equal in size; and he shows the receptive attitude of industrial management in their recognition that the key to equal opportunity is education and training.
Black Opportunity makes white America realize the painful adjustment of qualified Negroes in their breakthrough jobs; it balances the continued resistance of stubborn unions with the resourceful experiments big business has been conducting the country over. In its firm documentation this book is the most important and hopeful blueprint yet written for Negro aspirants, and a much needed corrective for those softheaded sociologists who apologize for the black militants and arc all too free with that epithet, Uncle Tom.
A LOVING WIFE, by Violet Weingarten. Knopf, $5.95
Violet Weingarten, who will be remembered for her gay, discerning first novel, Mrs. Beneker, has achieved a deeper, more sympathetic characterization in her new book, A Loving Wife. The title is partly sardonic, for Molly Gilbert, the heroine, does most of her loving away from home.
A New Yorker in her mid-forties, overweight but still pretty, Molly had been drifting in what she calls “a kind of free-floating discontent”; she no longer seemed needed by her biochemist husband Mike, nor by David, their only son, away at college. Indeed, she had begun to doubt if she teas accomplishing anything worthwhile in her marital counseling at the Welfare Center, where she had built up a professional reputation as well as a good salary, and where she unexpectedly caught the eye of the wealthiest of the trustees. When she and Robert begin lunching together, the temptation to become lovers in the nearest hotel room is irresistible, and as the need for each other increases, Molly’s small and ordered universe is in chaos.
Miss Weingarten has a gift for characterization through talk. Molly’s struggle to hold her own in several unbearable situations is told in a series of duets, the most revealing that with her mother; then her blowup with her husband, in which Mike, the aggrieved partner, allows her no quarter; later, the showdown with Robert, in which her honesty forces her to the breaking point (“Men and women peak differently. It’s more diffuse for women. It takes them longer to get started, and longer to come down when they do get started, but once women are down, they’re down. Just like men. When an affair is over, it’s over. Dead”); and finally, her interview with Julia, the black and pregnant mother in that dreadful tenement on Essex Street, in which Molly proves to be as vulnerable as her client. Molly is on her way to Rome, as the narrative begins, to straighten things out by herself, and with these dialogues running through her head, Rome in its curious way proves to be a good cathartic, and the appalling loneliness she suffers abroad is enough to fly her home.
A novel about a dissatisfied wife sampling alternatives in midlife is not exactly news. Her most obvious possibilities are to switch from husband to lover, to try to rekindle her old man, or to fly the coop hoping that something better will turn up. The third choice is, of course, the biggest gamble. Unattached wives, like widows, have to work hard to keep in circulation—such is Miss Weingarten’s warning to women like Molly.