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May 11, 1940 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-05-11

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"Get him, Bo! Sic him, Bo! Get
him boy!"
The dog was already tense. He sprang
out at full speed. Edgar looked back
and saw him and doubled his pace. The
gang looked from Mack to Edgar, still
guffawing. Edgar stumbled going up a
curb and kicked off a sandal without
losirEg a step. But the dog was on
him. The gang held their sides and
lau-hed themselves hoarse as Edgar
slapped at the dog and broke away. Bo
ripped the pants and dove for a new
grip. Edgar kept running. Bo grabbed
the pants again and tore out a chunk.
Edgar pushed him off and kept running.
The dog hesitated a moment, then
wheeled around and galloped back with
the green rag in his mouth.
Mack had got up off the ground and
was laughing with the rest. He paused
between bellows to shout, "See those
green pants. That's a white boy with
powerful dirty cheeks!"
Everybody was still laughing. Every-
body except Joe. He looked where the
sandal had fallen in the gutter. He
watched the green pants with the black
showing through the seat. He watched
the green pants move up the railroad
embankment and disappear down, the
other side.
THE HAMLET by William Faulk-
ner. Random House, New York
most prodigious and perenially pro-
mising major novelist, has a new book
out, as you probably know. The Ham-
let has been selling almost phenomen-
ally; I am at a complete loss as far as
any explanation is concerned for large
sale. This is not to say that The Ham-
let is a terribly bad book, but it is to
say that large sections of it are as in-
comprehensible as anything Faulkner
has ever done.
I want to discuss the prose first. In
February. 1939, I wrote a review of
Faulkner's last (and very fine) novel,
The Wild Palms, for Perspectives, and
I said that his prose occasionally "re-.
sembles the awkward shoutings of a
juvenile blowhard." That may not have
been too well put, but it covered the
situation. Unfortunately, Faulkner's
juvenile shoutings- seem to have devel-
oped (and it is perfectly obvious that
the seeds were present in- his earlier
books) into a ,kind of studied obscur-
ity. The, long, oratorical, fake-poetic
sentences-have mushroomed into mon-
strous growths-you :will find them in
Absalom, Absalom! -- which seem to
have been worked up for the express
purpose of mystifying you, of bluffing
you into thinking that something tre-
mendous is going on, when in reality
Faulkner is merely telling you that an
idiot boy has fallen in love with a
cow. Actually.
The part of the section entitled The
Long Summer- which deals with the
idiot boy's affair with the cow is abso-
lutely inexcusable; is is as meretricious-
ly shocking as anything Faulkner has
ever done, and he has done plenty. But
in his earlier novels he was trading in
ghoulishness and assorted abnormal-
ities for the artistic purpose of extend-
ing the horrors of modern civilization
to their logical culmination. In The
Hamlet he is not pointing the "moral"
that he arrived at in The Wild Palms

and; to a lesser degree perhaps, in
Sanctuary; he is simply describing life
in a small southern community some
fifty years ago (which I frankly did
not realize until I was most of the way
through the book), and he is also telling
the life story of one Flem Snopes, who
is destined to be immortalized in an-
other two novels. I cannot therefore
find any esthetic justification for the
idiot sequence. The town of French-
man's Benda would be as completely
drawn without it. So would the Snopes
But I do not want to leave the im-



'age Elevens

46 v A.A k-r A 9

)KaI'qee4 ,lh4' IJareprcpna

Lewis. Doubleday, Doran, New
WELL, remember the book I men-
tioned in my last letter-BETH-
EL MERRIDAY? A nice name,
isn't it? Sort of different and distinc-
tive! But that's the way this man Mr.
Lewis is. He likes to dabble with nice
names, and makes things interesting
that way.
Since I acted Anya in our school play,
I've been reading a lot of books about
the theatre, and plays. Very exciting
and interesting. So I wanted to read
this one. Bethel Merriday! The most
recent book by Sinclair Lewis, the au-
thor of Arrowsmith, and Babbitt, and
Main Street! The novel of the young
girl in the theatre! The booksellers in
town sent out the nicest announce-
ments about it, printed in red. So'I
wanted to read it. And of course you
know that this Mr. Lewis won a Nobel
Prize. That's the, prize given in a for-
eign country when you're very great at
something. Great people scare me a
little. Like one of our professors here
who's so aloof and strict-looking.
But it was only until I started read-
ing. Really, it's not like the book of a
man who would win a foreign prize. It's
almost like something you'd read in a
magazine you'd buy.
Of course Mr. Lewis is different. He's
got a lot of tricks and ways of putting

things. Technique, as they call it in
English 31. He likes to be very realistic.
So he keeps track of things like the
weather, and what time you wake up,
and how many suits of clothes you have,
and all that. It makes things interest-
ing, sort of unusual; And he likes to
play with names. That's another trick
of his. Oh, he's tricky all right. There's
Mr. Roscoe Valentine, a director; and
Mahala Vale. and Iris Pentire, and Zed
Wintergeist. Those are the ones I re-
member. But they are unique, aren't
they? Maybe you don't like them, but
you won't forget them. And, incidental-
ly, if enough women read this book,
don't you think maybe there will be a
lot of baby girls named Bethel?
Well, Bethel Merriday lives in a city
of 127,000 in Connecticut. That's one
of Mr. Lewis' details. And since she
was a little kid she's been an actress.
Once when she was walking along the
street with her mother, she began to
walk like an old lady ahead of her.
She liked to make believe. Even then
she showed indications of becoming an
an actress. She was born to it, I sup-
pose, like Katherine Cornell, and Helen
Hayes, and Bette Davis, and the Dead'
End Kids. I hope I was born to it, too.
Cross your fingers.
She went to a little college for women
in Connecticut and did dramatics there.
Then she went to spend a summer with
the Nutmeg Players, a summer com-
pany. There she learned a lot about


the theatre and met the two big -mom-
ents -of her life: Andrew Deacon and
Zed Wintergeist. Andy was very rich
and put up a lot of money to keep the
Nutmeggers going. And Zed came up
to visit from the rival company down
the shore. They were established on
Long Island sound in Connecticut.
Bethel played a couple of roles, but
wasn't very much in anything. That
summer cost her father $425, which in-
cluded room and board and experience.
Her father let her have $25 a week
to live on while she was in New York
looking for a break on the stage. Even-
tually Andy, the god with the check-
book-he did have a lot of money-de-
cided to do a modern-dress version of
Romeo and Juliet-remember Shake-
speare 159?-and Bethel gets a small
part in it. Andy finds Bethel is a
good influence on him and keeps her
around. Zed plays Mercutio and
there're Mahala Vale and Iris Pentire
around too. Bethel is made understudy
to Mrs. Lumley Boyle, who, is middle
aged but who is playing Juliet anyway.
Well, the old stars did it.
Of-course you'd like Juliet to be played
by Bethel, but Mr. Lewis is too realistic
for that This isn't that kind of a fairy
Anyway, the play doesn't do so well.
They open in Indiana-I forget the train
that Mr. Lewis says they got in on-and
after a while things begin to gowrong.
Mrs. Boyle gets drunk one night, and
Bethel plays Juliet. What a time that
was! Of course she isn't so much. Not
that she didn't do well enough. But she
was just-so-so. She is advanced to play
Lady Capulet, though, which is some-
thing. What is important is this: she
did play Juliet on one-day notice, and
that makes her a trouper. Even the bril-
liant and tough Zed Wintergeist adrits
Well, Bethel never does make a sensa-
tion in the book. Mr. Lewis does give us
a smart ending. Well, not terribly smart,
but good. Andy is weak and not the
kind of a man you'd depend on in a
pinch; Zed is tough and rough and
sometimes cruel, but he's strong and
he's going to be a great actor, and he's
what Bethel needs. So they are mar-
ried after the road tour breaks up. They
say things about Zed and make him
sound like another Burgess Meredith
or Eddie Jurist: he's a fellow to keep
your eye on.
Bethel becomes no star. But she is
on the way. And she and Zed get A part
In a new show opening on Broadway.
There are lots of characters and
fancy names, and it all has to dowith
the theatre: And since Mr. Lewis spent
summers with groups playing;in Co-
hasset and Ogunquit and Provineetown
-summer theatres, you know-he knows
what that's like. And he wrote a play"
called "Angela is Twenty-two' and'
toured on the road with that AridI
suppose he kept noteson everythin that
I was interested in it. Aftet' all, I
like to think that I'm in the theatre
too. Well, in a way. But sometimes I
got tired of waiting for people 'to do
real things. And sometimes I felt that
Mr. Lewis wasn't really telling -about
the people. You want to go down deep-
er than he has gone. I do, anyway. And
while he's very sentimental about the
theatre, I remember hearing abOut peo-
ple who weren't quite so romantic and
so lucky and-well, maybe Mr. Lewis
hasn't told the whole thing. He has so
many facts and figures and tempera-
ture findings, though. . .
And there's a note at the beginning
of the book in which Mr. Lewis-I think
I can call him Sinclair now, because
he's not so high and mighty really-
says that all the characters are ficti-
tious. Well, the other night at supper
I heard two fellows at the next table
talking, and one said he knew the girl
who was the model for Bethel Merri-

day. She worked in one of thosesum-
mer companies and went out with Mr.
Lewis. But Mr. Lewis-Sinclair! I must
try saying that-says very, very' force-
fully that there was no one in particu-
lar, and he should know. Don't you
think? But you'd never think hewon
a Nobel Prize!


W E HAVE SEEN these roots together
Integrated in the soil
Fertilized with sperm of stalilons
Fastened there with steel-strong wires.
Played with values on a string;
Cheered the soil; hailed Narcissus,
Jealous husband of a whore;
Looked for heaven in our hands.
Consoled each other with the remnants
Of our past souls, squeezed in tombs
And modified for mass-production,
Substituted "destiny" for life.
We have seen these roots together;
Harvested the white-washed street,
The prophylactic city-square,
And the uncontested skyline.
-- John Keats

pression that Faulkner is completely
at his worst in this novel. When he
really has something to wax dramatic
about, he can do it as well as any other
American novelist, with the possible ex-
ception of Robert Penn Warren. He is
pointing, one feels sure, towards an
essentially dramatic technique in dia-
logue; the jagged, broken conversations,
with their constant interruptions, and
the impression that they give you of
tremendous compression are gradually
emerging as a contribution to American
literary style as tangible as Heming-
way's. The horse-trading scenes to-
wards the end of the book, simple
enough in themselves if they were sim-
ply told, are as thrililng and poignant
and beautiful as anything Faulkner has
ever done. It was in these scenes that
I found some measure of justification
for the extravagant praise which so

solid a critic as Malcom Cowley has
lavished on The Hamlet.
One final comment. There has been
such speculation, and some derision,
over the fact that Faulkner the obscur-
antist has not been too proud to print
his stories in such magazines as the
Saturday Evening Post. Certain sec-
tions of The Hamlet first appeared as
stories in that magazine and also in
Scribner's and Harper's. Now I have
not been able to check up on it as yet,
but I am certain that it is the sharpest
and most lucid portions of the book
which were first published as stories,
and that the phoney, ever-written por-
tions did not appear in print before they
were incorporated in the book. It poses
an interesting problem, and one which
this reviewer, at any, rate, hopes to
grapple with at some future date.

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