The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
JENNIE: THE LIFE OF LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
The Dramatic Years 1895-1921
by Ralph B. Martin
Prentice-Hall, $8.95
As all the world knows, Winston Churchill inherited from his American mother, Jennie Jerome of New York, certain qualities, including what Theodore Roosevelt called “Bulldoggish-hang-onitiveness,” which are not found conspicuously in the Churchill line today. Her marriage to Lord Randolph Churchill was a Gibson Girl romance, bitterly opposed by his parents; to it she brought her “dark, full-figured beauty,” her wit, and an extraordinary political acumen with which she promoted her husband and later her eldest son. When it, was discovered that Lord Randolph was incurably ill with syphilis, their romance ended, but she nursed and defended him. In the lavish country houses where the Court circle spent their weekends, she had won the respect, sometimes the warmer emotions, of Lord Randolph’s peers, and in that discreet freedom of English society she now felt free to accept lovers, including the Prince of Wales, and the man dearest to her heart, the Austrian diplomat, Count Kinsky. She was equally charming to men and women, and she sailed without scandal at a time when, as Mrs. Patrick Campbell said, “It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”
This second volume of uninhibited biography, covering the years 1895 to 1921, shows Jennie as she rode the crest, passionate, versatile, and devoted in her concern for her young sons, Winston and Jack. As the biographer well says, she was a woman “of so many facets that it seemed she needed a variety of men to suit them.” After Lord Randolph’s death, she knew that she had also lost Kinsky, for he had made a marriage of convenience at his father’s insistence. During this lull, while she was recuperating in France, the tempestuous Bourke Cockran, congressman from New York, a famous orator, with money and gusto, strode into her life; and in their affair, which was never settled, she resisted marriage for years because it would have taken her away from London and the championship of her sons.
In her letters to and from Winston, what we have not seen before are the strings she pulled and the formidable influence she exerted in his formative years. She regarded his commission in the Fourth Hussars as a steppingstone to Parliament. She was as eager as he for publicity, and when he got into trouble, as he so frequently did, her letters to his commanding officers and to the Prince of Wales were little masterpieces of persuasion. Both she and Winston were extravagant, and as the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough had cut her oft, she ran her well-staffed house on Great Cumberland Place on £10,000 a year—and on loans she was able to engineer in various insurance offices. The debts
caught up with her, of course, and when they were in excess of £17.000 and had to be paid, Winston, in his early twenties, scolded her in one of the most delightful letters about extravagance I have ever read. But it is Jennie who sends him the eight volumes of Gibbon, twelve volumes of Macaulay. Plato’s Republic, Politics of Aristotle, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and twenty-seven volumes of the Annual Register to read in the heat of India. After his adventures in Cuba, Egypt (how Ford Kitchener tried to keep Winston out of that Expeditionary Force!), and the Boer War, it was Jennie who coached him for his first political speeches, who glossed over the impediment in his speech, his inability to pronounce the letter “s,” and Jennie who with her charm took the stump until he was elected.
Bourke Cockran had been Winston’s ideal as a speaker, and to Cockran Winston wrote after his escape from the Boers, “I am 25 today it is terrible to think how little time remains!” But to Jennie, at forty-six, age was a real adversary: she had launched her two sons—Jack, the younger, a quiet nonentity; she had raised the money for a hospital ship and sailed with it to South Africa; she had founded and edited that fantastic magazine, the Anglo-Saxon Review; and then she fell in love with a much younger man. George CornwallisWest, who was born the year she married Lord Randolph. She was bound that she would marry him, though all her friends and her sons disapproved. And she did.
The letters and the reminiscences are what give this book its special appeal. One remarks how sensibly the Prince of Wales advises both Jennie and her brash boy, and how accurately Winston characterizes himself, as a polo-playing Hussar made suddenly aware of books, “an empty, hungry mind, and with fairly strong jaws and what I got, I bit.”
WONDERLAND
by Joyce Carol Oates
Vanguard, $7.95
A novel of such intense thematic material and with such a baffling hero as Miss Oates has created is exceedingly difficult to judge, but I must acknowledge at the outset that the compelling power of Miss Oates’s prose and her utter absorption in what she is writing about continue to draw us deeper into her long and serious story. The theme is the chaotic, hard-driven, often merciless state of medical practice in America today, a theme so controversial that it will touch every family that has needed the emergency ward, psychiatric help, or one of the few remaining G.P.’s.
The man whose experiences exemplify the changes in medical emphasis is an orphan whose family had been wiped out when his father went berserk with a shotgun. Jesse Harte, a blond, skinny fourteen-year-old, had been wounded in the fray, but long after his shoulder healed he was emotionally numb. For a time he hardened his muscles working on his grandfather’s farm, and when he runs away from that odious place for temporary refuge with a kindly aunt and uncle, it is they who reluctantly commit him to an orphanage. Up to this point there has been hardly a trace of love in Jesse’s life, and there is hardly a trace more when he is adopted by Dr. Karl Pedersen. Dr. Pedersen is an avaricious psychiatrist with a large practice and hypnotic power over his patients. Intelligent, domineering, he has browbeaten his family into submission, and he is determined to educate Jesse as his assistant. The doctor’s practice and probing pervade every meal, and it is through his slave driving that Jesse begins his preparation for the University of Michigan.
When the boy is finally thrown out by the doctor, with a check for $1000. he has enough ability to make it on his own. The undergraduate years at Ann Arbor, concentrated in two pages, are the least persuasive part of the narrative, for these were the years of the Second World War when Jesse might have been drafted or at least had some feeling for the country. All we are told is that the boy had incurred debts and at twenty-one took his grandfather’s name of Vogel. Not until his last year at the Medical School does he find a friend in the eccentric pathologist, Trick Monk, a mistress in the pretty nurse, AnneMarie, and a hero in the Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Cady of Harvard. Cady had made his fame in medical research, but Jesse’s one visit to the pathology farm with its repulsive vivisection (Miss Oates at her blazing best) convinces him that his calling is
to treat people, and when he marries Helene. Dr. Cady’s daughter, he is all set for his internship in an emergency ward in a large Chicago hospital.
Tough-fibered, conscientious, unsparing, Dr. Vogel is not broken by the forty-eight-hour shifts, nor by the sterner tests he meets as his authority grows. And just as he had rebelled against the scheming and charlatanism of Dr. Pedersen in his youth, so in maturity Jesse is repelled by the vision of Dr. Perrault, who has been groping for the transplant of the brain. But at home, as at the hospital, he has become almost an automaton, and his lack of tenderness hastens the neuroticism of his wife and isolates him from his daughters. Long before the ending is reached, the reader is asking if this is the price one must pay for doctoring, and whether Jesse, with his stark strength and frozen feelings, is typical of his profession.
UP AND DOWN AND AROUND
by Cass Canfield
Harper’s Magazine Press. $8.95
In 1899 the revered firm of Harper & Brothers, suffering from a serious cash shortage, went into receivership, and would have expired had not J. Pierpont Morgan come forward with loans which kept the publishers in business. For the next thirty years Mr. Morgan’s picture hung in the board room above the president’s chair, and the man most responsible for liquidating those loans, and incidentally for the removal of the picture, was Cass Canfield, a native New Yorker, educated at Groton and Harvard, an indefatigable traveler with a nose for books and a capacity to drink and talk with authors until the dawn. He has estimated that his total consumption of hard liquor to date would fill a tank 10 x 13x2 feet and that his intake of wine would fill a small pond of the same depth but twice the area. In all this he is one of the shrewdest listeners I have ever known.
Up and Down and Around is a panoramic, often candid, fast-moving memoir by an avid publisher with a gusto for life; it had its origin in his record for the Columbia Oral History Program, and this he later amplified with the account of his friendships, his aspirations, and his captures. Like the good publisher he is, he would hatch an idea and then search for the right man to develop it. This he did with John Gunther, hounding the reporter to write Inside Europe (and all the Inside books that followed), despite John’s initial resistance. This memoir is studded with lively and important names, and it is impressive that Cass could have run down so many people in so many different fields. He does not sketch writers deftly, and while his own self-portrait is paramount, only those who come close to his affections like Gunther or Thornton Wilder, or a figure as striking as Leon Trotsky, whom he visited in Mexico City when Trotsky was working on his life of Stalin, are recalled with vividness.
Canfield began his uphill fight to restore the Harper imprint with a doggedness that never slackened: he would mail his business card together with an announcement of the Harper Prize Novel Contest to a dozen promising authors he coveted for his list, and when this tactic worked, as it did in the case of Thornton Wilder, who left Albert and Charles Boni for Harper’s after the success of The Bridge of San Luis Rey,Cass applied the same enticements to literary agents. He defends his lack of scruple by saying that “publishers in 1971 are more business oriented than they were . . . with the result that the tender feelings of competitors are largely ignored.” This may be true, but here he is speaking not as an editor whose work depends on loyalties but as a businessman.
As the Harper prestige grew, Cass gave less attention to editing and more to pursuit. Luck favored him, as when two unknowns, E. B. White and James Thurber, brought him their first collections of prose and drawings; and when he lost authors like George Orwell, for lack of time to read Animal Farm, he made up for it elsewhere. In his exuberant travels, which have taken him everywhere and which have yielded some of his liveliest passages, he was always listening for a clue to new writing, and with his charm and leather legs he often found it. In his war work, in his enthusiasm for Adlai Stevenson, in his presidency of Planned Parenthood. Cass was still the publisher on the trail. It disturbs me that he should have ignored a man who worked in close counsel with him for many years, the dedicated Frederick Lewis Allen, whose best book. Only Yesterday, helped to get Harper’s out of hock, and whose record as the editor of Harper’s magazine stands high.
FISH LESS DAYS, ANGLING NIGHTS
by Sparse Grey Hackle
Crown, $7.50
Sparse Grey Hackle is the nom de plume of Alfred W. Miller, one of the last of the great anglers who knew the tin trammeled trout streams of the Northeast before the Army Engineers began to dam and flood them. A companion of Edward R. Hewitt and George M. L. LaBranche and a welcome visitor to a score of camps, he distills in his reminiscences the lore and the friendship of half a century, the remembrance of those days when legs and heart were young, the sadness of seeing great pools demolished, and the everlasting fascination of discovering and proving the trout-lies in a new stream.
Fishless Days, Angling Nights is a medley of adventures, advice, descriptive pieces as perfect as his ”Night Fishing,”and tales of literary pursuit such as his quest of the now famous Theodore Gordon. All are told in a personal style,charged with unexpected similes, and full of the shrewd geniality which is his special brand of humor. I heartily commend this volume with its folio of enchanting illustrations for those who like to read and dream through the icebound months.