Martin Seymour-Smith

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 196

[David Caute's] nihilistic The Decline of the West (1966) was a powerful book, perhaps the nearest we have yet had in English to a genuinely Sartrian work…. [But] is it a novel? The lurid power of some of its scenes arises not from the known commitments of the excellent historian David Caute, but from a savagely destructive urge operating at a more primitive, and more imaginatively interesting, level. So far as Mr. Caute's conscious intentions are concerned, the successful parts of The Decline of the West are accidental, one might say incidental: sometimes, in individual scenes, the characters take over, and behave independently of any theory. But Mr Caute's view of history ultimately proves stronger than his imagination: the result is a series of brilliant cameos, strung too didactically together. You cannot write a novel to prove something: if your novel succeeds, then you will inevitably end by proving something else….

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[Mr. Caute] is a subtle and accomplished thinker who dares not surrender to his imaginative impulses, because—I think—their apparently destructive, non-political power frightens him.

Martin Seymour-Smith, "Thinking Pink," in The Spectator (© 1968 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 220, No. 7281, January 12, 1968, p. 43.∗

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