Sherwood anderson: a psychological



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SHERWOOD ANDERSON: A PSYCHOLOGICAL
NATURALIST

Unlike our earlier naturalists in handling of material and dra­
matic interests. Concerned with inner life rather than outer, with
hidden drives rather than environment. Accepts the main criteria
of naturalism: determinism, distortion, pessimism. A lean and
sparing writer whose symbolisms are obscure and puzzling.

single theme: the disastrous effect of frustrations and repressions


that create grotesques. Due to (i) Crude, narrow environment
that drives to strange aberrations; (2) Repressed instincts that
break forth in abnormal action. The consequence a black loneli­
ness-the hunger of fellowship and its denial. Limited in scope to
episodic crises-hence his better stories short. Many failures:
Marching Men; Windy McPherson's Son; Poor White (1920); Many
Marriages (1923)-a clumsy account of a Babbitt gone on a psy­
chological spree; Horses and Men (1923)-some more Grotesques;
see in particular "A Chicago Hamlet."

Winesburg, Ohio (1918). A prose Spoon River Anthology, with an
excellent collection of grotesques. Sharp vignettes; lonely, thwarted
lives, "confused and disconcerted by the facts of life." A back­
ground of earlier America, crude and ugly, that drives to religious
fanaticism in Steve Bentley; to passionate rebellion in Kate Swift;
to bitter irony in Ray Pearson. Note the deterministic conclusion
of "The Untold Lie"-"Tricked, by Gad, that's what I was;
tricked by life and made a fool of"; and the pessimism: . . . "he
shouted a protest against his life, against all life, against everything
that makes life ugly."

The Triumph of the Egg (1921). A strange and difficult book
with its subtle symbolisms. The theme is the common hunger for
romance and fellowship that confuses itself with sex and is un­
satisfied. Suggested in prefatory poem: "I have a wonderful story
to tell but know no way to tell it."

i. The Egg. An epitome of his philosophy of grotesques. The
egg breeds life that is futile, and life reproduces the egg. A morbid
disgust that would bottle the egg, and the failure.

The notes that follow are from the syllabus. Publisher.


370

SHERWOOD ANDERSON 371

2. Out of Nowhere Into Nothing. Theme is the "white wonder of
life"-what it is and the part it plays in sha-,ing life; a sex illusion
that in its mystic appeal to youth guarantees the perpetuation of the
race. To age there is no "white wonder," but thelife processes are
dirty, and lead to final imprisonment in a common trap. Hence the
"white wonder" is the supreme jest of nature, sardonic, beguiling,
gathering its victims who eagerly run their predetermined course.

3. Brothers. A suggestion of the true "white wonder of life"­
the brotherhood of man in a lonely world-" beyond words, beyond
passion-the fellowship in living, the fellowship in life." But men
cannot break through the walls of themselves to grasp it, and the
dirt of the world destroys its beauty. "The whole story of man­
kind's loneliness, of the effort to reach out to unattainable beauty,
tried to get itself expressed from the lips of a mumbling old man,

crazed with loneliness." "We have different names but we are


brothers." "Already I have written three hundred, four hundred
thousand words. Are there no words that lead into life?" See con­
clusion of "The Man in the Brown Coat."

A Story Teller's Story (1924). An attempt to lay bare the emo­
tional life of one seeking to be an artist in America; to plumb his
own consciousness, to escape from a world he hates. Such escape
comes from reaching down "through all the broken surface distrac­
tions of modern life to that old craft out of which culture springs."
He must pull himself free from a deadening and devastating routine
of an industrial society with its empty ambitions. And having
found his craft he finds a recompense in life. "I sang as I worked, as
in my boyhood I had often seen old craftsmen sing and as I had
never heard men sing in factories. And for what I had written at
such times I had been called unclean by men and women who had
never known me, could have no personal reasons for thinking me
unclean. Was I unclean? Were the hands that, for such brief
periods of my life, had really served me, had they been unclean at
such moments of service?" A stimulating and suggestive document
of modern life.

The note of determinism in Anderson expressed in two images,


the wall and escape-running to get away from what holds us fast.
But in running away from the old self to find a new, we carry the
old self with us. Anderson one of the three or four most important
men now writing fiction in America. Compare with D. H. Law­
rence.

NEW ROMANCE



The new romance and the new naturalism both spring from a
common root-hatred of the meanness and ugliness of modern
life; but romance seeks to evade and forget what naturalism ex­
amines curiously. It is a defense mechanism against things as they
are and springs from:

1. Disgust at the verisimilitude of naturalism that parades the


crude ugliness of life as if it were the reality. The dream more im­
portant than the fact, for our real existence is within the imagina­
tion, removed from material futilities, where we may satisfy our
hunger for beauty, for far-ranging adventure, for ideal existence.

2. The impulse to free creation. Real life overshadowed and


darkened by a sense of impotence; men are flies caught in the web
of circumstance. But in romance the will is unshackled and the
free imagination plays with time and space, shaping fate to its
liking in terms of beauty, dwelling in a world as we should like it
to be. Romance hence is the ideal cosmos of the ego.

3. The spirit of youth that has brooded over life and refuses to


abandon its dreams. The inevitable outcome irony, an undertone
of sadness, a recognition of the pessimism against which it desires
to be a defense. This the final note. So compare the Eros et mors of
old romance. . . .*

* Cabell omitted, as there is a fuller discussion of him given.-Publisher.



372

1917-1924

Introduction: With the entry of America into the war came a
sharp change in literary development. Regimentation due to war
psychology destroyed the movement of social criticism which dom­
inated fiction between 1903 and 1917. The liberal movement in
economics and politics came to an abrupt end, and the problem
noel ceased to be written. Almost overnight it became old-fash­
ioged. The year 1915 sterile., With the year 1919 began a new
literary period. Three major movements:

t. A resurgence of naturalism, inspired by psychology rather


than by economics, with a tendency to impressionism in handling:
represented by Sherwood Anderson.

z. A new romanticism, seeking ideal beauty as a defense against


reality and emerging in irony: represented by James Branch Cabell.
3. A new criticism: A revolt of the young intellectuals against
the dominant middle class-its Puritanism, its Victorianism, its
acquisitive ideals: represented by Sinclair Lewis.

THE SMALL TOWN IN FICTION

the first expression of the new literature. Chiefly a middle­
western development-and a late phase of the literature of the
local. A reaction from the "economic city," with its centralizing
economics, which dominated the problem novel. Two antagonistic
interpretations: (1) The romantic small town, or the theory of a
kindly, democratic world; (z) The realistic small town, or the
theory of a petty, competitive world.

1. The Romantic Interpretation of the Small Town. A hold-over
from an earlier period. Derives from Riley; elaborated and de­
fended by Meredith Nicholson, The Valley of Democracy (i91S).
According to this theory the middle-western village is: (i) A land
of economic well-being, uncursed by poverty and unspoiled by
Wealth; (z) A land of "folksiness"-the village a great family in its
* From the syllabus. Publisher.

' For a statement of the reaction of a young intellectual to the war, see Randolph
Bo4tne, Untimely Papers, 1919.

373



ADDENDA

1917-1924 375

neighborliness, friendliness, sympathy; (3) Primarily middle-class,
and therefore characteristically American, wholesome, and human
in spite of its prosaic shortcomings; (4) The home of American
democracy, dominated by the spirit of equality, where men are
measured by their native qualities.'

WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE: A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER

Product of middle-class, Puritan Kansas. Dominated by senti­
ment, believes in the essential fairness of men. Two major ideas:
(I) Belief in the excellence of western village life; (2) Fear lest this
life be submerged by industrialism. A romantic and political Pro­
gressive. Formulated his political theory in The Old Order Changeth
(19Io)-thesis, that America is changing from representative
republicanism to democracy. The problem is to make business
honest. Not an intellectual. His plots resemble Thackeray's­
leisurely, gossipy, confidential asides, a large canvas, many figures,
a long period of time. His attitude admirably expressed in Emporia
and New York (I9o6).

f4t the Court of Boyville (1899). The romance of youth set against
the background of the small town. A world of dreams and loveli­
ness: adventures that await beyond the horizon; the glory of pig­
tails and overalls. The democracy of the vacant lot: rivalry in
marbles and hand-springs-the leadership of the capable. Sincerer
work than Tarkington's Penrod. Contrast with Garland's Son of
the Middle Border, and Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.

A Certain Rich Man (igo9). His plunge into the problem novel.
Theme: fear of the economic city that draws the villager into its
web. A contrast between the two worlds and two social ideals-the
friendly democracy of the older America threatened by economic
centralization.

In the Heart of a Fool (I9i 8). One of the last of the problem novels.
Theme-the invasion of the small town by industrialism and the
disintegration of village virtues. The story of an idealist who op­
poses the ends of Main Street and his destruction by the herd.
A suggestion of Sinclair Lewis. The conclusion-the excellence
of love and the foolishness of selfishness. The background
characters, studies in the reaction of the older ideal to the new
egoism.

s For a criticism of Nicholson, see Randolph Bourne, The History of a Literary
Radical, p. 128.

BOOTH TARKINGTON: THE DEAN OF AMERICAN MIDDLE-CLASS LETTERS
Possesses the virtues of cleverness, optimism, humor, respect­
ability. Honors all the Victorian taboos. Life is an agreeable
experience-to the successful, hence it is well to rise. His chief
theme, middle-class romance as exemplified in the "valley of
democracy": courtship of nice young people through the agencies
of parties and picnics. A skillful writer, with a light touch, but his
art destroyed by love of popularity-a novel ends well that ends
happily. A perennial sophomore, purveyor of comfortable litera­
ture to middle-class America.3
The Gentleman from Indiana (1899). A dramatization of the
"good, dear people" theme. The college man who goes back to
his people to live and work with them. A satisfying life results
from merging individual life in the common village life. A flabby
and somewhat saccharine philosophy.


Jlice Jdams (1921). The story of an instinctive actress and her
competitive struggle for social position and a man. A clever, at­
tractive, lovable girl defeated by her background-led into foolish
little deceits to keep up appearances-victim of middle-class
conventionality. Shabby parlors versus conservatories as settings
for proposals. The Adams family has fallen behind their acquaint­
ances in the business of rising in the world, and Alice sinks to a
lower social scale. An overrated book.

The Midlander (1923). A contribution to booster literature and
an unconscious satire on the emptiness of the middle-class mind.
A real-estate venture and what came of it. The conception that
"man is a wealth-and-comfort-producing machine." Supposed to
be tragedy, but the tragedy lies in preferring the imported to the
domestic article-choosing a New York girl instead of a local one.
The suburb thrives, the automobile business goes forward, and
the gods of getting on smile in the end .4
The other numerous titles of Tarkington signify nothing except
to lovers of comfortable literature. The clever Hoosier has ceased
to be an artist-the great failure in contemporary American fiction.


DOROTHY CANFIELD (FISHER)



A clever dramatizer of the obvious: believes in the Woman
Triumphant, and discovers in the right education of children­
particularly girls-the solution of all problems. Two main themes:
3 See Mr. Cabell's criticism in Beyond Life, pp. 301-307.
4 For a review see the Nation, March 19, 1924.

ADDENDA

I. A protest against the demands of "social life." The Squirrel
Cage (1912). A contribution to the problem novel. A William
Morris suggestion of the sufficiency of handicraft as an escape from
social demands. An arraignment of the American home where the
father scarcely knows the children and the mother is shut away
from the outside world.

The Bent Twig (IgI5). A study of university community life­
the struggle between plain living and high thinking-of social
pleasure and no thinking.

2. The defense of the village. The belief that community


fellowship-a gathering to watch a century plant bloom-breeds
an artistic spirit finer than old-world art and culture can offer.
Especially a Vermont town is ideal for the proper bringing up of
children. The Brimming Cup (19zo). A story of the right bringing
up of children. Rough Hewn (1922). The love of art and travel
which leads inevitably to a Vermont town and marriage. Raw
Material (1923). Sketches. The point of view given in "Paul
Meyer"-the folly of thinking that a normal girl should prefer
philology to matrimony.

THE REALISTIC SMALL TOWN AND THE NEW
NATURALISM

The work of the younger intellectuals, more disciplined than the


muckrakers, with wider culture and severer standards. Concerned
for civilization, the things of the spirit, a free creative individual­
ism, rather than political liberalism. A searching criticism of the
triumphant middle class, its ideals and its habitat, the town and
city; the repressive tyrannies of its herd mind; the futility of its

materialism. Back of the novelists is a group of essayists, young


critics of established ways: Van Wyck Brooks, Ludwig Lewisohn,
Randolph Bourne, H. L. Mencken. They embody a reaction from:
(I) The acquisitive ideal of a machine civilization. (2) "The great
illusion of American civilization, the illusion of optimism"-the

staple of middle-class business morale. (3) The sentimentalism of


"comfortable literature," that evades reality and weakens the
intellectual fiber. (4) The inhibitions of a Puritanism that has lost
its sanctions. (5) The White-Tarkington doctrine of the "beautiful
people" and "folksy village."

The movement began with Masters's Spoon River flnthology



1917-1924

377

(1915). An earlier work is E. W. Howe's Story of a Country Town
(1883):-stark, grim, unrelieved, revealing the "smoldering dis­
content of an inarticulate frontier."

ZONA CALE-THE TRANSITION FROM ROMANCE TO REALISM

I. Friendship Village romance. The Loves of Pelleas and Etarre


(1907). Everyone is helpful, everyone loves, or wants to, or is
unhappy for lack of it. Friendship Village (1908). A world where
there is no sorrow, or sickness, and where brotherly love rules.
Of the "folksy" school.

II. The shift to realism. Miss Lulu Bett (i92o). A homely village


tragedy of the repressed soul that rebels under the irritation of
domestic pin-pricks. Plebeian characters, thin, cheap, tiresome;
set in a shoddy world and rubbing each other's nerves. Deacon
Dwight a sadist; Miss Lulu a grotesque. Treated from the outside
in contrast with Sherwood Anderson's method. Faint Perfume
(1923). A glorification of martyrdom. The conviction that life is
hard, and the excellence of the economy of pain. A partial return
to the Friendship Village note, but like Miss Lulu Bett in the picture
of a self-worshiping family.*

DONN BYRNEt

American born but Irish bred. His early work, The Stranger's


Banquet (1919), half problem novel-industrialism-which offered
little scope for the Celtic wistfulness in which he conceives romance
to lie.

Messer Marco Polo (1921). The romance of distant times and
places, of unfamiliar backgrounds and lovely worlds: medieval
Venice and its pageantry; a far quest over burning sands; the
loveliness of little Golden Bells at the court of Kubla Khan; the
ardor of love that tangles itself in religion. A wistfulness and
beauty of phrase that remind one of Synge's Riders to the Sea.
The loveliest romance of recent years.5

The Wind That Bloweth (1922). A rich fabric-Gaelic folk; the
woman of the boulevard; the white sun-baked road to Damascus;
* Sinclair Lewis omitted, as fuller material has been given.-Publisher.

f From the third section in the syllabus, which deals with "A New Romance."­


Publisher.

s See Cabeil's review of Messer Marco Polo in Straws and Prayer-Books, pp. 52-59•


The writer's full name is Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne.

ADDENDA


the fire of revolution; the crack of cordage as the ship rounds the
Horn-a saga of the unquiet heart.

The Changeling (1923). Short stories of quaint places, forgotten


people; the Bible and love of Ireland. Done with excellent crafts­
manship.

Blind Raftery (1924). A tale of a blind harpist in Dean Swift's
Ireland and of his wife, Hilaria, who sings the song of the women
of the streets in Cadiz. Life teaches them a philosophy expressed
by the harpist in these words: "We sit a little while by ourselves
in an apart, dark place, and we learn truths, of how certain things
one believes to be good are but vulgar selfish things, and how
certain things the small think evil are but futile accidents. And
we learn to be kind; such wisdom comes when we are dead. And
those who have never died in life . . . are pleasant shallow people,
soulless as seals."

ROBERT NATHAN

Began like Donn Byrne with a problem study-Peter Kindred
(1919). A dual personality cut asunder and embodied in two char­
acters: David the romantic fades out of the story, and Peter
becomes a modern, absorbed in eugenics. A background of Phillips
Exeter and Harvard.

Autumn (I92I). An idyll of loneliness, with a commentary on


materialism, done in simple, wistful language.

I. Mr. Jemmy, a village philosopher, disciple of Boethius and


St. Francis, half pagan and yet Christian. Troubled over the
poverty of the world that does not amass "love, peace, the quiet
of the heart, the work of one's hand."

2. A village background. Mr. Jeminy wished to teach the chil­


dren the secret of happiness instead of the folly of plus and minus,
and was turned out of his school. An echo of Main Street in its
commentary on village narrowness, hardness, gossip. A frigid
Puritanism that disapproves Mr. Jeminy for speaking disrespect­
fully of God and denies happiness to Mrs. Wicket who is under
God's sentence of unhappiness.

3. A note of determinism. A world of grotesques-all are


hemmed in and cramped, longing for fresh experience and strange
adventures, all are unhappy. So Aaron Bade with his flute and his
"awkward thoughts and clumsy feelings." Margaret Bade with
her conviction, "Life is so much spilt milk"; Farmer Barly with his

1917-1924 379

commentary, "Folks are queer crotchets"; Anna Barly with her
yearning for the "white wonder of life" and the trap. An indict­
ment of New England for its destruction of natural happiness and
the simple joy of life.

4. A profound irony. The end of Mr. Jeminy's hopefulness is


disillusion. "Here within this circle of hills, is to be found faith,
virtue, passion, and good sense. In this valley youth is not without
courage, or age without wisdom." The outcome disproves this
faith. Of his many pupils, "Not one is tidy of mind, or humble of
heart. Not one has learned to be happy in poverty, or gentle in
good fortune." Life as a whole is futile. The dead alone can ask
God the meaning of life. "But for us, who remain, it has no mean­
ing." The tale is Robert Frost done in prose-compare "Mending
Wall."

The Puppet Master (1923). The most graceful fantasy in Ameri­


can literature. Papa Jonas, the puppet creator and master, watches
the love of Annabelle Lee, a rag doll with shoe-button eyes, and
Mr. Aristotle, a red-nosed, philosopher-clown puppet; and of
Mary Holly and Christopher Lane, the poet. The theme is love­
"Love is a man's soul: it does not grow like his hopes, it does not
break like his heart. . . . But love goes by after a while." Papa
Jonas is Mr. Jeminy, converted to the Stoic philosophy but lacking
love. The note of determinism persists, but the Stoic attitude over­
comes. "Yes," he said slowly, "one must make the best of what
one has."

JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER: A SOPHISTICATED ROMANTIC

Began as a painter. After fourteen years' apprenticeship was
accepted by the Saturday Evening Post, and began a career in
popularity that rivals Tarkington's. Possesses the virtues and
vices of the Post school. In earlier work a colorist, painting statu­
esques against artfully arranged backgrounds; a connoisseur of
fabrics and poses and nature settings-nearly as "much concerned
with the stuffs as with the stuff of life." In Cytherea the setting a
sophisticated manipulation of the theme, as the hot Cuban night
in Cobra with its naked primitive passions. A dabbler in psy­
chology that develops into a crude Freudianism, particularly in
Cytherea. Always a hint of artistic insincerity; something of a
poseur yet a sensuous artist nature. His gorgeous prose style spotty
and streaked by amazing crudeness.

ADDENDA


The Three Black Pennys (1917). A study in the breaking out of
willfulness in successive generations, set against a background of
the history of iron-making in Pennsylvania. An elaboration of
Tubal Cain. An anticlimax arranged for dramatic significance,
suggesting the decay of romance in a hundred and fifty years of
American industrial development. The first episode is Herge­
sheimer at his best. Howat Penny a study in moods that make
him "angry at life"; but swept on by the will to possess. Ludowica
Winscomb embodies a favorite theme-the suggestion of an older
culture contrasted with the crude American reality. So compare
Taou Yuen.

Linda Condon (1919). A study in the decay of surface beauty­
an empty form caught in the web of a shallow mother and the
demands of stronger natures, but preserved by lack of emotional
concern. Handled skillfully, with a somewhat forced unity symbol­
ized by Linda's straight black bang; but the story leaves one with
a sense of unconcern for Linda and her fate. The ending melo­
dramatic. Note Van Doren's curious comment-" nearly the
most beautiful American novel since Hawthorne and Henry
James."

Java Head (1919). The story of an exotic that languishes in an
uncongenial habitat. A contrast in backgrounds: the romance of
old Salem in the days of the clipper ship; the romance of a far older
East that makes Salem seem raw and crude. Taou Yuen a decora­
tive lay figure, with aristocratic suggestions beyond anything the
West knows. The dramatic significance of opium, that hangs like a
pall over the East and brings degeneration and death to Puritan
Salem. The end with its cheap love adventure, a conscious satire
on western life. Hergesheimer's best work. A romantic atmos­
phere got without archaic trappings of speech and manners; never­
theless makes much of costume.

Balisand (1924). A romance of a Virginia Federalist in the days
of the Revolution and after. A rich background of plantation life,
with a touch of somewhat cheap mysticism. Of the school of
Washington rather than Jefferson. A better work than The Bright
Shawl or Cytherea.

His other titles signify little. Yet see the Saturday Evening Post


for a series of furniture stories. Characteristic of his concern for the
"stuffs of life." See in particular, "Mahogany" (Vol. 195, no.

1917-1924 381

53, January, 1923); "Pewter" (Vol. 196, no. 23, January, 1924);
"Oak" (Vol. 196, no. 3, July, 1923 ).s

IV
CERTAIN OTHER WRITERS

EDITH WHARTON-THE GENTEEL TRADITION AND THE NEW
PLUTOCRACY

A temperamental aristocrat, endowed with keen intelligence and


ripe culture. Observes the ways of a wealthy society without cul­
ture and unconcerned with standards. A protest against the
domination of the middle class. Mrs. Wharton isolated in America
by her native aristocratic tastes. The older New York society
without real distinction, bound by convention and with middle­
class concern for respectability; the new society a vulgar plutoc­
racy; outside both a pushing nouveau-riche class eager to climb.
Hence she turns to the authentic aristocracy of Europe for satis­
faction of her genteel tastes. In spirit she belongs to the ancien

regime. The highest law of society is convention, but it must be
noble, not vulgar.

The House of Mirth (1905). A story of New York's gilded society,
and how it served one of its daughters. Lily Bart, trained for
social leadership in a plutocracy, a finished and costly parasite,
seeking a market for her beauty, yet restrained by instinctive
refinement from seeing the game through. Lacking money she is
caught in a web of convention and destroyed. In her world conven­
tion is the social law, and the tragedy flows from her inability to
rise above it or to keep it wholly. The contrast between Selden
and Trenor-the aristocrat and the plutocrat-characteristic of
Mrs. Wharton.

Ethan Frome (IgII). A dramatization of the "narrow house"
theme life held relentlessly in the grip of poverty and duty. A
bleak and joyless existence that seeks escape and suffers lingering
tragedy. Thereafter a stern isolation and iron repression. Mrs.
Wharton's finest work.

The Custom of the Country (IgI5). A study of the social climber.
The best of a series of novels satirizing the encroachments on New
York exclusiveness by the rising plutocracy and its daughters. The
western plutocracy of pork presumably more vulgar than the

s For a striking characterization of Hergesheimer, see The Bookman, May, 1922.


For an appreciation, see Cabell, Straws and Prayer-Books, pp. 195-221.

382 ADDENDA



eastern plutocracy of Wall Street, yet between them the older
gentry crushed. So compare Boyesen, Social Strugglers (1893);
Robert Grant, Unleavened Bread (1900). Undine Spragg, like
Selma White, pushing, heartless, vulgar, showy, is set over against
Ralph Marvell, a refined "dabbler with life"; Peter Van Degen,
the "plunger"; and Elmer Moffatt, the self-made man. She em­
bodies all that Mrs. Wharton most hates; all climbers are vulgar,
she believes, both men and women.

The Jge of Innocence (192o). A study of the older world of the
eighteen-seventies. A loving yet satirical picture of a Pharisaic
society, "wholly absorbed in barricading self against the un­
pleasant"; that lives secluded, protected by its taboos, and fears
reality. A sterile world of clan conventions and negations; a
decadent Victorianism. The Van der Luydens of Skuytercliff' are
of the same stuff as the Dagonets in The Custom of the Country;
and the dilettante Newland Archer is another Ralph Marvell. Into
this dead world enters Ellen Olenska with her vivid old-world
experiences, who threatens to rebel, yet finally yields to the clan
taboos. The book fades out like the lives of the Van der Luydens.
An admirable work.

Old New York (1924). Four carefully done tales that sketch
New York in the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies. A return to
her best manner, with the finish of The flge of Innocence.

Her other later work not important. Glimpses of the Moon (1922)


inconsequential; and J Son at the Front (1923)-an attempt to
document the reactions of an artist with a son in the army-only
half successful.

Mrs. Wharton a finished artist who grasps her material firmly;


an intellectual attitude, delighting in irony. Unaffected by the
problem novel, and schools of naturalism or romanticism. Not a
thinker like Cabell, whose irony springs from an imagination that
contemplates man in his relation to cosmic forces, but an observer
whose irony springs from noting the clash between men and social
convention. The last of our literary aristocrats of the genteel
tradition. Her attitude expressed in the words, "Je suis venue trop
tard dans un monde trop vulgaire."

WILLA CATHER: EPICS OF WOMEN

The Middle Border of Hamlin Garland seen through different
eyes. She looks back lovingly to a pioneer West, as the cradle of

1917-1924

383

heroic lives. An epic breadth of prairie spaces and industrious
years, with a note of regret-Optima dies prima fugit. Against this
background she sets her immigrant women, with their vigor and
wealth of life, and considers how the West has dealt with them.
Peasant heroines, with their strong natures hidden under queer
speech and garb, set in a waste of wild red grass, bitter winters,
burning summers, virgin soil and great loneliness. A long-ignored
theme-the lot of the immigrant who has come on a desperate
adventure the struggle of their children with the soil. Compare
The jungle, for the industrial exploitation of the immigrant.

Has matured slowly. The Troll Garden (19o5), and ~41exander's


Bridge (igio), are inconsequential. Her real work done late.
Belongs to no school. Is neither naturalistic nor romantic. Is
unconcerned with problems. Except for a single attack on the
ugliness of the small western town-"The Sculptor's Funeral" in
The Troll Garden-she ignores middle-class America and its
Main Streets. An individual artist, sincere, capable; an excellent
craftsman.

0 Pioneers (1913). The story of Alexandra Bergson, a daughter
of the Middle Border; calm, tenacious, capable; loving the soil
and bringing it to abundant productiveness. The new world had
brought out diverse qualities in the Swedish peasant family; the
older brothers common, dull, vulgarized by Americanization; the
younger brother suggestive of the better side of American oppor­
tunity. Alexandra the directing mind and controlling will. Over
against her is set the Bohemian Marie Tovesky, childlike in her
spontaneous enthusiasm. The tragic ending handled with great
skill. Thrown about the whole, a harsh Nebraska countryside
through changing periods. One who had not lived through similar
experiences and loved the memory could not write SO.

The Song of the Lark (1915). The story of Thea Kronberg, who
by virtue of fierce energy and iron strength rises to triumph. as an
artist. There are no romantic stage-effects, only the passionate
struggle of a tenacious will. Thea a peasant nature of vast solidity.
The most convincing story of artist life written by an American.
A changing background: the mean little Colorado town, the
loneliness of Chicago, Europe, the great spaces of the Southwest.

My Jntonia (1918). The story of Antonia Shimerda: an opulent
peasant nature with strong mother instinct, thwarted by meager
opportunities and vulgar environment. Her life runs a narrow


round: the early pioneer experience with its loneliness and black
tragedy; the town experience of the hired girl, who lives eagerly;
the later life of a hard-working mother on a lonely farm. Antonia
"a rich mine of life like the founder of early races," loving, gener­
ous, eager, yet belonging to the soil. To vulgarize such natures by
cramming them into a conventional mold, passes for Americaniza­
tion-this the implied thesis.

One of Ours (1922). The story of Claude Wheeler, with strength
imprisoned by a society that opens its opportunities to Main Street
natures like Bayliss Wheeler. A suggestion of naturalism in the
handling of the theme: Claude caught by the negative character
Enid Royse because he fails to appreciate the complementary
strength of Gladys Farmer-a true Cather woman, enmeshed in
Gopher Prairie. A futile, ironical ending: better to die in battle
than be destroyed by the pettiness of Gopher Prairie. The war
atmosphere seems curiously old-fashioned.

The Lost Lady (1923). A change of theme. The story of Mrs.
Forester, an embodiment of traditional feminine charm, quite
superior to such incidents as age or loyalty-a type of woman out­
side Miss Cather's experience and understanding.*

V

The late war the first in our history that has produced an after­
math of searching criticism in fiction or drama. The romantic
note dominant in all earlier accounts, particularly of the Revolu­
tion and the Rebellion. Such stories written by men who took no



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