The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JANUARY 5, 1936
Obsequies For Novel Absurd, Asserts Cash
By W.J. Cash
How many reams of paper have been used in the last 15 years or so to tell us that poetry is an art that is dead and done for, and that the novel is "an outworn form," I don't know; but the total must run into tons.
The funny thing about this dirge is that, though it is commonly raised by professional book-reviewers, who are presumably people with some knowledge of the art of criticism as it has been practiced in the past, it is virtually as old as the two forms of writing themselves. So long ago as the year 1579, when William Shakespeare was still only old man John Shakespeare's boy, Bill, who was just getting on to begin making eyes at the gals, and Kit Marlow was just catching his first glimpse, through the sonorous intonations of a Greek master in the King's School at Canterbury, of "the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium," a book called "The School of Abuse," written by one Stephen Gosson, was loudly proclaiming that poetry, and, indeed, all forms of imaginative writing, had been worked through and worked through until they were in the last stages of desiccation--that not one drop of possible vitality remained in them, and that the only decent thing to do was to bury them before they began to stink intolerably--and that, anyhow, a matter-of-fact and enlightened age had pretty well outgrown them, regardless of vitality. Which was why, as you ought to know, that Sir Phillip Sydney promptly sat himself down and indited his celebrated "Defense of Poesy."
And along two and a half centuries later, some dark suggestions of Thomas Love Peacock to the effect that certain kinds of poetry and imaginative writing were done for,--at a time when John Keats and Shelley were just bursting into bloom--inspired the latter to the composition of his "Defense of Poetry": a work almost as celebrated as Sydney's own.
And if you will get down the files of any of the old English or American magazines of the fifties and sixties and seventies and eighties of the last century, you will land plump into mournful announcements that, with Scott and Dickens and Thackeray, (Meredith and Hardy did not exist for these Victorian critics), the novel had indubitably run its course, exhausted its possibilities, and would here after dwindle swiftly to the estate of a fossil.
The trouble with our croaking book-reviewers is that they have completely lost perspective. One can sympathize with them, certainly. Day after day they find themselves reading over once more the same old tale, winding surely to the same dreadful end of kisses and clinches or the suicide of everybody, hearing again the same monotonous tinkle of verse. They listen so often to the accents of St. Edna and Elinor Wylie and Dreiser and Anderson and Hemingway and Faulkner and Knut Hamsun and Thomas Mann and Andre Gide and James Joyce and Ellen Glasgow and Willa Cather--to say nothing of such fountains as Kathleen Norris and Temple Bailey--as rendered by their thousands of imitators: grow so infernally weary of seeing each new book fall fatally into its pigeonhole as belonging to the slice-of-life school, the let-us-be-hairy-men school, the ain't-life-a-pill school, the ain't-life-been-good-to-us school, the when-I-was-young-I-was-awful-lonely school, the I-could-kiss-the-soil school, the aw-nerts school, the cuckoo school, or what have you, until they end by hoping to God that everybody chokes, and denying that any good can ever again come out of Nazareth.
Too Much Caviar
A lot of the more conscientious and humorless readers in the country get to feeling like that, too. But the matter here is only too much caviar for breakfast.
There is not the slightest reason to suppose that poetry has run its course and finally closed up forever. For poetry is essentially coeval with the human race, and to suppose its actual disappearance, to suppose that man shall cease to sing their hopes and triumphs and their wars and loves and their failures and despairs in numbers is simply to suppose the capacity for emotion is vanishing from them--which is silly; just possibly, such dark profits as Spengler may be right; just possibly old Europe has shot its bolt and is in for a break-up. But none of that has any application to this America--the youngest and, as yet, the least fully developed in its own right of subsisting civilizations. There is too much here that is vital and magnificent not to be sung. It will be sung--and grandly.
A Story For The Telling
And as for the novel. The thing is a Proteus. So far from being on the verge of the grave, I think the thing might go through a thousand generations and emerge as young and vital in essentials as it was the day Henry Fielding set down to his desk and launched into the history of Tom Jones. Everything has been written about? Pure nonsense. Every generation has its own peculiar vision of the world--has indeed a wholly new world, and everyone of them demands to have the old, old story of man's struggle to stand erect in the reeling void, to tear away the veil of mystery which binds them about, to know triumph and to capture ecstasy in the tiny space between birth and death--to have the old, old story of man's struggle and his [unobservable word] being that is not always defeat told over again to their eyes and ears.
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