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Cozzens, James Gould 1903–1978
An American novelist, short story writer, and editor, Cozzens is known for his moralistic novels of man in society. He rejected sentimentality and romanticism in favor of a more severe realism, but has been criticized for the haughtiness of his upper-class conservatism. Howard Nemerov has called his style the "work of a mind whose cold temper and grim austerity and firm conviction of despair makes existentialists look somewhat cozy and Rotarian, if not evangelical." Cozzens won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Guard of Honor, and has also received the O. Henry Award. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 81-84.)
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[There are a half-dozen themes basic to Cozzens' writing which unite his disparate works.] Perhaps the most important of them is the concept of "earned" morality, the discovery of a moral principle through suffering on its behalf. As early as Confusion, Cozzens has one of the characters say:
Despite all teaching there must come an instance in every person's life when such a truth is proved or disproved in such a way as to be convincing, or it is never honestly believed.
Cozzens' second theme, and a rather more Christian one that seems at times to run almost directly counter to the Stoicism of the first, is the radical imperfectability of man. This emerges sharply in The Last Adam, which celebrates a doctor who is lazy, irresponsible, bigoted, self-indulgent, lecherous, arrogant, and at most points pretty well uncontaminated by the Hippocratic ideal. The book defends him in the only terms possible, that he is human, and concludes in the last paragraph by raising him to a kind of Adamic principle…. (p. 481)
Sometimes, as in Colonel Ross's soliloquies in Guard of Honor, this doctrine becomes a defense of mediocrity and an acceptance of imperfection, the need to compromise theory to fit facts; sometimes, as in Abner's realizations in The Just and the Unjust, it is compromise with the sinful world, politics and even life as "the art of the possible" (a phrase quoted repeatedly in Guard of Honor). At one extreme, this acceptance of the old Adam leads to the view of men as simply brutes…. At the other extreme it sees a kind of triumphant Good Life in being human…. (p. 482)
Another theme basic to Cozzens' work is that of power and authority. Many of his characters play God, and manipulate the lives of others with a visible or invisible omnipotence…. [Frequently] this all-powerful authority is a parent…. In opposition to these God-figures, and perhaps equally symbols of the parent, there are Devil-figures in a number of the books…. [Their] powers differ from these of the God-figures in that the latter gain their authority through controlling men; the former through controlling Fate. (pp. 482-83)
A subsidiary theme here is chance and luck, which are very important in Cozzens' cosmology…. Frequently this chance or luck involves heavy irony: the San Pedro is lost because the one ship that passes her, an obscure sugar tramp from Cuba … has no wireless…. (pp. 483-84)
A number of lesser related themes recur throughout Cozzens' work. One of them is the impulse to self-hurt or self-destruction, what Freud implied in "the death-wish."… Many of Cozzens' characters show some of the symptoms. At the same time, in direct opposition to this, Cozzens is concerned with a kind of survival-instinct, what Freud sometimes called "Eros" or "the life-wish."… [The] tragedy in The Son of Perdition and S. S. San Pedro is that everyone seems to have lost it. Even though this impulse and these survivors are presented as generally admirable, the concurrent old age seems to affect Cozzens with horror. He feels the passage of time almost obsessively, a thing symbolized in at least two books by a sweep-secondhand racing around a watch…. By way of resistance to this [bitterness about age], there is a frenzy of physical action in the books…. (pp. 484-85)
Obviously, not many of these themes have the cheery comfort traditionally associated with best-sellers, and the question of Cozzens' popularity with a mass audience becomes something of a problem. The factor that comes to mind first is that although Cozzens employs a modern sensibility, his works are not modern novels. They remain apparently unaffected by the revolution in fiction that Joyce, Gide, and Kafka inaugurated in the twentieth century, and Stendhal, Melville, and Dostoyevsky anticipated in the nineteenth. (Castaway, which is quite possibly influenced by Kafka, is the one exception here.) Cozzens professes to despise his contemporaries, and … claims that with a few unnamed exceptions none of them can write, and that his models remain Shakespeare, Swift, Steele, Gibbon, Jane Austen, and Hazlitt. His literary aim, he adds, is "to recreate or retell," not to shape and transform experience. He thus ranges himself in the realist or naturalist tradition, with such contemporary writers as Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy…. And yet here he does not quite fit into any group. His work has an imagination and a brilliance far removed from the plodding dullness of [Virginia] Woolf's butts, and it is distinguished from the work of the American naturalist novelists—the Dreisers, Farrells, and Halpers—by being written rather than hacked out of the corpse of language.
One of the ingredients of Cozzens' popularity, and a thing that may suggest more fruitful comparisons, is his work's reliance on technical knowledge, its heavily researched quality. S. S. San Pedro displays an astonishing knowledge of the mechanical workings of a ship;… Guard of Honor is stocked with medical and legal lore as well as military detail and airplane technology; and even Castaway involves an authentic and carefully detailed department store. Insofar as this suggests comparison with such careful contemporary researchers as Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair, the fact that Cozzens produces a vivid and pulsing sense of reality, not the caricatured or editorialized surface of life, removes him from their company; and even the more accurate comparison with the Steinbeck of Grapes of Wrath is unfair to Cozzens' greater honesty and tough-mindedness. The obvious affinities of Cozzens' vast canvases and carefully researched detail are with Balzac and Zola, and, to a lesser extent, with Dickens. His work is realism, not naturalism, and if it lacks the power and depth that our major contemporary American novelists, Hemingway and Faulkner, gain through symbolism, its realism has compensating virtues: at all times a ready comprehensibility, and on occasion a kind of shimmering truth. In choosing in most cases to write from research rather than out of direct experience…. Cozzens has consciously chosen the Balzac-Zola tradition. In taking up one profession after another, he is apparently attempting a social chronicle similar to theirs, if on a smaller scale, a Professional Comedy to match Balzac's Human Comedy. At least he can hardly be charged with lack of ambition.
The fact that Cozzens focuses, not on all of society, like Balzac and Zola, but on sections of the middle class only, on the professions, is of enormous significance, and is a very important factor in his popularity. It is also his least attractive feature. In a sense, Cozzens is the novelist of the American white Protestant middle class, the chronicler of its doing and values, and his work represents those values so thoroughly as to make all of his books, from The Last Adam on, exercises in making peace with the world as constituted. (pp. 485-87)
A factor much less visible on the surface, but one probably responsible for Cozzens' wide appeal even more than the books' pattern of prejudice, is the books' appeal to their readers' sexual frustrations and dissatisfactions…. As it is with the middle-class reading public, sex is an obsessive factor in Cozzens' books, but little of it is what used to be called "normal" or could still be called healthy. The principal effect the books give is of general resistance to adult heterosexual relations ranging from mild inhibition to the most extreme revulsion. (p. 490)
Sadism is an equally omnipresent motif in the books. In the early novels it is very violent and very graphically described…. In the later books, the sadism is much milder and less overt … but it becomes much more markedly erotic…. (pp. 491-92)
This happy gamut of sexuality is naturally accompanied, like the prejudice, by the fitting short nasty words, although unlike his younger rivals, Cozzens does not use any of the forbidden four-letter Anglo-Saxon words … but makes do with the three-letter varieties. (p. 492)
Cozzens' work seems to divide into three clearly demarcated stages: the first four exotic works; the two short novels, S. S. San Pedro and Castaway, as a transitional stage symbolically killing off the old machinery and personality; and then the five mature professional comedies…. The first period is stylistically the worst, full of adolescent "poetic" writing, cheap ironic effects, high-flown words like "rescission," "tergant," and "macillant," and plain grammatical error. By the middle period—the two short transitional novels—Cozzens has developed his style to a point of high rhetoric, as effective as it is scarce in contemporary fiction. In S. S. San Pedro, the rhetorical style is still somewhat self-conscious…. By Castaway, the style becomes assured and entirely under control…. In Cozzens' final period, this sort of "prose with a heightened consciousness" is largely renounced, and the style attempts to appear entirely artless, a quiet, good, and almost invisible verbal texture.
At the same time, Cozzens' use of other devices altered. In a book like Michael Scarlett, the author's voice constantly intruded with editorial comments…. This authorial voice soon disappeared, and was replaced as a point of view by the consciousness of the chief character or of several of them, through which the book's events are focused and interpreted. A central symbol for many of the books does something of this job of integration: the cock pit in the book of that name, the octopus figure of the Company in The Son of Perdition…. In the later books, these key symbols are subtler and less obtrusive: the rattlesnake in The Last Adam, the courtroom itself in The Just and the Unjust…. As a concomitant of this increased symbolic subtlety, the too-easy foreshadowings of the early books slacken off…. By the time of The Last Adam, these foreshadowings are of the very gentlest sort, one brief mention of the possibility that the construction camp might be polluting the water; and in the later books, the foreshadowings—like the death of Walter in Ask Me Tomorrow and of the defendants in The Just and the Unjust—are just as apt to prove false. Cozzens' other devices also increase in subtlety, and his use of such cheap radio formulae as a single trick of speech to mark each character, like Aunt Myra's alternating lucidity in The Last Adam, dwindles in Guard of Honor to as fine a point as the connectiveless speech of the sergeants …, and is succeeded by much more effective cinematic devices: counterpointed conversations; and images, like a drink or a light switch, that serve as a transition between scenes.
Cozzens' aesthetic doctrines, too, become better integrated in his work. Confusion is full of little essay-speeches on the importance of form and technique … but by the time the writer, Edsell, appears in Guard of Honor he is seen objectively and even rather patronizingly, and Cozzens' aesthetics are stated only by barest implication. This pattern is paralleled by that of quotations in the books. In the early books, the quotations and literary references, including the Provençal, furnish the sort of phony exoticism that Poe made peculiarly his own…. In the later books the quotations and references are almost entirely from Shakespeare and the Bible, and they function organically and even symbolically in the work…. (pp. 494-97)
There is no question but that Cozzens' work, except in regard to his larger dramatic frames, shows a steady progress toward greater mastery of his craft, increased consciousness of his effects, and constantly augmented scope. Except for Castaway, however, he has given us every ingredient of first-rate novels except the novels themselves. His faults, the prejudices and blockages that make his treatment of race and sex so unsatisfactory, and his constant dissipating of tragedy into irony and melodrama, seem to be the obverse of his virtues: his enormously representative quality and his uncompromising honesty. When Cozzens can write novels with the breadth and depth of The Just and the Unjust or Guard of Honor on as taut and satisfactory a dramatic frame as Castaway has, when he learns to combine the realism of his later work with the symbolism of his middle period and deepen both in the process, he should be a novelist to rank with the best America has produced. If he never achieves such a combination of elements that he has already shown he can master individually, or develops only along the lines of his recent work, he will nevertheless have given us, in Castaway and in fragments of the other novels, an impressive "art of the possible." (p. 497)
Stanley Edgar Hyman, "James Gould Cozzens and the Art of the Possible," in New Mexico Quarterly (copyright, 1949, by The University of New Mexico), Winter, 1949, pp. 476-98.
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By Love Possessed … is a masterpiece. It is the author's masterpiece, which in the case of Mr. Cozzens is saying a good deal, yet it would be saying too little not to add at once that By Love Possessed would be almost anybody's masterpiece. No American novelist of the twentieth century has attempted more than Mr. Cozzens attempts in the course of this long and bold and delicate book, which, despite its length, one reads through at headlong speed and is then angry with oneself for having reached the end of so precipitately. No other American novelist of this century could bring to such a task the resources of intelligence, literary technique, and knowledge of the intricate, more or less sorry ways of the world that Mr. Cozzens commands. If he had failed, the very ruin of his work might have served as the occasion for grateful thanks and—like that beautiful failure Tender Is the Night…. But Mr. Cozzens is at every point far from failing. He has been superbly ambitious and has superbly realized his ambitions. Rarely seeming to exert himself, only once showing signs of strain, he has performed the sleight of hand that all writers dream of and that few have the discipline and energy, let alone the talent, to accomplish—that of arresting and rendering the surface of life (oh, yes! this is precisely how it looks) and at the same time revealing in undiminished contrariety the flow of things beneath the surface (but this, alas, is how it is). Like all the supremely satisfying novels, By Love Possessed contrives to let us recognize the truth not only of what we have experienced as individuals but of what we have not; it radically alters and enlarges us even as it gives delight. An immense achievement, and if Mr. Cozzens isn't practically beside himself with relief and pride at having brought it off, then life in its incessant pursuit of irony has, as usual, gone too far.
Not that Mr. Cozzens's achievement is a surprise. The fact is that he has been a formidable writer for a long time now, quietly—indeed, almost stealthily—extending his range and advancing from strength to strength…. Mr. Cozzens is by no means an unrecognized American novelist; nevertheless, he is in some quarters a neglected one…. Mr. Cozzens is an especially awkward case for critics, because he is not merely invisible as a man; he does his best to become invisible in his work. The hints of personality that remain unpurged—a presence reticent to the point of aloofness and even, if approached too closely, of truculence—are of little use to them…. Mr. Cozzens, in a singularly old-fashioned way, invents his books. He chooses a subject and works it up, and the heroes he creates are not in his image but in images appropriate to the subject being treated. Moreover, he is at pains to see that the treatment never dominates the subject. He is a stern creator, and though there are plenty of lively characters in his assorted worlds, there are no runaway ones. The Cozzens intellect, which is of exceptional breadth and toughness, cooly directs the Cozzens heart, with the result that a Cozzens novel is always perfectly under control; to our pleasure, the god of the machine is in the driver's seat. (pp. 432-34)
By Love Possessed is, as a story, spellbinding from start to finish; it is also, indivisibly, an eloquent summing up of Mr. Cozzens's moral preoccupations. Tolstoyan in size and seriousness, from its beginning pages it gives the impression that the author has gathered all the feeling, all the knowledge, all the wisdom to be found in his earlier books and has here deliberately pushed them to their limits. It is the work of a man at the top of his powers saying (not without sadness; one has so little time at the top, and the view is stupendous), "Here is where I stand. Here is what I make of what I see." The title contains the key word of the novel, which is love, especially with sexual love. (p. 434)
Such is the power of Mr. Cozzens's masterpiece that life may never be the same for us. We will be nursing Arthur Winner's hurt, and ours, for a long while to come. (p. 435)
Brendan Gill, "Summa cum Laude," in The New Yorker (© 1957 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), August 24, 1957 (and reprinted in Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli) Harcourt, 1978, pp. 432-35.
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The eight novels published [between 1931 and 1939] include at least four that are of major importance by any set of standards, and taken as a whole the Cozzens novels constitute a record of continuing achievement matched in our time only by Faulkner and Hemingway. (p. 5)
Though full of ideas, the novels present no ideology. At a time when violent social conflicts might seem to force a writer to consider the dynamics and direction of American society and to take a firm stand on one side or another, Cozzens has remained a spectator rather than a partisan…. Cozzens' thinking is empirical and eclectic; he follows his sense of experienced reality rather than any abstract pattern of ideas. Accordingly, although he deals with politicians and his books may have political implications, he is not in Irving Howe's sense a political novelist. Instead he belongs to the line of social novelists, headed by Jane Austen, who enjoy "the luxury of being able to take society for granted." Whether any serious novelist can today afford this luxury may be debatable. Cozzens nevertheless does take society for granted, and writes about it as though its gradations were static and permanent…. His preference for setting his stories in old, established eastern small towns enables him to utilize the historical dimension in picturing modern man, and his protagonists are not confronted with unique contemporary problems, but are shown struggling with the perennial old ones. (pp. 6-7)
Cozzens' view of human life is limited by his temperament—"the struck balance of his ruling desires, the worked-out sum of his habitual predispositions"—but he does not further limit it, artificially, by putting on the blinders of ideology.
Nevertheless, by comparison with most of his contemporaries Cozzens is a highly intellectual novelist. One of his special gifts is a talent for subtle, articulate interpretation…. (pp. 7-8)
Prominent in the novels is the assumption that duty and accomplishment are more important than enjoyment or happiness. Moreover, Cozzens' doubts of the possibility of progress, his disbelief in human perfectibility, his preference for liberty and diversity rather than equality and conformity, and his respect for traditional values embodied in a settled, stratified social order are conservative traits. Cozzens distrusts the simplistic habit of mind that resolves social complexity into the elementary stereotypes around which liberal and revolutionary enthusiasms concentrate. (p. 9)
All the novels contribute to a formidable indictment of the cheapness and vulgarity that seem inseparable from mass culture. Cozzens protests against a "liberal" church which substitutes personal adjustment for worship and encourages self-satisfaction instead of humility. He attacks the self-indulgence, product of a weakened sense of personal responsibility, which leads to juvenile delinquency and adult infantilism; the moral complacency which protects the genteel from reality; the failures of discrimination and taste exemplified in the "gilded swill" offered by mass media of entertainment; the dwindling of a sense of honor among people only concerned to get their share. Nevertheless, despite his admiration for Swift, Cozzens does not share Swift's misanthropy; his attack is aimed, not at man, but at the things men do. (pp. 10-11)
[The] central figures of Cozzens' novels lead normal workaday lives and are more apt to renounce even those modest satisfactions sometimes available in ordinary life than to try to pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon. If they are not precisely common men, they are at least conscious representatives of the modes of life in the classes to which they belong; and their solid, tangible reality gives force to Cozzens' analysis of the upper levels of American society.
In a literary sense, too, Cozzens might be called conservative, or even neoclassic. He is interested in situations rather than processes; his plots, limited by the unities of time, place, and action, define a dramatic present instead of tracing an evolutionary development. Cozzens seems to be one of those writers who find limitations, whether self-imposed or traditional, stimulating rather than stultifying…. Cozzens' style is precisely articulate, even in those occasional passages that resound with a deliberate Victorian magniloquence. Such rhetorical flourishes are consciously artificial, and along with the quotations and allusions woven into the texture of the later novels, their ironic contrasts provide incidental commentaries on contemporary life. They also serve, at moments of emotional pressure, as a defensive device, holding the reader off at arm's length. (pp. 11-12)
The tone of Cozzens' writing is, in Richard Ellmann's words, "detached,… cool, disenchanted, a little superior."… What appears in Cozzens, rather, is the mild arrogance of self-respect often observable in men who, like Julius Penrose and Abner Coates, judge themselves by stricter standards than those they tolerate in other people. The tone is appropriate to the principal characters in the novels, who are usually superior in competence to the masses and intelligent enough to recognize the fact, though too sensible to proclaim it in a society that is largely other-directed. (pp. 12-13)
In the novels the basic magnanimity of the central characters is modified by an increasing humbleness in the face of the contingencies of human existence. One evidence of it is an increasing tolerance in the later novels for contradictory ideas, a practice of balancing alternatives by giving each man's views and values a fair hearing. Cozzens' basically Pyrrhonistic habit of mind appears both in his distrust of absolutes and in his custom of stating both sides of a case without committing himself to a final explicit evaluation. The problems raised in the novels, like those in real life, are usually insoluble if regarded in simple terms of right and wrong…. [This] habit of increasing the tension by balancing alternatives is a major source of power in the novels.
It is also the justification for calling Cozzens primarily a moral writer. Intensely American in his distrust of arbitrary authority, he shares the Protestant reliance on the moral judgment of the individual. (pp. 16-17)
Although he analyzes exhaustively the determining causes of critical events, his characters are not shown as the victims of a strict mechanistic determinism. They act as though they had free will, and their choices seem to them, and to the reader, to be morally significant. Unlike the cross section of life depicted by such a naturalist as Dos Passos, Cozzens' picture of society is selective, and by choosing the aristoi as his principal subject matter he tends to increase our awareness of the upper ranges of human possibilities. In this respect the novels share the classical aim of establishing an ideal of human behavior, without ignoring contemporary man's falling away from the ideal. (pp. 18-19)
Cozzens' sense of vicissitude and mortality is poignant, but the feeling that dominates his novels is not tragic acceptance, but regretful "compunction … for the human predicament." (p. 19)
Cozzens' novels represent a serious effort to understand and recreate an important segment of American society. The tone is at once ironic and sympathetic, the structure is perspicuous, and the writing for the most part is lucid and polished…. To the reader interested in life rather than exhibitions of a writer's exotic sensibility, Cozzens offers a scrupulously honest report of American society as seen by a detached, highly perceptive observer. It is somewhat old-fashioned fare, but nourishing. The best of Cozzens' works are evidence that the traditional social novel, with its high seriousness and moral urgency, is still viable in a period of experiment and disorder. (p. 20)
The five major and characteristic novels are Men and Brethren, 1933; Ask Me Tomorrow, 1940; The Just and the Unjust, 1942; Guard of Honor, 1948; and By Love Possessed, 1957. All five novels are centered on a professional man's working life, presented in accurate detail and with an abundance of good shoptalk. (p. 24)
Underlying all the major novels is a basic moral principle: men must learn to adapt both their desires and their principles to the irresistible forces of circumstance. The principal conflict in the novels is internal and psychological; the problem is to reconcile the discrepancy between the ideal and the possible. (pp. 24-5)
Although primarily concerned with moral problems, Cozzens is not given to outright moralizing…. By unobtrusively directing the reader's sympathy toward some of these characters, Cozzens embodies his moral values in the heroes. The novels thus fill the ancient traditional function of providing models of behavior; and they enrich sensibility by showing men not only how to act, but how to feel.
The heroes who reflect Cozzens' moral sensibility have a good many traits in common. In the later novels they are matured, responsible, decent members of the upper middle class, neither romantic rebels against society nor visionaries who believe they can cure the troubles of our proud and angry dust…. But the disciplined man of reason has not always held the center of Cozzens' moral stage. In the early novels the central figures are active rebels, fighting authority in its various forms and protesting against the iniquities of society and the condition of man. (pp. 25-6)
The two earliest, Confusion (1924) and Michael Scarlett (1926), have similar heroes and a common theme: a glittering, accomplished youth, at odds with society, is finally defeated by a world which does not measure up to the standards he demands. These novels are romantic not only in their glorification of the aristocratic rebel, but in their richly sensuous decor and sympathetic picture of romantic love. Both suggest that a major literary influence on Cozzens when he began to write was the Fitzgerald of This Side of Paradise. (p. 27)
Although Confusion and Michael Scarlett are very immature performances, they foreshadow the later novels in several important ways. Both are vivid, carefully researched and documented pictures of a society at a particular time. (p. 29)
The novels preceding S.S. San Pedro are all concerned in some way with attitudes toward a father-image; the important characters either rebel against authority or exemplify the calm, competent assurance of the man in charge. (p. 35)
The Last Adam not only marks the final appearance of the early type of Cozzens hero, but introduces what is to be the principal subject matter of the later novels: American society. The village of New Winton, Connecticut, is an organism, a tight, closed system of interrelated energies. It is presented and analyzed in detail: social structure, mores, economy, government…. [The society depicted in The Last Adam is one] which, despite the virtues of some of its members, is as a whole narrow, selfish, and complacent. In the later novels society, with all its faults, is pictured as neverthless providing the stability and order essential to any kind of good life, and the admirable men have learned to adapt to it instead of fighting it.
A transitional book in this progression of attitudes toward society is Castaway (1934). In this short novel society does not appear at all, but by a picture of one man's helpless inadequacy in solitude the book demonstrates our dependence on other men. Castaway is an experiment in allegorical fantasy unlike anything else Cozzens has written, but it is extraordinarily effective and compelling. An ambiguous, richly imaginative psychological ghost story, it leaves the reader with a haunting sense of significances just over the threshold of consciousness. (pp. 37-8)
[Although] the fertile wealth of implications and the precision of the writing make Castaway a richly enigmatic little masterpiece, it is atypical. In writing it Cozzens demonstrated how successfully he could exploit the vein of Kafkaesque fantasy, and having shown it, turned back to the lucidity and fully articulated intention of his later novels. (p. 46)
Cozzens makes fully articulate the flashes of remembrance or intuition that occur in the mind of a principal character during the course of action or talk. The device is used constantly throughout the novels …; and if it is unrealistic in the strict sense that thought so fully explicated would take up much more time than a momentary pause in a conversation, the device is obviously intended to be taken with that willing suspension of disbelief which any convention, on the stage or in a novel, requires. (p. 51)
It should … be noted that the baroque style of By Love Possessed is neither completely representative nor entirely new. The eccentricities are exaggerated, to be sure, but they are exaggerations of tendencies already present, though kept under stricter control, in Cozzens' earlier novels. So far as sentence structure is concerned, Cozzens has two characteristic traits: a fondness for elaborate subordination which results in nests of parenthetical comments within subordinate elements, and a habit of appositival coordination in which one expression (noun, verb, modifier) is followed by others that explain and bear the same grammatical construction as the first. These traits, infrequent in dialogue, are common in meditative or descriptive passages. (pp. 51-2)
Cozzens' style, although sensitive and ornate, is not poetic. The surface is dense and in the later novels often forbidding, but it is clear in the sense that the poetry of Pope is clear—the meaning not always easy to grasp on a first reading, but fully articulated and expressed if a reader makes the effort required by the compression and complication of the structure…. The one Cozzens novel that might be called poetic—both in its primary use of image and symbol and in the feeling it gives of being autogenetic, of having been discovered as an organic whole by the writer instead of being deliberately constructed—is Castaway. But even here the writing is sharp and precise. (p. 54)
In addition to being complex and ornate in its structure, Cozzens' style is "literary" in the sense that the reflective and descriptive passages use a good many uncommon words, similar to the inkhorn terms of Elizabethan writers, and a wealth of half-quotations and allusions. (pp. 54-5)
Apart from their preciseness of connotation, Cozzens seems often to use exotic words out of an almost Elizabethan exuberance, a simple delight in rich materials…. Cozzens writes for an audience literate enough to enjoy deliberate virtuosity and able to look at the literary equivalent of late Victorian gingerbread architecture, not with Puritan outrage, but with amusement and affection.
These devices—the ornate complexity of sentence structure, the use of literary words, the excess of alliteration—give to parts of Cozzens' later novels their stylistic effect of slightly old-fashioned magniloquence…. Even at its most rhetorical, Cozzens' style in By Love Possessed is rich, sonorous, and masculine. The sentences are architectual in their feeling for rich materials and their concern for an explicitness of structure which baroque embellishment may cover but does not conceal. If the decoration is occasionally so literary as to approach the grotesque, at least it is determinate and perspicuous, sharp in the sunlight with no blurred, fuzzy edges. (pp. 55-7)
Cozzens' magniloquence is not motivated by the pious reverence of the antiquarian; he uses Victorian mannerisms with a full, ironic awareness of their incongruity in an age which, as Julius Penrose notes, is cheap and maudlin. The ironically artifical speech of some of the characters provides them with a kind of defense against falsity, against too open a revelation of deep feeling. (pp. 57-8)
Another device that serves to establish an exact degree of separation between the author and his characters is the use of full names to designate the principal characters in By Love Possessed…. The device may sound mannered, but it serves to establish the slightly formal tone that Cozzens seems to intend. (p. 60)
Cozzens' particular temperament may also be indicated in the frequency with which certain words are used. "Compunction" occurs over and over again throughout the novels, and its connotation—a faint suggestion of arrogance and guilt mingled with pity or sympathy—seems to define the author's contradictory combination of habitual feelings: protectively detached, oversensitive almost to the point of being finicky, yet worried and involved. The impression is reinforced, especially in Ask Me Tomorrow, by an excessive use of other words suggesting a kind of partial disengagement, or shrinking involvement: mortifying, harassed, crest-fallen; qualms, chagrin, wounded feelings; quailed, shrank, recoiled. Like his sentence structure, Cozzens' diction reflects his basically Pyrrhonistic temperament, his apoetic intelligence, and his troubled aloofness.
The intricately qualified observations and judgments of the Cozzens heroes are matched by the complexity and magniloquence of the style in which they think and speak, and a very conspicuous trait of this style is its frequent incorporation of quotations, half-quotations, and allusions. (pp. 60-1)
If Cozzens' style, with its usual lucid precision, its occasional deliberate flights of rhetoric, and its fondness for quoting from the "Ancients," might be described as classical, the same term could be used for another characteristic of his novels: a tight structure, based on the classical unities. The typical Cozzens novel is primarily dramatic; its purpose is the immediate presentation of significant character in action; and an important part of the action is what the characters think. (pp. 65-6)
Cozzens does not trace the slow development of character molded by environment and experience over a long period of years. Instead, he confronts us at once with fully formed characters involved in some complication of critical action. (pp. 66-7)
The novels are as scrupulously organized as they are fully researched and documented, but despite the complicated ordering of events and the heavy load of accurate, detailed information carried, they never seem schematized or mechanical. (p. 68)
All of the Cozzens novels, including Castaway, have the traditional virtue of being rich and meaningful on the simplest level of narrative: they tell a story that is realistic, compelling, and representative of universal human experience. They accurately reproduce the speech and behavior of particular individuals; they evoke a vivid sense of place; and through a careful unity of time, they achieve a heightening of a dramatic present. Characters are not merely presented, as on the stage; they are analyzed with shrewd psychological insight by the central consciousness of each novel. Accordingly, instead of the gossamer insights of poetry a reader feels the firm iron of a controlling intelligence. But this traditional framework of the realistic novel is enriched by the devices of a highly literary style, full of allusions and quotations that provide both embellishment and ironic contrasts. Less apparent, but highly important in creating the pervading resonance of this author's writing, are the devices of juxtaposed or echoed incident, which may explain Cozzens' demand for readers with "the wit to see the relation which I could not stop to spell out between this and that." (pp. 114-15)
The picture of society in Cozzens' novels is in a double sense static. For one thing, the writer is more interested in situation than in process; he does not, characteristically, trace in chronological order the slow changes in an individual or family or social group. Instead he presents people as they are at a given dramatic time and place, only incidentally offering, through flashbacks, some explanation of how they got there. In a more important sense, the picture of society is static in its implicit denial that change is equivalent to progress and the implied doubt that progress is possible at all. Although Cozzens does not go to the extreme of the Augustan poet, complacently insisting that whatever is, is right, his attitude toward social inequalities and injustices is not at all reformist. On the whole, Cozzens seems content to limit himself to an examination of things as they are, rather than as they might or should be. (p. 119)
Of the various ranges into which Cozzens fits his characters, a few are nonevaluative, like his treatment of the differences between men and women, but most ranges of difference are treated as though they constitute a hierarchy…. He is particularly interested in exploring the extremes of the range of aptitude, in contrasting the intelligently competent with the stupidly shiftless. (p. 121)
The existence of … characters, in whom the heart of darkness common to all men is so imperative that no amount of social conditioning can repress and contain it, is one of the circumstances which the Cozzens heroes have to admit and adapt themselves to. Though he shares many of the traditional values of liberalism—the appeal to reason, a high valuation of individual liberty, a tolerant open-mindedness—Cozzens does not share the liberal's belief that education and reform can eliminate the basic evils of society. Rather, he seems to agree with orthodox theologians that a better society is possible only if its architects adapt is to such immovable objects in the social landscape as the succeeding generations of the sons of perdition. (p. 206)
The function of reason in the Cozzens novels is to clarify the limits of the possible, and to warn men not to work outside those limits. Cozzens is often referred to as a pessimist, and in the basic theological sense he undoubtedly is. But what is often mistaken for pessimism is a reflection of his underlying moral belief: man is, in varying degree but always to some extent, limited in his abilities and circumstances; feeling—the "wild, indeterminate, infinite appetite of man"—is unlimited. If an infinite appetite coexisting with limited powers is not restrained by reason, frustration and unhappiness are bound to result. Man in general, however, is possessed by love, so much at the mercy of his feelings that he rejects reason's sober injunctions in favor of "youth's dear and heady hope that thistles can somehow be made to bear figs." (p. 212)
In regard to most problems of ethics, Cozzens' distrust of oversimple solutions leads him to answers which are ambiguous if not actually equivocal. It is not merely that he makes us aware of the exceptions to every rule; there are a bewildering number of rules, and though each may seem convincing as presented in a particular context of character and action, taken together they lead to contradiction and tension. (p. 222)
Drawing fine moral lines of this sort is the painful, continual responsibility of the Cozzens heroes, and the reader is kept constantly aware of the moral tension by having his sympathy directed toward both alternatives. (pp. 226-27)
That it is later than one thinks occurs frequently enough to men in middle age, and Cozzens' inescapable clocks and sundials keep the reader constantly aware of the inevitability of change, the necessity of ripening into maturity, and the end of the cycle which makes ripeness for action only a prelude to ripeness for death. (p. 231)
The moral landscape of the novels is painted in sober grays and browns…. Like the Stoics, Cozzens seems at times to overvalue reason, renunciation, and resignation. (p. 234)
It is nevertheless not accurate to call Cozzens a Stoic; he is too much of an eclectic to be so neatly labeled. Cozzens shares, to be sure, some of the main points of the Stoic moral code: the emphasis on reason, discipline, and self-control; the acute melancholy sense of the universal flux of things, of change and vicissitude, in which he resembled Marcus Aurelius; the definition of freedom as the ability to discriminate things within our power from those not in our power. But while he agrees with the Stoics, and the Christian theologians, as to the necessity of accepting the factual situation, or the will of God, he does not share the Stoic glorification of ataraxia, indifference toward the external vicissitudes of life. (pp. 234-35)
Cozzens' sense of what is reasonable and right in human conduct is constantly qualified by observation of how men, possessed by love, actually behave; but the melancholy which runs through the novels does not come from a passive acceptance of man's limitations and mortality. Rather, it is a by-product of the experience of moral tension: Cozzens is acutely aware of the unequal conflict between what inescapably is and a healthy man's refusal to accept it with reasoned resignation.
Against disasters and the steady attrition of time, the Cozzens hero has some supports more positive than the desperate indifference of the Stoic. One of the strongest is a sense of solidarity with the past, and it is probably no accident that the novels are filled with descriptions of monuments and architectural records of another day, which serve as points of relative stability in the stream of change. (pp. 235-36)
Cozzens seems to have a strong feeling for the virtue which in the Renaissance was called "grace," a sense of what is fitting and seemly. It is a virtue requiring the exercise of whatever endowment of discrimination and sensibility a man may have, and it is conspicuous in the magnanimity of the "natural aristocrats" who are Cozzens' heroes. The moral imperatives that motivate the magnanimous man cannot be proved to have value. They can only be asserted, but Cozzens is eloquent in asserting them. (p. 242)
[The] novels in chronological order show a parallel growth of moral warmth and depth in the author. The clinical tone of the early novels reflects an ironic detachment similar to the troubled aloofness of Francis Ellery. In the course of thirty years Cozzens' objectivity, though it remains unsentimentally, realistically alert to men's differences and failings, has been sweetened by the compassion for imperfect man which is the message and the mark of all great literature. (pp. 281-82)
Frederick Bracher, in his The Novels of James Gould Cozzens (© 1959 by Frederick Bracher; reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.), Harcourt, 1959.
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"Ask Me Tomorrow" is definitely not in the mode of Compton Mackenzie's "Sinister Street" or Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise," the two youthful "quest" novels that were so widely imitated in the interwar period. The Cozzens portrait of the writer as a young man is tenderly ironic; the author applies the same objective criteria in looking at himself as he does when looking at others. Incidentally, "Ask Me Tomorrow" is a perfect depiction of the Europe that traveling Americans knew when the dollar was a dollar….
As Cozzens grew older, he "saw the stout, stubborn will … gaining impressive victories." He also came at a later age to realize "how temporary are the patterns and the point one can impose on life." In "By Love Possessed," written when Cozzens was 54, the diminished future that must come to all aging dukes who attempt to control life is a matter for cosmic irony. Arthur Winner, the small-town lawyer who turned down the offer of a judgeship in his 50's on the ground that middle age was not a time for new beginnings, has been compelled by a series of shattering experiences to realize that it was an illusion to believe "power really matters." But he fought a good fight, and that is what counts in the making of character.
In his preference for responsible individuals Cozzens was something of an anomaly among the major novelists of his period. Hemingway preferred the character who made his separate peace. Fitzgerald gloried in the romanticism of defeat. Farrell's Studs Lonigan welches on his idea of being strong and tough and the real stuff. One has to go back to Willa Cather's generation to find "ordering characters" to match those of the big Cozzens novels. (p. 11)
John Chamberlain, "Writer of Character," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 6, 1978, pp. 10-11.
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Though over-written and perhaps pretentious, Confusion [Cozzens's first novel] introduced the search for values or standards of conduct that would characterize all of Cozzens's work….
Michael Scarlett showed what would be the mark of Cozzens's fiction: his ability to treat a subject with authority, for the novel manifests a knowledge of Elizabethan literature and society remarkable in a twenty-two-year-old Harvard drop-out. (p. xii)
Cozzens's first three novels developed superior young figures who need an occupation worthy of their abilities; however, Cock Pit was the first novel in which he used material he knew from experience and observation. It established what became the most notable quality of his major fiction: the authentic presentation of a profession and the society associated with it. This authenticity is something more than accuracy or realism. When Cozzens learned something, he really learned it and was able to use the information without appearing to be writing from research.
After three novels in which rebellious figures were treated sympathetically, Cozzens created a character who embodies disorder and destruction…. The Son of Perdition marked the end of Cozzens's apprenticeship in terms of his attitudes towards his characters…. Son of Perdition shows the need to impose at least the effect of stability on society, although Cozzens fully acknowledges the power of chance.
S.S. San Pedro is the first of his books that Cozzens now regards worth claiming…. [It] details the unaccountable sinking of a ship; but the real subject of the novelette is the dissolution of authority. (pp. xii-xiii)
Dr. George Bull [of The Last Adam] is a transitional figure in the development of the Cozzens hero. An old rebel against conventional behavior and a careless doctor, Bull is nonetheless a necessary member of the community—both an establishment figure and an outsider. The Last Adam is not a sentimental country-doctor novel. Indifferent to his patients, contemptuous of his townsmen, and in some ways incompetent, Dr. Bull nonetheless embodies the vitality of life. (p. xiii)
A reversal of Robinson Crusoe, Castaway shows a man who is unable to survive alone in the abundance of a modern department store. The meanings of Castaway are not political. Cozzens's subject is the inadequacy of the modern individual and the deterioration of character. (p. xiv)
Men and Brethren, published in January 1936, is the first full portrait of what can now be recognized as the Cozzens hero—the man of experience, education, and responsibility who serves his community and profession as a matter of duty. Ernest Cudlipp, an Episcopal priest who is vicar of a parish chapel in a New York slum, is the best depiction of a clergyman in American literature. Men and Brethren is significant in Cozzens's development toward tightly structured novels in which a multiplicity of events impinge on the central character in a period of two or three days. The controlling point of view is Cudlipp's, and everything in the novel is filtered through his intelligence. (pp. xiv-xv)
Ask Me Tomorrow … interrupted the cycle of professional novels and is uncharacteristically personal, drawing on Cozzens's experiences as a tutor in Europe. This portrait of the writer as a young man is ironic and even satirical, for the tutor himself undergoes an educational process as he recognizes his vanities and learns to temper his pride….
The background [of The Just and the Unjust] is a murder trial in a small community in the northeast, during the course of which Abner Coates, an idealistic and naïve lawyer, comes to accept the realities of his profession—which are the realities of his life. The theme of the novel is limitations—a basic Cozzens theme: the limitations of the law as well as the limitations of human nature. The Just and the Unjust has been frequently called the most authentic American novel about the legal profession. (p. xv)
Guard of Honor … is the best American novel of World War II and is generally regarded as Cozzens's finest achievement. It is a war novel that does not depict battle or heroics…. Complexly structured, Guard of Honor shows the full development of Cozzens's concern with "the dramatic inner meaning that lies in the simultaneous occurrence of diverse things." (p. xvi)
By Love Possessed is Cozzens's most thorough examination of moral complexity—not moral ambiguity. The epigraph to The Just and the Unjust—"Certainty is the Mother of Repose; therefore the Law aims at Certainty"—echoes through Cozzens's later work as it is shown that there are no certainties. At best there are choices in which emotion, experience, and imperfect reason respond to circumstances determined by chance and by what has already happened. Learning to recognize his limitations, the Cozzens hero makes his moral choices and does his best to maintain the stability of his world. (p. xvii)
Less tightly structured than his other major novels, Morning Noon and Night is Cozzens's only first-person novel. The narrator, Henry Worthington, ruminates on his career as a highly successful business consultant and admits that luck has been the chief factor in his life. The characteristic Cozzens conclusion in this novel with its clear valedictory note of summation is that while recognizing the over-riding factor of chance, the responsible man acts responsibly. The subject of Morning Noon and Night is vocation, which is the dominant subject in Cozzens. Throughout his career Cozzens has been concerned with the interconnections between character and occupation. (p. xviii)
His prose is precise; his meanings are clear; and, before By Love Possessed, his style is unembellished. The increasing dignity of style enforces Cozzens's objectivity. The "coldness" that critics have cited in Cozzens's observation of his characters is the stoical detachment of a writer trying to achieve "the stability of truth" in dealing with profound matters of human conduct. The periodic sentences and heavy subordination of By Love Possessed and Morning Noon and Night can intimidate only those who have not mastered the structure of the English sentence. The by-no-means overwhelming use of uncommon words achieves exactness of statement. Such words are intended to fix the reader's attention and, if necessary, send him to a dictionary. Cozzens's developed style is the natural expression for a highly literate writer with a traditionalist's respect for language. The complexity of sentence structure is appropriate to the complexity of his thinking. His use of open or concealed literary allusion in Guard of Honor, By Love Possessed, and Morning Noon and Night does not exclude the much-cherished general reader. The allusions are there for readers who recognize them; but the meanings of the books do not depend on that recognition. Cozzens is not a mandarin author; his work is far more accessible than that of many novelists currently in critical favor. He does not, in fact, make extraordinary demands on readers—beyond requiring them to pay attention.
To concept of vocation is central to Cozzens's representations of general nature, but he fully credits the determining factors in human conduct—education, social position, intelligence, training, luck, and what used to be called "character." The mark of Cozzens's people is that their values and behavior are developed in terms of their professions. You are what you do and how well you do it. (p. xix)
[Cozzens] has declined to accommodate temporary concepts of relevance. He has refused to play the game of literary success—"writing only to say as precisely as he can what by standards of his own he judged worth saying." At present his work is disparaged or ignored by custodians of literary reputations. Weighing their standards, Cozzens must assuredly want it no other way. If there is truth in the comforting promise that justice will be done to master-pieces, the novels of James Gould Cozzens have a safe place of proper stature among the sound achievements in American literature. (p. xx)
Matthew J. Bruccoli, in his introduction to Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli (copyright © 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the publisher), Harcourt, 1978, pp. xi-xxi.
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The dominant theme in James Gould Cozzen's novels is that of order imposed on a meaningless world—or, rather, that of order being maintained, and even occasionally extended….
It is always a comparative handful of men whom Cozzens shows as holding society together and keeping it orderly: the few adults of his novels, as opposed to the many children.
The best and smartest of these grown-ups operate somewhat the way Shakespeare's dukes do in the late comedies. That is, they are the centers of their societies, and not merely in some social sense, but truly in the middle, so that most information passes through them, and most connections are made by them. (p. 278)
One can trace the growth of the ducal type in Cozzens's earlier work, the hard-won but triumphant mastery of a town or an army base in the great novels, and the final defeat in Morning Noon and Night….
The type first appears in The Last Adam, not as a duke but a duchess. Mrs. Banning is the upholder of stability and order in New Winton, Connecticut, as her son Guy will be after her. (Though probably not in New Winton. Probably in Hartford or New York.) What is surprising when one looks at the whole sweep of ordering characters in Cozzens is that both Mrs. Banning and Guy are viewed satirically. Or, at least, more satirically than not. Cozzens is far too complex and realistic a writer to deny them their genuine power and worth….
Mrs. Banning does have one characteristic that foreshadows the later ducal characters. She is able to hold a good many thoughts in her mind at once, without getting muddled and without losing the power to act. (p. 279)
Cozzens reserves his sympathy in The Last Adam for three quite different sorts of characters. The first, exemplified in Mr. Banning, is the person who has simply opted out, who attempts to order nothing more intractable than a flower garden. The reader is invited to feel a certain scorn for Mr. Banning's weakness (he is not a true man—read duke—as his father had been) but a good deal more sympathy for his insight, even when it cripples his power to act….
The second type is represented by three important characters in the book: Mrs. Banning's daughter Virginia; Dr. Bull, the last Adam of the title; and Miss Janet Cardmaker, Dr. Bull's mistress…. All three are members of New Winton's small upper class, and all three feel contempt for the orderly and ordering life of that class, as seen in Mrs. Banning and in such minor characters as Matthew Herring. All three are, in fact, centers of disorder. Virginia might be a young Sartoris out of Faulkner….
If Virginia Banning is Cozzens's Sartoris, Dr. Bull is his Gatsby. Symbolically, it is apt enough that Virginia dies at sixteen, and that Dr. Bull and Janet leave no descendants—are each the last of their families. (p. 280)
[May Tupping, an example of the third type], is a very faint sketch of the good dukes who will dominate the later books. Intelligent and responsible, May is literally the center of communication in New Winton; she plugs the town in to itself. (p. 281)
May is, at twenty-two, too naive and too powerless to be more than a sketch of what a full Cozzens ordering character will become. She perhaps also starts from too low a social position. But she is clearly already an adult in Cozzen's terms…. It is within her mind that Cozzens first formulates ducal awareness and duty. (pp. 281-82)
In Men and Brethen, published three years later, the characteristics that May and Mrs. Banning possess only embryonically or comically appear at close to full force. Ernest Cudlipp is the first of Cozzens's major ordering characters….
Cozzens first uses in Men and Brethren what is going to be his favorite and most successful narrative structure. Using his central character as a batter, he throws pitch after pitch, sending them at steadily shorter intervals, until there seem to be a dozen in the air at once. Or to put it more abstractly, he presents the mounting tension, over a brief period, of more and more almost insoluble problems coming at the central character (and the reader) faster and faster until it seems impossible for him to deal with them all. (p. 282)
Just when a character in a Cozzens novel begins to think that he alone can hold the world together, he is likely to discover that not only is he not alone in this ability, but that from time to time there is someone holding him together. (p. 284)
Ernest is a stoic who happens also to be a Christian minister. Presumably what led Cozzens to invent him was an interest in the traditions and social dynamics of the Episcopal church and an even greater interest in the natural ordering roles played by ministers, not any new awareness of a transcendental It.
The Just and the Unjust, though published six years later than Men and Brethren, is a step backward in the presentation of the ducal character. (The book itself is no step backward.) Ernest Cudlipp long ago accepted his obligation; what we watch is how he fulfills it. But Abner Coates in The Just and the Unjust, though he comes of a ducal family, decides only at the very end of the book to accept his.
What we watch is the process by which a nice young man finds himself forced to give up his scruples and his privacy and become an adult. (pp. 284-85)
One way to describe Guard of Honor is as the search for a duke. In the context of a novel nearly all of whose characters belong to the U.S. Army Air Force, "duke" means someone worthy to command an Air Force base or a substantial military unit.
For most of the book, there seem to be no such people—at least not among those with sufficient rank to be given command. (p. 286)
The search for a duke is not carried on by any of the characters in the book, but by the reader. The stupider characters are unaware that there needs to be any search, because for them rank and worthiness to command are identical (or almost identical—some of them make a separation in the case of Colonel Woodman). Since General Beal is two ranks higher than anyone else at Ocanara, he is automatically their duke. The smarter characters have already decided before the book begins that the search is useless. No one of ducal caliber is available. (p. 287)
By Love Possessed, among its many richnesses, contains a study of the aging and death of dukes. (p. 289)
[Arthur Winner] is a reigning duke: the most fully drawn, the most admirable, and the most believable that Cozzens created. He is the culmination of the development I have been tracing. But at the same time he is in two ways quite different from any earlier duke. (p. 290)
One is that he sees much less prospect of using his power to reward merit or extend justice than they did….
The other difference is that Arthur Winner neither holds nor aspires to office. He avoids it. In the somewhat loose sense that I am using the term "duke," it is possible to be one as a private citizen. But both in Cozzen's novels and in real American life, office, power, and responsbility are so intimately allied that actually to refuse office comes close to declining the ducal role. (p. 291)
Cozzens leaves no doubt that Arthur Winner is fully worthy of the crown. The whole book is a statement of that. In addition, there are symbolic details at the beginning and end of the book to drive it home. (p. 292)
[Morning Noon and Night] completes Cozzens's study of dukes. [It] is a denunciation of ducal characters, by one.
The duke who attacks his class is old Henry Worthington, a man of sixty-five, like his creator. Our Hank, he usually calls himself. He is the central character, the man whose loose and baggy autobiography the book purports to be. He is as ducal as human beings come. (pp. 292-93)
Dukes are especially likely not to be nice people, Henry says, because they have power. Ernest Cudlipp and Norman Ross and the others had power, and used it to do good. Arthur Winner came to doubt that you could do much good with power, and his doubt was strong enough to keep him out of office. The lightning striking the ducal oak out at the lake is a symbol of that doubt. But as a private lawyer in Brocton, he continues endlessly to solve social problems and to work at keeping his society intact. (The oak survives, though damaged.) He sees no other rational option.
Like the Shakespeare of Sonnet 94, Henry Worthington views power primarily as the capacity to injure other people. And, taking issue with the sonnet, he says he has never seen a man with that capacity who didn't use it. "Power (the pleasure of the prince) simply by being in-being unfailingly brings hurt to someone, and never can do none."… (pp. 293-94)
If that is true, there is an end to the heroic figure of the duke; we are left only with the duke-as-bully. In fact, if we follow the strict logic of the sonnet, it is an end of dukes altogether, because there are no more "Lords and owners of their faces," only a race of stewards….
The stout, stubborn will, in short, has abdicated. And the novelist, James Gould Cozzens, has closed his career with a non-novel.
Back in the beginning, it was the lords of disorder—Dr. Bull, Janet Cardmaker, Virginia Banning—who left no heirs, while May Tupping and Guy Banning are sure to. Now it is the last duke whose line runs out. Henry Worthington has one daughter. She had two children, who died pointlessly in a plane crash, and she is not able to bear more children. There will be no more dukes.
But though Cozzens in effect disavows his own earlier novels and their ducal heroes, the reader is not obligated to. Guard of Honor and By Love Possessed have passed from their creator's control. Norman Ross and Arthur Winner exist in their own right as two of the great ordering characters of twentieth-century literature. (p. 294)
Noel Perrin, "The Good Dukes," in Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli (copyright © 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and Southern Illinois University Press), Harcourt and Southern Illinois University Press, 1978, pp. 278-94.