Emily Cheney Neville Eleanor Cameron - Essay

Eleanor Cameron

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Chekhov pointed out that the great writer has a sense of absolute freedom within the discipline of his craft, within his moral point of view, his sense of aesthetic distance. He has reached that point where he can be himself to the utmost degree and can say it without descending to the meretricious, the vulgar, or to a cheap voyeurism. And I think that it is this sense of restriction—of not feeling perfectly free to express all he knows to be true of teenage sexual feelings and the teenagers' deepest attitudes toward them—that so often pulls the quality of the writer's work for this age down to the level of the bland and the superficial, to what Josh Greenfeld, in a review of Emily Neville's Fogarty [see excerpt above] called "the cultivated cop-out." That cop-out, he said, is what is the matter with most children's books. But what he meant by "the cultivated cop-out" in reference to Emily Neville's novel was her failure to communicate any real understanding of Fogarty as a man desiring a woman. She closed the door on that scene, and on Fogarty's emotions in that moment because she possibly hadn't the knowledge or the power or the courage to face them and delineate them in a way she could handle. And I was sharply resentful at finding a novel about a twenty-three-year-old man reviewed with children's books (and called by Greenfeld a children's book) simply because Emily Neville usually writes for teenagers. But resentful above all because "the cultivated cop-out" in a child's book would have nothing at all to do with lack of frankness about sexual love, but would result in an avoidance of truth regarding some facet of a child's complex emotions before the age of puberty. (pp. 113-14)

Eleanor Cameron, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1973 by Eleanor Cameron). February, 1973 (and reprinted in Crosscurrents of Criticism: Horn Book Essays 1968–1977, edited by Paul Heins, Horn Book, 1977).