The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
by Margaret Laurence
Knopf, $7.95
I admire the novels of Margaret Laurence and not only because there is usually an able fisherman present. I admire her because of her affinity with the river life and the dusty prairie towns of her native Canada, because of her skill in characterizing those who defy poverty, and, in this strong new book, because of her superbly drawn young heroine, Morag Gunn, whose ambition to be independent and a writer dominates the story.
Morag’s parents are wiped out by infantile paralysis in the late 1920s when she is five and there is little left when the mortgage and funeral are paid off. The girl is taken in by Christie Logan, her father’s buddy in World War I, and his fat wife “Prin” (short for Princess). Christie, who has Mark Twain’s profanity, is the garbage man in Manawaka; the town gave him the job in pity for his shell shock. He collects what he wants from the dump, politely called The Nuisance Grounds, and cares not a damn that he reeks of the place and is looked down on by his neighbors. Manawaka was settled by Scots, descendants of those driven from Sutherland when the lairds enclosed the land, but the community long since has been stratified, and those who live on Hill Street, where Christie dwells, are the failures, on a level with the Indian half-breeds. In his cups Christie recalls the olden days when the clans were broken up and Piper Gunn, playing the battle music on his bagpipe, led the lost souls aboard ship bound for the New World, the first legend to fire the girl’s imagination.
Morag is tall for her age and when she appears in Prin’s madeover garments, she is the butt of the school. In order not to be noticed, she sits in the back row beside the dark lanky “Skinner” Tonnerre, half Indian and half French, and a rebel who appeals to her. Morag’s evolution is fascinating: her hunger for words and for books, her embarrassment at her ignorance, the help she gets from Miss Melrose, her English teacher, and finally her news stories for the local paper, such as the report on the flash fire which burns to death Skinner’s sister and her two children, give her confidence and the cash to go to the college at Winnipeg. Once there, after her infatuation with Brooke Skelton, her professor and husband-to-be, she begins to write.
In this stumbling, painful, persistent course Morag acquires her self-possession. The temper of her mind and her honesty win her friends along the way, a rowdy lot, only one of whom, the warmhearted Mrs. Gerson, reminds her of the mother she might have had. It is in the cards, after her prairie girlhood, that she must do her writing in the open, away from the prim and stultifying academic life of Toronto, where Skelton took a new position when they were married. And it is just as inevitable that her daughter Pique, who is illegitimate, will turn out to be as independent as her mother.
Morag is forty-seven when she begins to tell this story: she has published five novels, and her lover is dead. As she sorts through her memories and worries about her daughter, she seems to me an integrated and original being.
GETTYSBURG: The Final Fury
by Bruce Catton
Doubleday, $8.95
As Mr. Catton says in this lucid, exciting book, “The armies fought at Gettysburg because the roads led them there” on July 1, 1863. The Northern army was the first to arrive and had the luck and tenacity to grab the high points, Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and eventually, Big and Little Round Top. But General Robert E. Lee was the aggressor, fresh from his dazzling success at Chancellorsville where he and Stonewall Jackson had routed General Hooker at odds of 1 to 2. (Costly, for Jackson had been killed.) Now Lee had boldly invaded Pennsylvania to ease the strain on Virginia, to feed his cocky army on the rich farmlands, to worry Lincoln—and to maneuver for a second defeat of Joe Hooker which might keep the North off-balance for another year. He did not know that Hooker had been replaced by Major General George Gordon Meade, a stubborn fighter and unafraid.
For once, as Catton emphasizes, Lee was overconfident and imprecise. Everything was spring lamb and gravy at the outset: he made a swift getaway; the Union Army, he believed, was still south of the Potomac, and Lee soon had his soldiers grazing in a forty-five-mile arc while he waited for his victim to arrive. What worried him was the silence of the flamboyant “Jeb” Stuart. Stuart’s orders, which cannot have been firm, were to place his cavalry corps as an intelligence screen between Lee’s right and the approaching Federals—and plunder along the way. But the bluecoats got ahead of Stuart to the upper crossings of the Potomac; he never saw them and in his ignorance went gallivanting east and north burning bridges, scaring the natives—and for a crucial week out of touch with his C.O.! He wound up in Carlisle, a long, long ride from where the firing had begun at Gettysburg.
Having lost Jackson and mislaid Stuart, Lee was unwilling to accept Lieutenant General Longstreet’s proposal, at the end of the first indecisive day, that instead of pounding the heights, they circle around the Union’s left flank and strike at Meade’s rear. It was what Meade himself dreaded, but without cavalry Lee was “blind.” and had to gamble on the infighting.
Catton’s narrative, with the contemporary drawings and photographs, stirs one’s sympathies: the sway of assault and repulse is illuminated by such individuals as young Colonel Strong Vincent, commander of a brigade of Union infantry, who remarked that there could be a worse fate than to die here with the flag overhead—and lived up to his words in the desperate defense of Little Round Top. The mistakes stand clear, as when General Sickles, the Union “goat,” contrary to orders, descended to form a salient on the flat, and when clobbered, exposed the entire left flank in his flight. It was the quickthinking G. K. Warren, the best of Meade’s aides, who averted this near-disaster,
Meade was confident that, having failed on the flanks, Lee would attack his center, and he was right. Pickett’s charge was the final fury— and what a sight! A solid mile of 15,000 men . . . slashed red flags overhead, sunlight glinting off polished musket barrels—the flower of Lee’s army coming forward . . . with parade-ground formality. The infantry slugged it out and the dark blues had the high ground and were defending home soil. When the broken fragments of Pickett’s division drifted back down the slope, the fate of the Confederacy, already ruptured by Grant at Vicksburg, was sealed. As Catton well says, it was good for us that such unsurpassing courage should have been memorialized that autumn, after the bodies were buried, in Lincoln’s compassionate words.
by George Stevens
Viking, $5.95
John Mason Brown was a man of many gifts: he was an eloquent speaker and a penetrating critic, he was gregarious and heartily dedicated to this country which he traversed as eagerly as a missionary, year in, year out. Perhaps his greatest gift was for friendship: he loved people and he charmed them by his wit and thoughtfulness. How to capture these iridescent qualities is a problem for any biographer. For those who heard Brown lecture— their number must be astronomical—and for his intimates, this book will hold the echoes of a gay, irresistible spirit.
A loquacious Kentuckian (“What! A Brown paid for talking?” his aunt Mary exclaimed on hearing that John was paid to lecture), John was stagestruck from the age of eight and it was his good fortune that, at Harvard, Professor George Pierce Baker dissuaded him from trying to act and primed him to be a dramatic critic. A traveling fellowship and money from his ever-ready aunt gave him time to study the European theater. He and his close friend, Donald Oenslager, with insatiable eagerness saw every play— and opera —worth seeing from Scandinavia to Rome. This dates the beginning of John’s friendship with G. B. Shaw, his meeting in Paris with Copeau, and was the foundation of his career as a critic.
John’s earlier books, mostly collections of his reviews, do not reheat the imagination, though the good lines still sparkle: “Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra—and sank”; of Katharine Hepburn in As You Like It: “I cannot help feeling that she mistakes the Forest of Arden for the Bryn Mawr campus”; John “Gunther isn’t a name-dropper; he’s just a name-inhaler.” And he never hesitated to make a minority report, as he did in his disparagement of Abe Lincoln of Illinois and of T. S. Eliot’s stilted plays.
In his lectures he was peerless, but this book does not retrieve his magnetic quality, nor his exhaustion after weeks of one-night stands.
What released him from journalism was his unique assignment in the Navy from 1943 to 1944, broadcasting through the intercom of the flagship his impressions of the invasion of Sicily and then of Omaha Beach. Many a Watchful Night, in John’s words, “the story of the emotions of war,” was for me his best book, and it was followed by Through These Men, an emotional evaluation of political leadership. The great pity is that John’s strength was so dispersed when he began the laborious biography of Robert Sherwood, which became an albatross. This is a sad passage, one to be offset by his glowing letters to Cabot Lodge and Edith Hamilton.
The New York theatrical world is incurably sentimental, and when actors and critics start paying tribute, there is no stopping. The dinner they planned in honor of Shaw’s ninetieth birthday would have killed the old gentleman had he been present and it is a wonder the celebration at the Players Club in honor of John did not kill him. Just to read the list of those who extolled is exhausting, let alone having to listen to their plaudits. John caught some of this contagion in his latter years as he reached out for his friends.
LOCKED ROOMS AND OPEN DOORS by Anne Morrow Lindbergh Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $7.95
Anne Lindbergh’s Diary, of which this is the third volume, claims the reader with its vivid impressions, the portrait of her husband Charles, and her honest reaction to the inward pressure of her experience.
She begins in the winter of 1933 as she asks herself: “What has happened to the straight pole inside of me that was me? I want to feel it sticking up into my chest hard and bristling. I am like a sack that’s all fallen together. Where is that pole?” She was to find the pole again as the radio operator for her husband on a daring survey of weather conditions and possible landing sites for air service between Europe and America. They flew in the red Lockheed Sirius—it looks so fragile— which had been reconditioned after turning over in the Yangtze River. They left behind them reminders of their lost child, and were assured that their second son Jon was in safe hands. Throughout the five and a half months of hard flying, much of it in foggy, winter weather, Charles was pilot, navigator, and mechanic; during the more dangerous runs in the Arctic, Anne was in—and often out of—touch with their shepherd, the Pan American ship Jelling, to which they sometimes repaired for a hot meal and bath. Throughout the long voyage they were to live with strangers, so often, “in those small places [where] you drop right into the heart of their life.”
The natives of Greenland and Iceland respected their privacy, as did the polar bears and musk ox they spotted on the ice; not until they reached Copenhagen were there hurt feelings because of Charles’s refusal to appear at a public reception. Anne’s confidence in him was never shaken, though there were times when she nudged him to reassure him and he would not smile back. Charles was particularly irritated one midnight when they were sleeping in the plane and were awakened by a messenger from the shore with a telegram of welcome from “the Portuguese Baptist Convention in Lisbon.” In Sweden on a visit to his forebears’ homestead, the car they were riding in bowled over a boy and smashed his bicycle. Charles bought him a new one.
Not since Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars has anyone caught so well the excitement and trepidation of pioneer flight. It was fog which Anne loathed, and in their winter over Europe when fog was so often “right down to the ground,” she vacillated between her trust in Charles and a kind of uncontrollable physical terror, exaggerated by imagination. Like most diarists she is better in action than in repining.

Joseph Kanon, Edward Weeks, and Phoebe Adams contribute regularly to these pages.