Eleanor Clark Essay - Critical Essays

Clark, Eleanor (Vol. 19)


Clark, Eleanor 1913–

Clark is an American novelist, short story writer, memoirist, translator, essayist, author of children's books, and travel writer. Her ability to capture settings and people with precise, clear detail has served her well in her fiction as well as her travel sketches. The Oysters of Locmariaquer won the National Book Award in 1965. She is married to Robert Penn Warren. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

John Hay

"The Bitter Box" is a very talented first novel, as you might expect it to be from Miss Clark's short stories. She has a gift of sophistication and gaiety. Landscapes, dialogue and characters are at her finger tips and she has little difficulty in moving them to her purposes….

[Her] method is abstract as the movies are abstract. There is a kind of elfin detachment about Mr. Temple. People and events change his words and his actions but have no physical connection with him. He and his city flit elusively as though they were on a screen.

Of course there is a perfectly good tradition behind these abstractions and the absence of naming things. Miss Clark has done some effective...

(The entire section is 265 words.)

Richard Plant

Miss Clark is [a most polished and audacious] writer…. For in The Bitter Box … she has set herself an enormous task—to compose a modern parable: the awakening of an ordinary bank cashier, his sudden plunge into a life that is incomprehensible to him, his final fall and—faintly visible—redemption. With admirable forthrightness, Miss Clark sets out to create an ambiguous world, seemingly real and yet nothing but a perpetual nightmare….

This is a task which only a genius like Kafka could solve and over which many talented writers have stumbled. Miss Clark has Kafka's ironic detachment, his carefully studied dryness; she even manages to illuminate an ordinary place like a cafeteria...

(The entire section is 270 words.)

P. M. Pasinetti

In its unique [journal form, Rome and a Villa] almost ostentatiously avoids the mannerisms of the travelogue; the writer does not arrive or depart, nor does she record moving panoramas; she seems to have been an indefinite length of time on the various spots with which her wonderfully subtle prose is dealing. She is possibly the only American writer I know who can call the piazza dell'Esedra in Rome "the Turin phase of the city" and do so with a parenthetic naturalness that disguises the wealth of social-aesthetic history behind such a remark. Here, in other words, we are far beyond the informative and descriptive stage…. [Even] certain notations in guidebook style (dates, measurements, etc.) seem to...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

John Wain

Put baldly, the plan of [The Oysters of Locmariaquer] is a disquisition on the oysters of this region, the people who cultivate them, the people who used to cultivate them, the beliefs and customs of the place, the whole suffering and joy of Locmariaquer whether above or below the surface of the tidal waters. (p. 23)

One reads on, page after page, never quite sure what will come next. An occasional slight irritation at Miss Clark's manner of writing, which too frequently descends into the coy and the cosy, is allayed by a sense of confidence in the shape of the whole thing. (Miss Clark isn't, for my money, a reliably good writer sentence by sentence—though she often strikes out admirably...

(The entire section is 366 words.)

Robert M. Adams

At first glance, and for several glances thereafter, "Baldur's Gate" appears to be simply a New England village novel….

As a native of Jordan,… our storyteller has ample access to the historic events, architectural marvels,… and general social idiosyncrasies of the community; and in pushing forward her slow-paced, wide-beamed narrative, she sows the details before us with a lavish hand. But she is a quirky narrator as well; there is a disaster in the background of her family that she alludes to rather ostentatiously, but declines, with equal ostentation, to explain. More surprisingly, there are occasions when, in the middle of an ostensibly dramatic scene, she turns private in her language or...

(The entire section is 367 words.)

Paul Edward Gray

Baldur's Gate effectively creates a felt world. The village of Jordan, its people, houses, and landscape, is masterfully drawn. (p. 106)

The separate strands of [the narrator's] story, which coil like creepers around the trellis of her mind, lead, at times, to considerable excitement, but her narrative mannerisms are occasionally capricious and distracting. She has a habit of alluding to past events without describing or explaining them; the scene in which her mother publicly brought disgrace on the family, for instance, constantly hovers around the fringes of Eva's narration but is not fully presented until the final pages of the novel. Since Eva is elsewhere all too willing to digress, often...

(The entire section is 194 words.)

Walter Sullivan

[There] have been few enough among us during the last couple of centuries who could … make a unity out of theme and structure, and give the reader a true sense of life being lived. But it does seem that the job is harder now, for the modern world, which is the modern novelist's world, is fragmented and fraught with absurdities, chary of hopes and vitiated with compromises as it has perhaps never been before. The trick, which not many writers accomplish, is to make the disruptions work toward a unity, to create an artistic wholeness by telling the truth about our civilization's shattered pieces. Eleanor Clark does this—or something very close to it—in Baldur's Gate….

One is tempted to...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Eyes, Etc., a first-person narrative about the author's loss of vision, is striking above all for its tough-mindedness. The very quality that saves Eleanor Clark, however, makes for problems in a book otherwise rich in observation, analysis, and wit. Its theme is how one chooses to handle suffering that is random, incomprehensible, and infuriating….

Clark seems unsuited to the "confessional" mode. Eyes, Etc., shows an unsettling tension between the desire to reveal depths of anguish and the contrary urge to uphold dignity and put on a brave face. The opening sections, though railing against self-indulgence, are indulgent, testy, and weak. Then about a third of the way through, shortly...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Philip French

[The] book that comes first to mind while reading Miss Clark's memoir [Eyes, Etc.] is Birds of America. Like Mary McCarthy's novel, it is a meditation on social, cultural and ethical change of a kind familiar in New England literature…. Miss McCarthy reflects in her novel on the transformation of Maine by the nouveaux riches and the holiday industry, and the corruption of Europe by American tourists. Miss Clark draws large inferences from the insensitive behaviour of weekend second-homemakers in Connecticut and ski-resort patrons in Vermont, and the corrosive effect American hippies have had on traditional hospitality in Crete….

What Miss Clark mostly notices around her is...

(The entire section is 344 words.)


"Gloria Mundi" stands a cut below [Miss Clark's] best work. One problem is that the author holds herself at too great a remove from the feelings experienced by [the] characters…. Another is that the effort to establish significant links between Trotsky in Mexico and an unknown, undefined couple slain in Vermont seems all too arbitrary. Finally, there is a slackness in the narrative itself.

It is undeniable that the act of random violence at the beginning of the book has consequences for many persons in the tale…. But the links are, without exception, tangential and uncharged. And because we never meet the murder victims, and glimpse their assailant only at the end, the murder trail with which...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

Ann Hulbert

Eleanor Clark watches the future come to Boonton, Vermont in Gloria Mundi, and she doesn't think it works…. [The] real estate boom tears up the Green Mountain countryside and disrupts a contented rural community of loyal neighbors, extended families, and hippy-ish hangers-on…. In Gloria Mundi's wilder setting, commercialism makes more sinister, violent inroads. Modern, man-made evil stalks the woods in the form of a berserk murderer, a rapacious motorcycle gang, and a deluded hypocrite—all of whom make the shady developer who arrives in Boonton before them look like a pale fiend. (pp. 38-9)

But this really isn't a grisly thriller. It's a village novel in which the characters, not...

(The entire section is 352 words.)

Stephen Goodwin

Gloria Mundi is a jeremiad. The title comes from the phrase Sic transit gloria mundi—So passes away the glory of this world—but Eleanor Clark's new novel is less a lamentation than a denunciation. Be prepared, when you open this book, for wrath and vitriol….

She has always recoiled from hypocrisy, corruption and turpitude, and from all the excuses—how she loathes the rhetoric of self-fulfillment!—trotted out to dignify baseness. Words like "fate," "justice," "noble" and "excellence" are still part of her active vocabulary, and the tone of her anger has always been Olympian. She doesn't want to waste thunderbolts on flies—and that's the trouble with Gloria Mundi....

(The entire section is 458 words.)