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November 15, 1941 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1941-11-15

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Page Twelve

'PERSPECTIVES

BOOKS IN SEASON

W44e ,164
The Hills Beyond
By Thomas Wolfe
Random House, 1941
Books by Thomas Wolfe, those
printed and those which can conceiv-
ably be recovered from the mass of
unpublished manuscript, may no longer
be considered as novels, short story col-
lections or essay selections; for by the
grace of the publishers and the enthusi-
asm of a large portion of the American
reading public they have become only
fragments of the pattern of Wlfe's
one great book, the work of art which,
in its best sftse, is indivisible. The
aesthetic problems, the traditional oin-
sistence upon some sort of unity or di-
rection within the singlepiece of liter-
ature have been overwhelmed by the
overly rich American symphathy of
Wolfe's friendly critics, or possibly dis-
solved into the components of a new
aesthetic theory formulated and ob-
served first and, until how, alone by
Thomas Wolfe.
"The Hills Beyond," it seems to me,
neither deserves nor can reasonably be
given any comment which will apply
only to it. To begin with, the collection
of short stories, essay, strung-together
novel and fragmentary drama which it
comprises has no significance in itself
to justify anyone's judging Thomas
Wolfe either as a writer or as an artist.
The only discussion which might be
provoked by its publicatjon refers to all
of Wolfe's work,'to the mammoth flood
of words which if alone for the intensity
and sheer volume of its flow demands
some judgment.
Unfriendly critics have repeatedly at-
tacked Wolfe's wotk on the ground that
it is too much autobiographical, too little
objective and "creative." Wolfe himself,
Editor Edward Aswell comments in a
lengthy "Note on Thomas Wolfe," would
be infuriated by such critics. "When
Tom used what he had," Answell rhap-
sodizes, "he passed it through the fire
of his creative imagination, and what
came out in his books was something
quite different from any mere recrd,
however straight and complete, of his
own life." Even if we do assume that
what Aswell says is true, that Wolfe
did more than a job of reporting, that
he interpreted and worked his material
into brilliant passages of writing, we
still have only the right to say that he
was (or was not) a highly talented
write The charge of "autobiographi-
cal" is not answered; for no intelligent
critic, I think, ever denied that Wolfe
had no "creative imagination" in the
sense Aswell applies "to it, imagination
which could expand and interpret spe-
cific human experiene. Wolfe was de-
nounced as A autobiographical writer
because critics believed that a work of
art must have form and that Wolfe's
books-"Look Homeward, Angel," "Of
Time and the River," "The Web and the
Rock," and "You Can't Go Home Again"
-lacked form for the very reason of
their being so largely autobiographical.
The charge was foundd on the obser-
vation made by these critics that the ex-
periences of most people do not develop
in a pattern suitable for a work of art.
THOUGH Wolfe, in a letter to Aswell,
printed in;The Hills Beyond," re-
vealed his hope that his next book (he
referred to "The Web and The Rock")
would be the most objective book that
he has ever written, he probably would
have defended his "autobigraphical"
books with the statement that he sought
not after form but to show life as it is.
"He did not know," Aswell comments,
"what more could be asked of any book."
Somehow or other, it seems to me, Wolfe
never exactly answered the critics as

fully as they wished. They charged him
with being an "autobiographical" writer,
yes; but when they asked for objectivity
they meant, aside from the creation of
characters which had no counterpart in
Wolfe's personal experience, objectivity
which would result in form in his books.
or possibly even a moral basis. If Wolfe
did answer this his answer was that
writing about life and not observation of
form, as it is usually understood, or any
morality, interested him.
IIn his unspoken answer to the critics
Wolfe postulated an aesthetic theory,
though it may not be generally recogniz-
ed as such. Literature, he said, is the re6-
ord and interpretation of human ex-
perience and the only form which a
piece of literature may have is derived
from the development of the characters'
lives..
"The Hills Beyond" offers nothing to
contradict that theory; and I do not
think Wolfe intended that his later work
should. He strove for objectivity, as
Aswell points out and so far as I am
concerned satisfactorily proves, and par-'
tially attained it in the creation of new

stories that have been written in the
past. Only the essays have the begin-
ning, middle and end.
I am not grumpy when I find no reso-
lution in a story, and probably par-
tially because of that I enjoyed every-
thing in "The Hills Beyond." The 'novel,'
formless though it may be, pulled my
interest' along through the anecdote,
character analysis and, though this ele-
ment appeared only slightly, rhapsody.
The short stories I remember. The essay,
"God's Lonely Man," surprisingly barren
of Wolfian prose fireworks, I consider
-to be as good as anything Wolfe has
written.
In the prose style there is a moder-
ation evident in all of these fragments.
Whether or not that is significant I
do not know and do not care to discuss.
If you are a Wolfe fan or just a plain
reader interested in good writing I rec-
ommend "The Hills Beyond." If you
are a literary scholar, one seeking fur-
ther evidence on which to'base a, judg-
ment of Thomas Wolfe I think you will
find very little or nothing here.
- Gerald Burns

Gracious as courtiers we pay first respects to Jean Brodie, whose story
"The Bell," appears as her first contribution to Perspectives. Miss Brodie,
a senior in thelit school, sews industriously, will be married after gradua-
tion and intends to sandwich in hildren between her short stories. She
has no opinions on William Saroy n and, if for that reason alone,.is near
and dear to us.k
John Paul Ragsdale, denim-trousered poet who has won both fresh-
man and minor Hopwood awards, breaks into print with two sonnets from
a long sequence. Eternally proud of Glorious Shortridge High School in
Indianapolis, rigorous-mannered Mr. Ragsdale spends most of his time
working on a novel of immense proportions.
Pennsylvania Dutch cooking so immediately delighted and over-
whelmed the sensitive appetites of one food and drink lover'of the editorial
board that, although we ordinarily devote no page to notes for the women,
the others (to make a bad metaphor) sensed and enjoyed the full flavor of
the piece. Richard Ludwig, essay editor of Perspectives and Hopwood win-
ner, eats sparingly and dreams of meals as aesthetic triumphs,
Serene-one might even say benign-Jay McCormick, Perspectives'
well-beloved editor, makes his own front page with "Certain Hidden
Things," a story cast against 'a Great Lakes background. Sincere and .
trusting to the extent of his being frequently deceived, McCormick owns
an Angora kitten which will be called Mr. Ambergris until the day on
which it presents the again resigned household with a litter.
Gerald Burns, really quite a small and friendly fellow, awaits with
considerable anxiety the after effects of the publication of "The Three
Ravens"; for, though he will maintain in a frenzy that he loves mankind
and that the story has absolutely no basis in fact, he anticipates the possi-
bility of stern reprisals from cautious muscle heads who would rather act
in a manner unbecoming a gentleman than accept what might be an insult.
Audrey Hirschl comes from New York, loves her sweet sister, has better
poetry which cannot be printed. We have taken her unto us as a daughter.

and subsequently overwhelmed bythe
invader; the episodes observed during
the last few weeks preceding the war
in France; these are certainly accur-
ate and appealing images of men
and landscapes as they appear to
an observer with the gift of description:
It is to be regretted that the author, per-
haps unintentionally, presents a mix-
ture of real and imaginary events, mak-
ing it difficult for his reader to follow
the narrative.
At the same time, the impression that
an oversimplified version of current
events is presented seems unavoidable.
To take but one instance, the brilliant
but decidely one-sided narrative of the
author's last days spent in France be-
fore the start of this war: The grave
mistakes committed by the statesmen
of the Third Republic in the two decades
between Versailles and Munich have
largely contributed to the fall of France.
But to maintain that the defeat of
France is to be attributed to the sMstem
df French politics, to the corruption
reigning in certain sections of the press
and to the apathy of Frenchmen as a
whole, seems highly debatable to those
who have known France in recent years.
The simple fact that France, in pro-
portion to the total numbers of its popu-
lation, has lost more of its males than
any other participant in World War
I, seems to have escaped the attention
of our author, when he tries to explain
the lack of epthusiasm observed during
the French mobilization of 1939. The
fact that the large masses have lost
faith in their government when the
achievements of the Popular Front dis-
appeared beneath the waves of rearm-
ament, in 1931-39, is but part of the
explanation; the memory of Verdun, of
St. Mihiel and countless other battle-
fields overshadows their significance.
The same remark applies to most
parts of the book and it is to be re-
gretted that Mr. Van Paassen has not
abandoned the rather ungrateful task
of prophesying future developments.
The fact that an art jury in Munich
turned down the works of a rela-
tively unknown artist, A. Hitler, has
certainly had a bearing on the attitude
of said artist towards humanity. But to
conclude that this has changed the
course of history is certainly an over-
statement. Individuals have influenced
the fate of nations, to be sure, but the
bpart they played served often to empha-
size certain general trends and ideas. To
anyone acquainted witl the political and
philosophical history of Germany dur-
ing the last 150 years, the assertion that
one man has changed the general flow
of this development seems hard to jus-
tify. From Kant to fiegel to Fichte to
Bismarck to the German General Staff
to Haushofer, Rosenberg, Van Den
Bruck and others it is an uninterrupted
line of evolution, and the tendency to
simplify the real background of history
might lead to a rather dangerous con-
clusion: remove the men and you have
removed the root, cause and motor of
the inovement itself. That, however, is
hardly the case.
The fial chapter of the author's wan-
derings on our planet deals with the
rather spectacular flight of Rudolf Hess,
one of the key men of the present pol-
itical regime of Germany, to England, in
the'spring of 1941. Subsequent events
hardly seem to justify Mr. Van Paassen's
assertions in this respect, and one is
somewhat dbious as to the exact word-
ing of the alleged message reported to
have been brought by Hess to England.
It took historians some ten years to dis-
entangle some of the threads of diplo-
matic intrigue preceding World War I.
Does it not appear to the casual ob-
server that five months might not be
sufficient under conitions of war-time
censorship, to fathom the mysteries of
this war?
-George Kiss

characters in "You Can't Go Honft
Again." He never strove for form (as
you and I generally think, of it) and he
never attained this form. The only form
which his novels have, the enthusiastic
readers will maintain, lies in his work
as a whole. His form is the form of his
life, the development of JThomas Wolfe
from cradle to (ironically) the grave..
Now I think Thomas Wolfe did not
believe even that; for if he strove for
objectivity in his later novels he created
or invented specific situations in which
he or his invented characters had never
found themselves. That invention was
not part of the life of which enthusiasts
speak.
I THINK you must carefully define a
new kind of form, as I have tried to
do, for Wolfe's writing, if at all you wish
to say that he observed any form. Wolfe
sought primarily to show life as it is,
unruly, unconfined (no moral basis for
Wolfian literature!) unpredictable. "The
Hills Beyond"-autobiographical or ob-
jective-does nothing more thane that,
to show life in Wolfe's terms. The small
group of material tagged "novel" doesn't
come anywhere near being a novel, the
short stories are like no other short

I ?eitepa tiok

Pierre Van Paassen: That Day Alone.
New York, 1941, The Dial Press,
548 pp., $3.75.
Among the books written about this.
the Second World War, the two volumes
published within the las few years by
Mr. Van Paassen, occupy an important,
but highly controversial position. These
volumes combine the gifts of a talented
journalist, a seasoned observer of people
and events, and the firm convictions of
a man devoted to certain ideas and will-
ing to go far to prove them. An inter-
esting blend of clear-cut observation
and obviously subjective interpretation,
in some cases, of current events, makes
Mr. Van Paassen's new book, "That Day
Alone," a valuable contribution to the
student of current affairs asd to Ihe
general reader.
The similarity of the high and low
points in Van Paassen's two volumes,
this present one and "Days of Our
Years," is easy to detect. His descrip-
tion of the little Dutch village, surprised

N

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