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November 17, 1935 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1935-11-17

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EDNA HIS WIFE. By Margaret
Ayer Barnes. Houghton Mifflin.
VEIN OF IRON. By Ellen Glasgow.
Harcourt, Brace & Co. $2.50.
By T. E. Lawrence. Doubleday,
Doran. $5.00.
By Louis Bromfield. Blue Rib-
bon. $1.00.
Cather. Knopf. $2.00.
By Clarence Day. Knopf. $2.00.

Fishback Reneges In Poetry Of
Manhattan Morons And Mores

"His Wife Brews Pottage
Of Biographical Scraps

I TAKE IT BACK by Margaret Fish-
back. E. P. Dutton. $2.00.
The poet of the city streets, the
subway rush, the restaurants, and
the Manhattan skyscrapers has
caught and held in sparkling verse
bits of drama and romance which a
writer of the abstract tends to over-
look. Sometimes called the Maid of

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Established 1863

Manhattan, Margaret Fishback em-
bodies in her rhymes a feeling and
spirit which are unique. Whether
writing of shopgirls or diplomats,
government codes or riveters, the
author consistently maintains an un-
dercurrent of humor. And often
though sardonic, her sly thrusts do
not offend because of the truth and
cheerfulness with which they are
Like all of her volumes, I Take It
Back is not conspicuous by its size.
Never a prolific poet, Margaret Fish-
back has still attracted a large fol-
lowing of readers, who eagerly scan
the pages of metropolitan periodicals
in search of one of her verses. And
often it is a minute piece, but to her
devotees, biell worth the hunt. In
"Nothing Ventured" she becomes
philosophical and comes to a wise
conclusion in four lines:
"He who weds for love may find
The tender passion disinclined
To last; while he who leaps without
Will never have to fret about it."
Although she concerns herself
chiefly with New York,. Miss Fish-
back's appeal is catholic. Spontan-
eous and stimulating, her verse in its
qualities of wisdom and truth evinces
the force of a rare personality.

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CIRCLE. By Jessie Conrad.
Dutton. $3.75.
(tu The Engaisn Department)
For the reader who seeks informa-
tion concerning the genesis of Con-
rad's novels and stories, or intimate,
detailed portraiture of the distin-
guished men of letters who belonged
to the "circle" of his friends and ac-
quaintances, this volume of reminis-
cences by his wife is a considerable
She tells how, during their court-
ship, Conrad asked her to read aloud'
from the manuscript of An Outcast of
the Islands and was exasperated by
her English habit of eating her words.
She shows that it was largely as a
result of her precautions that Conrad,
in one of his darker moods, did not
destroy the only existing manuscript
of one of his finest novels, Under
Western Eyes. She sketches the ex-
periences on which were based The
Idiots and Suspense. There is little
more save merely incidental and for
the most part valueless references to
a few of them here and there. Of
his masterpieces, Lord Jim and Nos-
tromo, the first is referred to only
once and the latter not at all.
Many of the men of letters who
were Conrad's intimate friends, and
others who merely visited him, are
mentioned - John Galsworthy, Ste-
phen Crane, W. H. Hudson, Ford Ma-
dox Ford, Edward Garnett, Henry
James, Sidney Colvin, Norman Doug-
las, Cunningham Grahame, Frank
Harris, George Bernard Shaw, Ar-
hur Symons, H. G. Wells, E. V. Lucas,
Andre Gide, Valery Larbaud, to name
but a few.
There are complimentary as well
as amusing impressions of W. H.
Hudson and Henry James. Consider
the following one of James: "I was
very fond of this dear man, who was
so essentially a gentleman in every
sense of the word. I could read his
work, too, with very real pleasure, in
spite of his wordy and often ter-
ribly involved style. The following
little incident that took place near
his home in Rye is typical of this
habit of his. Some three or four little
girls caught his attention, and in his
most ingratiating manner he stopped
to talk to them. He began by pre-
senting each with some pence and
then proceeded to harangue them far
above their understanding. The kid-
dies at last flung the coins on the
ground and burst into loud sobbing

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before they ran away. I believe the
dear man was terribly distressed by
this." If there were more comment
of such revelatory nature on the
various members of Conrad's "circle,"
Mrs. Conrad's book would have
greater value for the literary critic
and historian, but passages like this
one are the exception rather than
the rule. When one thinks of all the
opportunities she had for intimate
observation of the individuals she
mentions, and of the conversations
she must have heard between them
and Conrad, one regrets that she did
not have more of the insatiable in-
terest in personalities and occasions
and ideas of a Boswell, and less of the
incurious, long-suffering patience and
efficiency of the good wife, the de-
voted mother, the resourceful house-
keeper, and the trained nurse to ar-
tistic eccentricity.
For the reader, on the other hand,
who likes to behold genius virtually
in a condition of undress and yet still
commanding respect, and who would
learn what it means to be the wife of
one, Mrs. Conrad's book is an ab-
sorbing, a somewhat surprising, a
tragi-comic, and an altogether human
The Conrad she portrays for us
bears out Branch Cabell's theory in
Special Delivery that "the elect writer
is not, and cannot afford to be, in any
mundane sense, rational." After a
brief courtship, Conrad proposed to
Jessie abruptly in the National Gal-
lery and insisted that they get mar-
ried at once on the three-fold ground
that the weather might change too
soon for the worse (a typical seaman's
reason), that he was sure he did not
have long to live (Conradian disen-
chantment with life), and that there

would be no family (Conrad, like his
major protagonists, in the grip of
illusion). The day after the wedding
he subjected her to the horrors of
seasickness by taking her for a six,
months' honeymoon (mostly devoted
to writing) on an island off Brittany
far removed from all the conveniences
of civilization.;
On their return to England, he left
her with insufficient funds to furnish
a jerry-built villa of his own erratic
selection, sent her exacting directions
as to how he was to be received on his
arrival, and then berated her sweep-
ingly on that occasion because of the
house she had chosen. He had a
mania for house-hunting, a kind of
phobia at feeling shut in (even on
the various comfortable English
farms where they resided), a horror
at any set date for the completion
of a manuscript, a persistent absent-
mindedness and impracticality, and
an imagination that frequently ran
wild, as on the occasion when he
spread the news of the suicide of a
young farm servant who had merely
gone to look for some lost hunting
dogs. When the Conrads visited Po-
land during the outbreak of the World
War - a visit that furnishes one of
the most interesting sections of Mrs.
Conrad's narrative - she realized
that his nationality as well as his gen-
ius was responsible for some of his
eccentricities. Incidentally, another
of his eccentricities was an admira-
tion for America and Americans as
a result of the reception accorded
him when he gave a reading from
Victory in New York in 1923.
If the literary artist cannot be ra-
tional, because - to quote Cabell
again - "he does not, in fine, with
the comparative temperance of Tom
o' Bedlam, call for a horse of air
to get him through this world, but
elects to drive a lean herd of phan-
toms tallyho," Mrs. Conrad convinces
us that the only sort of wife such
an artist can get along with is one
like herself. Her conception of her
role in Conrad's life is naively but
effectively summed up in the follow-
ing comment on one of his most
amusing exhibitions of eccentricity
and irrationality, "One could have no
doubt but that Joseph Conrad's seem-
ing carelessness in regard to the care
of his wallet was due to his constant
preoccupation with matters beyond
the ken of such an ordinary mortal
as his wife, but I maintain that one
commonplace parent is necessary, to
make existence in an ordinary world
possible." When one considers her
long sacrifice -how she served as
her husband's typist during his early
career, how she tried to preserve in-
violate his moods during his hectic
periods of creation, and how she cared
at all times for his material well-
being, his home and children, and all
this under the handicap of an afflic-
tion of the knees that necessitated
several operations and caused her
constant discomfort -one cannot
press any charge of philistinism
against her, but can only marvel
at her sportsmanship, her ,sense of

State Street at North University

humor, her courage, and her devo-
If Conrad could know how she
has stripped him of the armor of
his impassive, ironical detachment,
and reduced him to the more human
and childlike personality she calls her
"charge," and how rambling in con-
struction and slipshod in style her
account of him often is, he would
doubtless have recourse, with more
force than usual, to one of his fa-
vorite "damns." But also, one feels,
he would have to admit that she has
shown herself a good literary house-
wife in utilizing so many biographical
scraps and leftovers to produce a
plain but substantial and well-fla-
vored pottage of chronicle and gossip
that has its unique appeal and much
positive value as a supplement to
Jean Aubry's official Life And Letters.
Social Articles Brighten
Campus Literary
(Of The English Department)
The strength of Contemporary, en-
tering with this issue into its second
year of existence, lies in the range of
its critical articles. Two of these,
"Education and the Liberal Arts Col-
lege," by Marshall D. Shulman, a
junior, and "Social Values and Eco-
nomic Activities," by Richard Mattox,
winner of a minor Hopwood essay
award in 1935, are very much worth
the while of every serious student
on the campus. A third, "Nazi Rule
and German Literature," by Profes-
sor Norman E. Nelson, has the con-
siderable interest derived from its
author's first-hand acquaintance with
the German bookstalls of 1935. There
are included also reviews of T. E.
Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom,
E. E. Cummings' Tom, and Robert
Forsythe's Redder Than the Rose.
On the literary side the most im-
pressive material is some of the poetry
which won a Hopwood major award
in 1931 for Sue Bonner Walcutt, with
"Fantasy in Crystal" surely the most
memorable writing in the entire mag-
azine. Allan Seager's "Sevilla," a
Hemingway - Esquire-ish descriptive
sketch, very effectively catches the
appeal of a candle-light religious pro-
cession in romantically foreign Anda-
The fiction, despite one of Donald
B. Elder's Hopwood stories of 1935,
"Swede," is relatively inferior. To
this reviewer "Swede" does not ap-
pear to be as good a story as "A Row
of Bunk Cars," which won a fresh-
man prize for Mr. Elder and was
printed some time ago by the Alumnus
Quarterly Review.
Mr. Shulman's plea for a human-
istic education is the first thoughtful
appraisal by an undergraduate of the
concentration program which is just
now coming to full operation in the
Literary College. It is good to see
that the editors of Contemporary in-
vite their readers to contribute to
such discussion of the educational
system. If, as Mr. Shulman's article
suggests, the liberal arts colleges are
not attaining their objectives, if they
are being ground, as he and Norman
Foerster agree, between wasteful sec-
ondary schools and greedy graduate
schools, undergraduates who serious-
ly desire to be educated should do
some investigating. If, most partic-
ularly, the new concentration pro-
gram, which is requiring some ex-
tremely painful readjustments both
by students and by faculty, is pot
satisfactory to undergraduates, they
might well do some thinking and
even some acting about the matter.
Unfortunately, a reflection leads one
to the rather cynical conclusion that
Mr. Shulman's concern is not widely
Likewise, Mr. Mattox's sober and

only occasionally sarcastic examina-
tion of the relation between ethics
and economics should be a matter of
campus-wide interest. It is a skilful
and persuasive exposition of the left-
wing viewpoint, and the conclusion
it reaches ought to be faced by a
great many students. "The choice
before us today, if we really wish
to maintain moral integrity," writes
Mr. Mattox, "is between fleeing from
the world or building a new one."
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