Wescott, Glenway (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Wescott, Glenway 1901–
Wescott is an American novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, and editor. His work thematically reflects his native Wisconsin, as well as his period of European expatriation. Critics have admired his technical skill, his attention to rhythm, and his artfulness of construction. Wescott's fiction often deals with ideas of duty, the nature of freedom, and the perception of reality, both past and present. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
[The Apple of the Eye] is a book almost exclusively of emotional propulsion. Indeed, it even becomes a drenching in emotions, those softer, readier emotions which we designate usually as "feminine," an experience purely of "delight and tears" … and is thus a kind of revival in letters, an atavism, albeit a revival which is done with such force, such conviction, that one is caught unawares, and before he knows it is deeply involved in these partings …, this girl like wilted flower left to perish, these stutterings of love, the sleep-walking in the moonlight, the call, or lure, of the city over the hills and plains. The machinery of pathos is well utilized—which, once again, fails to convey the quality of the story, for it is so obvious that the author did not think in terms of the "machinery" of pathos. [Mr Wescott's] book, if it makes few demands upon the intellectual equipment of the reader, is a profoundly appealing piece of emotional writing, or one might better call it an emotional experience, for the reader's participation in the author's plot is intense enough to leave him in possession of the story's overtones much as one is left with the overtones of some dream or some actual event which has occurred in one's own life.
The principal objection I find to Mr Westcott's book is its failure to widen the field of our aesthetic perceptions…. In method, Mr Wescott's chief contribution is the bringing of a greater...
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[The Apple of the Eye] concerns the spiritual aspects of pioneering, especially the bleak, sterile attitude towards life that frontier hardships sometimes foster. Fundamentally it is the story of the conflict between two religions and of the effect of that struggle on a boy who wavers between them. On the one hand we find the narrow, rigid, utilitarian Protestantism of the frontier; on the other, a pagan acceptance of life and all its pleasures. (p. 279)
In The Grandmothers Wescott continued as he had begun, describing the frustration of three generations of pioneers. The pioneers, he suggests, were from the first unhappy men, and it was the absence of happiness that sent them westward. They struggled with the land, always in poverty. "God was poverty, but He was poverty which would become wealth." So they identified piety and prosperity, and bent their necks before the divinely-imposed yoke. In due course the continent revealed its riches and many became wealthy. "Nevertheless," Wescott goes on, "millions remained poor. Before their eyes lay the feast—they could not eat; and though there were millions of them, each felt alone in his poverty. They grieved, but stifled their grief, being ashamed of it; for if they had worked harder, if they had led purer lives, if they still worked harder…. Those who did not give up hated life secretly; those who did, despised themselves." Of the Towers, the family he is describing, he...
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Morton Dauwen Zabel
[The Pilgrim Hawk] is less the "love story" its subtitle suggests than a fable, and it shows again, but more explicitly and with greater critical weight, [Wescott's] natural inclination toward symbolic and legendary values in narrative. Where once—in The Apple of the Eye, The Grandmothers, and Goodbye, Wisconsin—he elaborated the mythic clues of the pastoral and folk tale, the tribal ritual of the family photograph album or the local daemon that haunts the hearsay, superstitions, and country legends of his midwestern homeland, he here reverts to a time and place grown more fabulous than Wisconsin ever could—to the France of the expatriates after the First World War, a lost paradise removed to lunar distance by war and change, whose delusions of emancipation linger in the memory with the unreality of life on another planet. (p. 304)
Mr. Wescott's story is one of the remarkable works of its kind in recent American fiction. Its deft shaping, sensitive and disciplined insight, and hypnotic suggestive force show it to be the work of a scrupulous craftsman and fully conscious critical intelligence. It shows the studied effect and stylistic scruple that point to a serious effort in a classic tradition. Yet in spite of its distinction it must be said of it that the balance essential to its genre is never clearly defined or resolved. The dramatic substance of his scenes and characters does not succeed in sustaining...
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[Glenway Wescott's] main theme has been what might be called the Mid-Western version of the American's complex fate. For the greater part of the thirties Wescott was an expatriate, living in France, but, on the evidence of his fiction, still unable to escape from Wisconsin, his native state, which seems at times almost as much a state of mind as a place…. (p. 105)
Wescott's strength as a novelist lies in his very ambivalence towards his subject, and in his finest novel, The Grand-mothers …, it appears in depth and at length and with a nostalgia that is always controlled. The action flows between the present and the past; the novel is a discovery of the past, a coming to terms with it. It is in essence a young intellectual's imaginative reconstruction of the lives of his grandparents and their families and relations, pioneers in the opening up of Wisconsin in the middle years of last century. In a way, it is history become myth…. (p. 106)
Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel in Britain and The United States (copyright © 1964 by Walter Allen; reprinted by permission of E. P. Dutton; in Canada by Harold Ober Associates Inc.), Dutton, 1965.
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Ira D. Johnson
During the 1920's, Glenway Wescott … was generally considered by critics and discriminating readers as one of America's most promising young writers. (p. 3)
In certain ways Wescott is [indeed] of his time and place and in the mainstream of American literature. His beginnings as an imagist poet, his early appearance as a critic-reviewer in the pages of The New Republic, Poetry, The Dial, and other little magazines, his themes and his experiments with form in his novels and short stories which appeared before he had turned thirty, his years as an expatriate—all have their parallels to the production and careers of other American writers of the twenties. Contemporary criticism, although appreciative and optimistic about his career, was with few exceptions brief and ephemeral, predominately placing him as a regionalist, a chronicler of pioneers, a recorder of frustrated and rebellious lives wasted away in remote middle-western towns….
Despite the quality and the uniqueness of his sensibility …, [Wescott] is not a major American writer…. [He] appeared to have just those qualities needed for major achievement and to have started early and fast in that direction, only to disappoint; by the time he was forty-four he had stopped writing fiction. (p. 4)
The Apple of the Eye [his first work of fiction (1924)] is characterized by many techniques in the modern tradition, but especially by...
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