Herman Wouk Wouk, Herman (Vol. 1)

Start Your Free Trial

Wouk, Herman (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Download Herman Wouk Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Wouk, Herman 1915–

An American novelist, Wouk is the author of The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, and Youngblood Hawke. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

It seems to me that Mr. Wouk has been the victim of an unusual amount of unfair criticism. I think much of this is due to [Caine Mutiny's] considerable contrast to the view of life and behavior reflected in The Naked and the Dead and From Here to Eternity, which have been accepted far too readily as valid or normative views of the behavior and attitudes of man, particularly within the framework of the military experience…. One of the distinguishing characteristics of The Caine Mutiny was its ability to view the problem within the inescapable military premise without oversimplifying it. Mr. Wouk does not relate the central situations of The Caine Mutiny to civilian life at large, and it is not fair of his critics to assume that he has done so, or to attempt to do so themselves.

Edmund Fuller, in his Man in Modern Fiction: Some Minority Opinions on Contemporary American Writing (© 1958 by Edmund Fuller; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1958, pp. 135-37.

The novels of Herman Wouk lie in a curious realm between art and entertainment. We have had a tradition of similar works from William Dean Howells to John P. Marquand, but few of these writers have been able to break through the formulas which have brought them popular success. It is more than a matter of money or prestige; it is a question of the writer's whole approach to experience, which wavers uneasily between his own convictions and the opinions which will soothe or delight his audience. These writers always seem to know more than they say, to feel more than they can express, and their typical literary form is irony.

Maxwell Geismar, in his American Moderns: From Rebellion to Conformity (reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1958 by Maxwell Geismar), Hill & Wang, 1958, p. 38.

The struggle of writers like Dreiser, ironically enough, made it possible to write in 1955 the pure bourgeois novel of seduction as originally created by the female Richardsonians. Only one fundamental revision has been made in the mythos of seduction between Charlotte Temple [a novel by Susannah Haswell Rowson, 1791] and Marjorie Morningstar (their very titles indicate their kinship): the newer genteel Sentimentalism will not let the fallen woman die. That Marjorie in losing her virginity has been permanently maimed, incapacitated for the full enjoyment of marriage, Mr. Wouk does not doubt; yet he insists on marrying her off into a bitter-sweet happy ending…. Something of the old mythic power still clings to her, some last trace of the aura of Clarissa, that secular savior, whose piety and sexuality were felt, for all their absurdly conventional dress, as real and terrible….

Who is the Seducer in Wouk's novel, the modern counterpart of the irresistible Lovelace, whose struggle with the immovable Clarissa all Europe once followed through a million words? He is called Noel Airman, which is to say, Luftmensch, the impractical schemer who never touches the ground, though he was born Ehrman, which is to say, man of honor. Denying his Jewish birthright, Wouk apparently means to tell us, by denying his Jewish name, Noel also denies virtue; and we are not surprised to discover that he is not only an actor, pianist, and playwright, but also a valueless bohemian and, especially, Don Giovanni once more!

Airman, like Lovelace before him, is both seducer and freethinker, besides being possessed of a grace alongside of which bourgeois manners and morality seem grubbily and unpleasantly safe and sane. Lovelace, however, was an aristocrat, survivor of the class just then blending (as Richardson shows by the possibility of his wooing Clarissa) into the mercantile bourgeoisie; Airman is not sure where he belongs. He is intended to be a member of a self-appointed aristocracy of...

(The entire section is 1,328 words.)