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March 22, 1941 - Image 11

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1941-03-22

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T ERSPECTI VES

Page Eleven

BOOKS. IN SEASON

---- ---- ---

Portrait of the Artist As a Young Dog
Dylan Thomas
New Directions.
Those of us who read The World I
Breathe, Dylan Thomas's last book, were
excited or disappointed or just puzzled.
There was no uniformity of feeling about
the book because there was little unity
in Thomas's work. As a Welshman with
a fine imagination and a knack of orig-
inal expression in verse, he had hewn
a olace for himself overnight beside
his poetic contemporaries. But his prose
lacked something vital It was metrical
and imagistic like his verse without
achieving a character of its own It was
surrealistic without reaching beyond the
individual dream world to the mass of
common emotional and social experience
which stands at the base of all great
art The world that Thomas was breath-
ing had little relation to the world in
which the rest of us, live and die.
The engaging title of this new book
of autobiographical prose sketches gives
a clue to the contents. It smacks of the
clever surrealist, perhaps, but it is per-
fectly comprehensible. It is as humorous
for precocious word-slinging as for
warm reality. Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Dog presents us with a new and
much more likable Thomas.
Ten scenes chosen at random from his
life form the basis of -these stories.
Covering the period from eary child-
hood to young manhood they successful-
ly avoid the pitfalls of sentimentalism
or the abnormalities of adolescence
which mar so many autobiographical
sketches. Thomas's natural Welsh love
of the mysterious and romantic (in the
best sense) lends the proper atmosphere
to the adventures of a half-mad grand-
father or of Gwilym, the actress-loving
minister. Fine language is the clue to
much of Thomas's appeal but his humor
and humanity are far more important
in these stories. Above all, the author
spends less time on himself than on his
other characters. They are, for the most
part, understandable people drawn from
life.
But what is true of Dylan Thomas's
poetry is also true of these stories. Their
outward vitality often conceals an in-
ward hollowness. It is as if the author
had started within himself and worked
out in concentric circles. In the Portrait
he draws his immediate friends and ac-
quaintances but never goes beyond to
the realities of the world at large. No-
where in this book do we sense the pres-
sure of outside events, the struggles of
nations, races, or nationalities (like
Welsh, for instance) which have so
profoundly affected all young men dur-
ing the past thirty years. This last
link with complete reality is missing
and contributes to the final sense of
inward hollowness in the Portrait. The
last sketch entitled "One Warm Sat-
THE CONCERT
Contipmed from Page 4
soul sweep from his dark fingers into
the silver of her presence.
He had admitted to his heart one
sharp, leaping flame, annihilating her
white body, and his dark one, This was
communion!-O black and holy ones,
O white and godly ones! Here black
Africa swept off the crust of centuries
to emerge one with her brothers in
priestly chastening!
Nevertheless, the onlookers in row
eight saw her hair shudder, the proud
little velvet hat in foamy storm, and the
cream of her handkerchief fly dis-
tressedly to her arm. There to wipe off
all traces of the dark wine of commun-
ion. - James Turner Jackson

urday" appears to be symbolic of this Arena
quality in Thomas's writing. In it the Hallie Flanagan
author becomes enamored of a girl at Duell, Sloan & Pearce
a party. He leaves the room for a mo- Your personal social philosophy will
ment, expecting to return and find her Tu esnl5t5 hlspywl
alone, but loses his way, batters blindly certainly have considerable weight in
about the house for hours, and finally affecting your opinion of Arena, for the
gives up. He wanders out into the street book deals not only with the history of
where "the small and hardly known the Federal Theatre Project, but inti-
and never-to-be-forgotten people of the mately with the individaul personalities
dirtytown had lived and loved and died, of the men and women who contributed
and, always, lost" Defeatism is the core to make the Federal Theatre a function-
of this philosophy, and though it may al process between audience, actors and
be nostalgic for some, it is the deadliest playwright. I open with this point be-
disease which any writer may encounter. cause it is one of Mrs. ,Flanagan's very
Dylan Thomas will have to find his way honestly and validly propounded theses
around the house, which is our world, in Arena that Federal Theatre was dis-
in less drunken fashion before he will continued, and the project branded and
renounce this defeatism and write with scarred perhaps for all time, by the ig-
complete understanding and reality. The norant manipulations of a few persons
world he breathes has been considerably, in powerful government positions, who
and admirably widened in these stories, were able to censor publications and, in
but the process must continue and the the end, cut off the necessary funds.
blind spots be filled in before we can The record of Federal Theatre, as doc-
be in complete sympathy. umented in Arena, is amazing. I had
- E.G.B. never fully realized the extent of the
' e

3/tuijon 0/ flormalc
Tonight the moon's so crowded with the sight
from a million burning eyes it foams white heat
and steams a silent challenge to those who wake
to light the real by burning paper dreams:
Will the sense of spring speak
the night tones of this so-normal moon
or sight the stars bright glint
in the sky's dark eye, dream
even at the War's edge.
with the strain of un-born livingness
sight and speak the clear and cubic-cold
Or will this pure sense of spring
tense with history and teeming
illusion of the moon.
-Harold Norris

project's scope until I had completed the
book, although I had tried, as an ama-
teur student of drama, to keep abreast
of its growth. Among other things, MrS.
Flanagan shows that Central Divisions
were set up in every large city in every
section of the country, each with its
own director who was supposed to pre-
sent theatrical and recreational amuse-
ments best suited to his locale.:Traveling
unit were sent out from these central
points with productions on tour for the
lesser satellite towns of the area. These
productions included magicians, puppet,
shows, vaudeville, stage shows, and every
possible kind of stage entertainment, the
fortunes of whose exponents had suf-
fered just as much from the depression
as had those of the factory worker,
the farmer or the tradesman.
"To set up theatres which have pos-
sibilities of growing up into social insti-
tutions in the communities in which they
are located ... and to lay the founda-
tion for the development of a truly cre-
ative theatre with outstanding producing
centers in each of those regions which
have common interests as a result of
geography, language, origins, history,
traditions, customs, occupations of the
people . . , ": this was the' aim of Fed-
eral Theatre as Mrs. Flanagan inter-
prets it. And with it in mind, certainly
it is difficult to comprehend how the
hopes of the general project could go
up in smoke at the hands of a group
raising the old cry of "Red." The project
never turned even close to the direction
of the national theatres of Europe. It
was, rather, a fairly loose federation of
regional theatres and Mrs. Flanagan
shows this beyond any doubt. By the
time the Dies Committee began brand-
ing Christopher Morley and Shirley
Temple as Communists, it was clearly
showing the idiocy of the leading op-
ponents of Federal Theatre, but by then
it was too late. Federal Theatre had al-
ready met its defeat.
The necessity of a wide-awake and
socially-conscious theatre as illustrated
by the attendance records of millions
of people when the theatre was brought
financially and geographically to their
doors has not died with this project.
Mrs. Flanagan's record of the Federal
Theatre is clear evidence of this necessi-
ty, and outlines the courses to be fol-
lowed and the mistakes to be avoided in
the future, should any such enterprise
ever be sponsored again. And it is quite
evidently up to Mrs. Flanagan to know,
by this time, the proper courses and
possible pitfalls, productional as well as
administrative, connected with a gov-
ernment theatre project. For she will-
ingly resigned an important position
at Vassar to direct Federal Theatre,
and was with it all the way as it pros-
pered and failed. She must be accorded
due credit, in Arena, for her thorough-
going honesty in recording, and for her
capable turning of all her dramatic
abilities to delineating the rise and fall
of Federal Theatre in America.
- William Mills
eyes when he encounters evidences of
German penetration and influence. Tac-
tics and characterstics of the well known
Fifth, as it operates on Equadoreans,
come into notice, and their prevalence
and evident success threw a shock into
this complacent North American at
least.
The book is not one to be read at a
single sitting. Its strong individuality
of language makes it like a highly flav-
ored but delicate dish-losing its sang
when taken in large portions-indeed
because it is episodic, really plotless,
it may become wearisome, but to any
reader who avoids this mistake The Don-
key Inside cannot fail to be a delightful
experience. - Joan Outhwaite

The Donkey Inside
Ludwig Bemelmans
Viking Press
Equador, as described by Bemelmans
would be enjoyed by no man but a
Bemelmans, but any man who can enjoy
the remarkable descriptive prose of an
artist with the gift of tongues will en-
joy Bemelmans' decription of Equador.
The Donkey Inside is neither to be read
nor avoided as a "travel book," but as
a sympathetic (not sentimental) por-
trait of towns, jungles, mountains, In-
dians, adventurers, flies, dogs, and don-
keys. Only an artist's eye would observe
orchids "of immoral design, astounding
flowers, like hats invented by a lewd
modiste," or discover that a head in a
hunter's pot is "a dirty washcloth with
holes for eyes and mouth," see a paint-
ing of a waterfall as "noodle soup run-
ning down over a green couch," re-
mark that a flock of sea-birds is "as
if an immense carpet with an all over
design of birds were suddenly unrolled
into the sea."
At sustained description he does
equally well. Seldom has a jungle grown
with such luxuriance and magical real-
ity as it does here in these pages, and
seldom has one such an opportunity
to become aware, not of what is in a
country, but what it feels like, and how
one feels when there. Eccentric and de-
lightful people appear incidentally, as
they appear in the course of an itiner-

ant's journey; the oddities, crudities.
and pleasures of local hotels, are record-
ed with enough objectivity to give real-
ity, and enough enthusiasm and en-
joyment on the part of the author to
rouse our interest and focus our atten-
tion.
Bemelmans writes as he paints, not to
record the physical objects of a scene,
but to create a pleasant, effective and
honest picture. He says himself, in a
note that with his characteristic com-
mon sense he puts at the end of the book,
"The terrain, the architecture, and the
landscape,-the light that lies over it
and the animals that walk about it,-
are rendered as they are. As for the
people-(they) are wholly fictitious.
Whenever character and persons had to
be painted in broad immediate color I
have taken license to use the devices
of the fiction writer. I have, whenever
I found it right, put together several,
-I have taken the feet of one and the
ears of another, and I hope it comes out
all right." He does the same with inci-
dents and events. "It fitted so, it made a
gcod picture." The result is a good pic-
ture, not a photograph, map, or a Cook's
tour plan. He selects his people and his
incidents as he chooses his words, with
taste and style. He is seldom funny, al-
ways humorous. For those of the "life is
real, life is earnest" cast of mind, it
may be mentioned that Bemelmans ob-
serves very clearly, with considerable
perspicacity, and he does not shut his

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