James Gould Cozzens

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George J. Becker (review date June 1949)

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SOURCE: "Men at War," in Commentary, Vol. 7, No. 6, June, 1949, pp. 608-09.

[Becker is an educator and author whose books include Paris and the Arts, 1851–1896 (1971) and Master European Realists of the Nineteenth Century (1982). In the following review of Guard of Honor, he contends that while the military detail is authentic, the plot is weak and lacks objectivity and balance in its view of military life.]

The slice of life or the cross-section has been used by novelists to give a balanced and objective view of a world too often subject to distortion because of faulty vision or special pleading. James Gould Cozzens, in his Pulitzer Prize novel, [Guard of Honor], uses the technique with skill and urbanity. Yet his very success brings the value of the device into question.

For millions of us, civilian as well as military combatants, the most abiding memory of the late war is of the gigantic and often apparently chaotic organizations of which we were a part. As sprawling army bases and posts rose in brick and concrete almost overnight, teapot tempests and departmental intrigues and jealousies loomed larger on the immediate horizon than the landing on Okinawa or the crossing of the Rhine. Conduct of the war, like that of any enterprise, depended on the nature and interplay of personalities. A fumbler in uniform was a fumbler still, raised even to a higher power.

What Mr. Cozzens gives us is the shock and pleasure of recognition. A score or more of representative people at a great army air base at Ocanara, Florida, live through forty-eight hours and 631 pages of a purely local crisis. For a time it is in question whether Major General Beal, commander of the base, will display the powers of judgment and stability to enable him in an administrative position to continue the rapid rise he has made as a "flying general." If it is less by intelligence than by his ability to inspire the intelligent devotion of others that he does come through, still there is the comforting assurance that the war is in good hands and men of good will do prosper.

It is both idle and ungrateful to ask that an author have written another novel than he did. Yet the careful lack of focus, the persistent effort to avoid an issue, the deliberate reaching out to obvious and trivial episodes in the lives of the characters, becomes here a fundamental flaw, negating the very literary skill that is everywhere apparent. This group of human beings is intrinsically no more interesting than any other similarly complex group, nor is the Ocanara air base shown to be any different in its essentials from a department store, or a labor union, or a metropolitan hospital, to choose at random from popular subjects of the cross-section technique. Indeed, except for the possible novelty of the military scene, there is nothing new here. On the evidence submitted by Mr. Cozzens, there is no reason to think that the war behind the lines is especially interesting or worth writing about.

Actually he starts a number of hares in the form of serious themes, any one of which would have provided an adequate focus for his book. In Benny Carricker and in General Beal, for example, we have tantalizing glimpses of the new man who has added the air to his dimensions. Benny, though not fully drawn, is convincing in his insouciant insubordination and pungent speech. Beal taking to the air while others resolve his problems for him is also memorable. He raises...

(This entire section contains 829 words.)

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also the question of what kind of leadership a war demands, but though we are told at the end that Beal's qualities are more indispensable than those of Jo-Jo Nichols, the Jove-like Deputy Chief of Air Staff, we never get at his essence.

The crisis in Cozzens' book deals with Jim Crowism at the base and in the community at large. Several characters exist only to exacerbate the tension by trying to see that justice is done. A nice sense of irony is displayed in some of the central scenes. But then, as personal crises are resolved, the social problem recedes, and it becomes clear that it is only a piquant element, not the real focus of Cozzens' concern.

Thus there is both too much and too little. There is a wealth of authentic detail, but the whole is a blur, a huge Delacroix canvas that becomes a little tiresome, no matter how engaging the parts. In short, the cross-section seems played out in serious writing except as an elementary device for readers who cannot keep their eyes on a complex object. What is needed is a more intensive application of the qualities of objectivity and balanced selection to a smaller segment of experience. Where an author has found value and meaning he should make it possible for the reader to disengage them. And where they do not exist, that itself is a meaning which needs to be brought into focus.


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James Gould Cozzens 1903–1978

American novelist and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Cozzens's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 4, and 11.

Cozzens is best known for insightful tales about the more or less privileged lives led by White Anglo-Saxon Protestant American professional men. Philosophical in approach, Cozzens's novels utilize little action but explore a wide range of ideas, including love, duty, and the law. Cozzens eschewed the modernist literary trends of his time, deliberately employing unfamiliar, archaic words, traditional literary structures, and moralistic Puritan themes; these choices caused many critics to regard his work as old-fashioned.

Biographical Information

Cozzens was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up on Staten Island, New York. His father was a businessman whose ancestors include the Civil War-era governor of Rhode Island. His mother's family consisted of aristocratic Connecticut royalists who moved to Nova Scotia during the American revolt. Raised in an upper-class environment, Cozzens was educated at the Kent Academy Episcopal prep school and at Harvard University, which he left after his Sophomore year and the successful publication of his first novel Confusion (1924). While living in Canada he completed the historical romance, Michael Scarlett (1925), then taught school in Cuba and tutored in Europe. Following his marriage to Sylvia Bernice Baumgarten, he and his wife settled in Lambertville, New Jersey, where he wrote the remainder of his books and short stories. Although Cozzens initially received favorable critical acclaim for his writings and the Pulitzer prize for Guard of Honor in 1948, the literary community and reading public largely neglected his works.

Major Works

Cozzens's novels—such as Men and Brethren (1936), The Just and the Unjust (1942), Guard of Honor (1948), and By Love Possessed (1957)—explore the moral conduct and self-disciplined lives of professional people, and span no more than a few days. Cozzens's central characters are almost always respected professionals, such as Dr. George Bull in The Last Adam (1933); Ernest Cudlipp, the Episcopal priest in Men and Brethren; Major General Beal, the commanding officer of a Florida military base in Guard of Honor; Abner Coates, the assistant district attorney in The Just and the Unjust; and Arthur Winner, the town lawyer in By Love Possessed. Typical of Cozzens's style is the philosophical analysis of his protagonist's motivations. For example, the complexities of love and the tragedy of despair are explored in Confusion, in which Cerise D'Atree falls in love with Blair Broughton who dies in a car crash. That a doctor's medical responsibilities will ultimately guide his thoughts and actions is pivotal to the plot of The Last Adam, in which Dr. Bull works to curb a typhoid epidemic. In By Love Possessed Cozzens returns to the themes of love, passion, and reason in a story that follows a lawyer as he prepares to defend a young man falsely accused of rape. The story also explores the attorney's struggle with personal relationships and love. Law and its limitations, on the other hand, are the focus of The Just and the Unjust, in which the ideals of democratic justice are manipulated by the personal and social concerns of the people involved in a murder trial. In Guard of Honor duty and integrity are the principle elements examined in a story about a Major General who achieves an overseas command with the help of his friends and his unswerving dedication to the military.

Critical Reception

Most critics readily acknowledge Cozzens's structural clarity, facility with language, and his ability to create well-defined plots and characters. They also note the thoroughness of his research on such subjects as the law for The Just and the Unjust and Elizabethan history for Michael Scarlett. Some, however, fault his writing style as old-fashioned and aloof, citing, for example, his traditional approach to narrative, at times pompous vocabulary, conservative ideology, and a focus on wealthy professionals that appears elitist. Furthermore, a few commentators characterize his works as too philosophical and self-indulgent in their presentation of themes, suggesting that Cozzens's characters exist primarily to express his own views. Some also identify anti-semitic and racially biased themes in such works as By Love Possessed. Still, Cozzens's works continue to provoke admiration and controversy among critics.

Martin Price (review date Autumn 1957)

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SOURCE: "In the Fielding Country: Some Recent Fiction," in Yale Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 7, Autumn, 1957, pp. 143-56.

[Price is an educator and author whose books include The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century (1973) and Forms of Life: Character and Moral Imagination in the Novel (1983). In the excerpt below, he praises By Love Possessed for its literary complexity and thorough presentation of the law, but faults the novel for its "tidy" picture of life and the insufficient development of the main character.]

In its length, in its mannerisms, in its carefully "researched" presentation of a small town law firm, [By Love Possessed] bespeaks a long stretch of hard work. Its love of the machinery of the law or the Church recalls the work of Sinclair Lewis. And such speeches as Julius Penrose's sound like those Lewis was reported to deliver at bars while he was in the process of composing them. But Mr. Cozzens, unlike Lewis, retreats from comedy; in fact, the possibility of a comic view hangs like a threat over his hero, Arthur Winner. Mr. Cozzens allows himself a degree of contrivance in plot, particularly in his compressed time scheme (all takes place within forty-nine hours), and in the symbol of the clock with which the book opens and closes. But the contrivance is never allowed to register the novelist's detachment nor his control of his material. We are kept unremittingly within the point of view of Winner; we are expected to think with him even when the plot hints more than he sees. So that the book has a kind of drag in its point of view: neither the nimbleness nor the depth of Winner's awareness is sufficient to hold us, yet we have no novelist's presence to supply this deficiency, as Henry Fielding's does Tom Jones's. It is, perhaps, foolish to complain that Mr. Cozzens did not write a comic novel; yet his theme and situation all but command this.

The clock which strikes three one afternoon and four two days later is one of the pieces collected by Arthur Winner's father, one of the adornments of the life of a skeptical Man of Reason. It shows a shepherd spying upon a nymph; surmounting them is an archer Cupid, and the motto reads "Omnia vincit amor." The book binds together the powers of love and of time, of the mutable and uncontrollable, as against the rational and unchanging. And all of the characters are revealed as actors in the comedy (one cannot resist the term) of mutability: the spectrum of love ranges from the savage coupling of an adulterous couple on a bare mattress in an empty room to the professed love of God. At every point it is love which undermines the stable edifices, the tenets of the law, the structure of personal loyalties, the gracious decorum of a good life. In the course of almost six hundred pages Mr. Cozzens builds a town, its leading citizens, their retainers and clients, their wives and children, their clubs and houses. When the callow brother of his secretary is charged with rape, Winner encounters the void of senselessness that haunts him through the novel. His interview with Ralph, performed with pained professional competence, shows Winner in beautiful control, able to penetrate evasions and delusions, confident of reaching truth, however saddening. The scene, in its solemn precision of anatomical detail, verges on tour de force, but it has considerable power; and it is to be set beside its counterpart later in the novel where Winner encounters the evangelical Mrs. Pratt with much less assurance. Except for these scenes, the book can hardly be said to have much dramatic force. The characters tend to talk interminably, as eager to reveal themselves in their fullness as the dead whom Dante questions. The speech is often authentic (although Mr. Cozzens is something of a ventriloquist) and it serves the valuable end of giving depth to the town and its society, and through them, to the central themes of the book. But, since Mr. Cozzens' gift is so little dramatic or pictorial, the book remains an endless translation of event into concept, of experience into meditation. And the thought is neither fresh nor rigorous enough to keep the book alive. One would cheerfully surrender all the Faulknerian parentheses Mr. Cozzens affects for the verve of Shavian debate; for this is primarily a novel of ideas, where images tend to become illustrations and characters consort like premises in a syllogism. The problem of time and change, for example, is developed through the Revere family, all descendants from an original Negro servant, with a line of succession to authority and a firmly preserved standard of diligence and skill. Or again through the antiquarian interests of Judge Lowe and others, the preservation of old houses and old names, the planting and cultivation of a pattern of dignity and order. Against these are set the changes of social status, the Revere boy who is no longer to be a servant, the Irish Catholic politician who may become a judge, the gardens that have gone back to wildness. All of this might have made for a rich and subtle pattern if only the statues could dance; at best they have amplifiers hidden within them and seem to speak, occasionally to orate.

There are troubling questions left by the book. Winner's last hour is largely given to noble platitude ("victory is in making do with uncertainties, in supporting mysteries"). The stable world has been inspected and exposed, but never quite assessed. Is it a world well lost, a world to be defended, or simply a world that can't work? Does Winner come to some expansive wisdom or to a drier practicality? Are the attitudes of the Winners and the Tuttles modified, transformed, simply displaced? There is neither the purgation of laughter nor the force of renewed life. For a novel which is pretentiously inlaid with countless allusions, which invokes such names as Pascal and Spinoza, which has tried for great internal complexity and intimations of universal truths, the hero's insight is late in coming and is hardly sufficient. One wishes that Mr. Cozzens had been able to impart more of the generous untidiness of life to his book or to impose more of the economy and wit of comic form. More or less art might have made the ambition less obvious and the work more impressive.

Principal Works

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Confusion (novel) 1924
Michael Scarlett: A History (novel) 1925
Cock Pit (novel) 1928
The Son of Perdition (novel) 1929
S. S. San Pedro (novel) 1931
The Last Adam (novel) 1933
Castaway (novel) 1934
Men and Brethren (novel) 1936
Ask Me Tomorrow (novel) 1940
The Just and the Unjust (novel) 1942
Guard of Honor (novel) 1948
By Love Possessed (novel) 1957
Children and Others (short stories) 1964
Morning Noon and Night (novel) 1968
A Flower in Her Hair (novel) 1974
A Rope for Dr. Webster (novel) 1976
Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader (fiction and nonfiction) 1978
Selected Notebooks: 1960–1967 (memoirs) 1984

∗This work contains the novel Ask Me Tomorrow, excerpts from six other novels, short stories, essays, letters, reviews, and critical essays on Cozzens's work.

†This work was edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli.

Benjamin De Mott (essay date Winter 1957)

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SOURCE: "Cozzens and Others," in The Hudson Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, Winter, 1957, pp. 620-26.

[De Mott is an educator and novelist whose books include The Body's Cage (1959) and A Married Man (1968). In the excerpt, below, he faults Cozzens's novels for their overemphasis on professionalism and duty, their conventional plots, and a disregard for character development.]

… Cozzens is capable on occasion of making his reader feel perceptive, aware of the difference between fantasy and fact and interested in their relationships, experienced enough to know that there is not so much elegance and order in life that anyone will be harmed by another glance at either, nor so little drabness and chaos as to permit the easy adoption of what is called A Balanced View. One knows quite well (despite the gassy paeans of the first reviews) that [By Love Possessed] is no masterpiece—Cozzens is not a major writer, however considerable he looks when compared with the common herd. He excites the senses with no new way of seeing and speaking, discovers no lost continents; both his range of feeling and his power of reflection are limited; as an observer and as a dramatist he is, as a rule, only deft. Moreover, though we learn from him something important about ourselves, we learn it not from a single book—not even from By Love Possessed—but rather from the shape of the career that this book has brought to a momentary climax. But to repeat, he can almost always be read without a suspension of common intelligence, and to say this is to say a good deal.

If the sense in which the new book gives point to Cozzens's career is to be specified, some sort of account—it can only be brief—will have to be provided of the earlier novels. Probably the central observation to be made about these books (I exclude the juvenilia of course) is that all were marked by concern with professional competence in the workaday world. (Ask Me Tomorrow might be an exception, but for reasons that cannot be gone into here, I do not think it is.) Hemingway's professional knew bulls or fish, guns or wines—having taught himself; Cozzens's professional knew torts or bacteria, Latin syntax or the Gospel According to St. Matthew—having been to graduate school. On occasion Cozzens ventured outside the office: he was on the sea in S. S. San Pedro (1931) and in the air in Guard of Honor (1948). But neither of these regions was created as the habitation of romance or of heroism: the ship, like the law library, was to be taken as an instance of the always precarious triumph of a disciplined order of operations over the usually unmanageable chaos of nature. Watching his senior officers direct a freight loading, the Spanish first quartermaster of the San Pedro was moved to reflect on the degree to which the sight was all expressible as tela—a word of wide enough meaning to include not only the "Spanish sense of tone, texture, woven firmness," but also "the untranslatable value of a plan," and "that beautiful gift of the white man, the disciplined cooperation, speed, precision of people quick and certain about their duties." The abstraction thus defined was, for this officer, "the last perfect pleasure," and over the years Cozzens's responsiveness to it never lacked for critical notice.

What this responsiveness signified, though, was difficult to say; while it was shared by many writers, old and new, it was shared with differences. Usually when the novel imparted information about trades—whether the pickpocket's or the stonemason's or the hackwriter's—it did so with a pretense of disinterest; Cozzens's fiction dropped the pretense. The author of The Just and the Unjust hardly bothered to disguise the truth that he cared more about the workings of the law than about the fate of the priggish Abner Coates and his girl; in book after book he interrupted his often quite conventional story with accounts of the innards of high callings and low—details of medicine, of church government, military organization, even of building construction—and always the preference was for the operation rather than for the operator. One tended to think of the accounts of technical proficiency as part of the writer's effort to contend against the modern consciousness that the triumphs of the organizing mind—or of Civilization—were unworthy of serious respect. But to accept this as their rationale required one to discount the fact that Cozzens's attitudes toward the particular modes of civilization he described were something less than positive.

Something far less, as it appeared on close inspection. Cozzens never dealt with the best artificers or with the best artifice—always with a bumbling lawyer who graduated at the bottom of his class, with a tumbledown eighteenth century mansion rather than with one that had been well preserved. Equally important, his novels all possessed the same ironic, somehow self-lacerating narrative design. The quartermaster of the San Pedro who gazed admiringly at his seniors did not know that his Captain was dying, that on this trip the ship would be mismanaged, that a debacle would result. In The Last Adam the well-equipped physician had a ten percent bile solution ready in the lab to do a blood culture, yet failed to recognize bacillus typhosus; men died as a consequence. The efficiency of the man of God in Men and Brethren cost him his health; he would step aside for a poorer administrator. The dull attorneys of The Just and the Unjust had a clear case and argued it doggedly, respecting the relevant points of law—but the case was lost. It seemed, in short, that Cozzens always had less than the full courage of his affections; wary of being caught out too baldly in the posture of a partisan of Order and Civilization, he everywhere indulged in self-protective irony which, though it hedged his bets, also obscured his meaning.

The irony is still present in By Love Possessed, and the narrative pattern is the pattern as before. The standards of a profession (finally of far more than a profession) are again set up for us to admire as a systematic ordering of experience; and again our discovery is that this system cannot hold anything fast, is, like any discipline, incommensurate to the roiling common chance of life. But this book advances beyond its own ironies. In its pages Cozzens gives as much to order, to style, to artifice, to made systems, made forms, as one suspects he has always, furtively, wanted to give. The first sentences of the book give us a key to the writer's new disposition of mind:

Love conquers all—omnia vincit amor, said the gold scroll in a curve beneath the dial of the old French gilt clock. To the dial's right, a nymph, her head on her arm, drowsed, largely undraped, at the mouth of a gold grotto where perhaps she lived. To the dial's left, a youth, by his crook and the pair of lambs with him, a shepherd, had taken cover. Parting fronds of gold vegetation, he peeped at the sleeping beauty. On top of the dial, and all unnoticed by the youth, a smiling cupid perched, bow bent, about to loose an arrow at the peeper's heart. While Arthur Winner viewed with faint familiar amusement this romantic grouping, so graceful and so absurd, the clock struck three.

Had Cozzens ever written so before? On occasion (gold has been a favorite word of his from the beginning), but whatever the occasion one could be certain that a descent into flaccidity or looseness ("He was driving his new red convertible, a flashy job") would come quickly. From the note struck here, though, there is not much lapsing. And the firmness of the writing is only an outward sign of the more general elevation of his matter, and intensification of his commitment, that Cozzens achieves throughout the book. This is not, to take a trivial example, the first clock in a Cozzens novel: there was a timepiece on the San Pedro whose "magnificence testified to the rightness of the world;" the D. A. in The Just and the Unjust, at a moment when his case was going well, relaxed to remark about an old clock he bought at auction: "I like clocks. If I had some money, I'd collect them." And whatever else we know about clocks, we know that they are an obvious enough symbol of the orderly structuring of experience. But the symbol is treated far more positively, and reverberates rather more interestingly, in Arthur Winner's ironic rumination than before. This clock is neither mere vulgarity nor mere mechanism, it suggests where its rules do not apply, and is, in addition, valuable, precise, the best in its kind.

In the latter respect it is like all the appurtenances of order in the book. Houses and public buildings are stately and solid—appreciated at one level for triple courses of brick and double cross-braced joists, at another for excellence of design. Where in earlier novels Cozzens was steadfastly unimpressed, sometimes even embarrassed, by the Chippendale pieces, the buildings of the Federal style, or the sayings of the Greeks that surprisingly turned up on his page, here he is always appreciative of the well made thing. He quite unashamedly lets us know of his approval of Shakespeare and of carillons, of winged gates with urn-tipped finials, sycamore drives, wild gardens of columbine and fringed gentians, music boxes of burled walnut, and the like. And his men of order are significantly improved by their association with these admirable contrivances. The lawyers and judges are no second raters, the hero has a strong sense of the fragility of the order his outer life represents but he is nevertheless a person distinguished in intelligence and feeling, a fair match for any shyster down from the city.

As already indicated, the sense of the fragility of order is the correct sense for this hero to have. Arthur Winner's aged partner turns out an embezzler, his own effort to isolate and control an outbreak of meaningless sensuality in lives that impinge on his own wholly fails. But the failure matters less than does the writer's accomplishment in working up, with an accumulating density of detail, a situation in which it is possible for the reader not only to perceive but to care about the difference between order and its opposite. In the earlier books senselessness—seen variously here as the murder trial of a farmer's idiot daughter, the life of a grimly respectable boarding house, the mean encounter of a pimply adolescent with a roadhouse slut in the back seat of a car—rarely seemed more drab than that which contended against it. (The difference between the criminals of The Just and the Unjust and their accusers was unimpressive, though the writer had no Dostoevskian moral to make.) What else could one expect when institutions and orders were studied at a level at which they were not seen to their own best advantage, where clumsiness only coped with clumsiness? To dramatize the distinction he cared about, Cozzens had, as it were, to forget his inhibitions, and that is what he has done in this new book. In at least one brilliant scene—a moment of well-executed legal interrogation—he has shown his reader that professional competence, whatever its ultimate failings, can locate the difference between itself and the world, can probe the rotten body of life and return with a truth.

How important is it that we know of this possibility? Well, the knowledge might check our paralysis of mind a little—that claim could be made for it. Ironists all, we surely intend to go on scorning our professional, order-making selves, mocking their claims of victory on this or that trivial field of battle; but it does us no harm to hear that in spite of ourselves we do recover certain truths as we labor, that at the worst we do return from professional frays undeceived. It may not even harm us to think for a spell that our best selves are our professional selves, cold as the thought is to contemplation. The point, I submit, is that this is a thought, at least when felt as fully as Cozzens makes it felt in the best moment in his book; that its force is negative does not invalidate it as criticism of representative contemporary character.

Approaching the moment of evaluation we think of course of a hundred reservations. As the size of Cozzens's audience would attest, there is more than a little lubriciousness in the recounting of the triumphs of the disorderly flesh. L'esprit est toujours la dupe coeur—well and good—400,000 copies. Also: to set up his distinctions as clearly as he has done, Cozzens has been forced into a kind of humorless social fantasy; the level of life he creates, extending out beyond isolated drives into a village, a club, a courthouse, is in 1957 a pure invention. Worse yet, the change in Cozzens's conception of his social world may owe as much to the reemergence between 1940 and the present of a vulgar plenty, as to any fundamental redefinition of his concerns on the part of the novelist. And finally one has to admit that, if By Love Possessed is an elegant, close-textured piece of writing throughout, it is also overlong and underdramatized. But judiciousness is, after all, a niggling virtue. The book deserves praise as a local success at the difficult task of elevating contemporary experience to the point at which it becomes interesting; it stands as a rare opportunity—rarer by far than even the most omni- of omnibus reviews can indicate—for the reader to lift himself briefly out of the sloughs of self-contempt into which the next new American novel he confronts will undoubtedly be determined to plunge him.

Further Reading

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Bruccoli, Matthew J. James Gould Cozzens: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981, 193 p.

Extensive bibliography of Cozzens's writings, including related literary criticism, reviews, and biographical books and pamphlets about the author.


Broccoli, Matthew J. James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart. New York: Harcourt, 1983, 343 p.

Examines Cozzens's life and works.


Chamberlain, John. "Writer of Character." New York Times Book Review (August 8, 1978): 10-11.

Review of Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader focusing on the main themes of Cozzens's work.

Garrett, George P. "Whatever Wishful Thinking May Wish: The Example of James Gould Cozzens." In The Sorrows of Fat City, pp. 83-90. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978.

Favorably comments on Cozzens novels, the characters in his works, and the personal aspects of his life that have affected his writings and his relationship with the reading public.

Hicks, Granville. James Gould Cozzens. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1966, 47 p.

Examination of several of Cozzens's earlier works, up to and including Children and Others (1964).

Lewis, R. W. "The Conflicts of Reality: Cozzens' The Last Adam." In Seven Contemporary Authors: Essays on Cozzens, Miller, West, Golding, Heller, Albee, and Powers, edited by Thomas B. Whitbread, pp. 1-22. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968.

Identifies The Last Adam as a "pattern novel" and discusses its various strengths and weaknesses.

"The Hermit of Lambertville." Time LXX, No. 10 (2 September 1957): 72-4, 76-7.

Overview of Cozzens's life and career.

Richard G. Stern (review date Winter 1958)

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SOURCE: "A Perverse Fiction," in The Kenyon Review, Vol. XX, No. 1, Winter, 1958, pp. 140-44.

[Stern is an educator, critic, novelist, and short story writer whose books include Golk (1960) and Collected Stories (1988). In the following unfavorable review of By Love Possessed, Stern faults the novel's structure, literary style, and character development.]

The form of James Cozzens' latest novel is that of The Ambassadors: the book is organized around a central consciousness, an intelligent, middle-aged man who participates more or less directly in actions the evaluation of which leads to revaluation of his own experience and principles. A fine pattern for a novel, and one which Cozzens has successfully followed—though not so strictly—in Men and Brethren (1936), Ask Me Tomorrow (1940), and The Just and the Unjust (1942). Unfortunately, the structural principle of By Love Possessed is seriously flawed, and its materials are shoddy. The central intelligence, Arthur Winner Jr., the well-to-do lawyer who appraised the events and characters of the Delaware Valley town, Brocton, is sniped at throughout the book, but so inconsistently and arbitrarily that the values which are to be reappraised at the end have never been given a sensible presentation.

Arthur Winner Junior—confusion in the moonlight; dismay among the roses!—was obliged to conceal as well as he could a crisis about which his single shamed consolation was that Hope [his first wife], anything but knowing, would never know what happened.

The interpolated mockery is so isolated in context that it seems as much mistaken intrusion as genuine qualifier. The real qualifying is done by the opposition of the two final clauses, and these, in all their contrived complexity, are the thoughts of Winner himself. Such thoughts seem to constitute what makes for right reason in this novel because nothing better is ever supplied.

Except at the very end. There, Winner's law partner, Julius Penrose, displaces him as the central intelligence, sits him down and teaches him what life is really about, what the true significance of the discoveries he has been making is, and what he should do about them. The structure of the book topples. As Winner staggers home through the streets of "Brocton, my Brocton!" the bitter sophistication ringing in his ears, the reader too is staggering in the realization that he has been led astray, and for over five hundred pages. The analyses of the events and characters Winner has supplied are all suspect. The effect of this conclusion may be gauged if we venture to substitute a similar deus ex machina for Maria Gostrey during the last scene of The Ambassador. Thus: Strether enters, full of the slowly-accumulated wisdom whose acquisition the book has charted, opens his mouth to speak, is sat down by the god and told, "Strether, dear boy, you have been beautifully, sublimely wrong from first to last. Let me sketch in the fine view for you." Such an ending reduces Winner's education to the level of a sweepstakes' winning, a sudden triumph which blots out the past. The Jamesian structure has been used—I think consciously—as a trick, a pointless trick, the result of which is a deformity of the sort that the author of the treatise On the Sublime says is due to "a single cause, that pursuit of novelty in the expression of ideas which may be regarded as the fashionable craze of the day."

Works of art frequently survive even serious structural flaws. By Love Possessed would not survive even if its overall make-up were as perfect as that of its model. And this is surprising, for Cozzens here attempts what he has done with great success ever since the two Cuban novels which he excludes from his canon, the panoramic presentation. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, in The Last Adam, Cozzens had learned how to exhibit a town's crisis through a number of individual ones. Meanwhile, he had made a far more complex presentation in Guard of Honor (1948): there, two leading story lines, that of Ross and Beal, and that of Hicks, cut a swathe through a large number of individual careers and a number of important general crises in a manner reminiscent of Tolstoi. Although the burden of coincidence was a bit heavy, the total effect was one of spareness, the brilliant administration of a complex action. The panorama was incidental to the action, not close to its heart as is the case in By Love Possessed, where the urge to exhibit the scene seems to be nearly as strong as the urge to exhibit Winner's appraisal of it. Consequently, the expository devices are embarrassingly awkward and obtrusive; the list Winner's mother makes out at the beginning of the book which includes the names of many of the characters as in a dramatis personae, and which is gone over in detail by Winner; the frequent flashbacks which spring up at the sight of a plaque or a character and often go on for pages irrelevant to an action but not to sheer panorama, or to a Sherwood Anderson-like desire to write up the careers of all the characters as if this were what the novel were about. The clumsiness extends to the use of information one character gives another who must certainly have known it already: so Winner's second wife informs him that she used to run a girl's camp. (He has known her all her life and been married to her for some years. And there is no point in his not having known this fact. In novels, a wife, or husband, exists in no small part as a repository of all but the "to-be-treated" parts of the partner's past.) The story lines of this novel are largely replaced by the panoramic fill-in, elaborate detail, and by that most notorious feature of pretentious fictions, talk.

Cozzens has always had an eye peeled for the philosophic wiseacre, and he has usually been careful to separate his own reflective heroes from their burlesque counterparts by having the former denounce or make fun of the latter. So Ellery ridicules McKellar in Ask Me Tomorrow, Coates turns on Harry Wurts in The Just and the Unjust, and even Colonel Ross remembers Judge Schlicter's lapses into "discourse—no homelier word described it." Now, however, although the burlesque counterpart is present in the Roman Catholic proselytizer, Mrs. Pratt—"Ecstatic, she twittered: yes-yes; and mountains prepared themselves to be moved"—, her style is almost indistinguishable from that of Winner, Penrose, or the author himself. This book is swollen with tortuous lucubrations on every topic under the sun, honesty, tolerance, legality, sentimentality, old age, rationalism, and what have you. Almost everyone talks and talks and talks, in that style which will be memorable in the American novel as the most disserviceable, most inexcusably perverse of any but that of A Fable. Inversions—"With calm entire"; court-Latin syntax,

Pushing hard, he managed to push it to play. A jar of cogs, forced, creaking and dubious, together, sounded;

Wardour Street diction—"the heart relucted"; cultural displays—

"the small dome—like the side porches, innocent of utility; like the columns' capitals, a pure aspiring to the solemn and to the noble, to putative glories of Greece, to supposed grandeurs of Rome";

tenth-rate philosophizing—

The nature of the intimation could be seen—a query directed at human struggle and human failure, and at the kinds of victory attainable in life. Might all of them be forms of defeat: givings-up; compromises; assents to the second-best; abandonments of hope in the face of the ascertained fact that what was to be, was to be?…

and digested portions of selected texts—

The heavy story needs no going over. To the height of this great argument, to justify to men these ways of nature, no tongue or pen ever successfully asserted anything—that was impossible.

This ambitious style, aiming perhaps at that of late James, succeeds in stifling what little life the book contains. No book could survive it.

All the critics of By Love Possessed whom I have read—Gill in The New Yorker, Cowley in the N.Y. Times Book Review, Ellmann in The Reporter and The Chicago SunTimes, the anonymous Time reviewer—follow the blurb in pointing to a novelistic structure based on the theme of love. The novel is said to be a display of the varieties of love, the love which possesses and so perverts the proper functioning of human beings who become sentimentalists in the form of either fools or knaves. A word had best be said about such an organization. Thematic structures are of great importance in the 20th Century novel. (They were discussed briefly in the Spring, 1956, issue of Western Review as a way of contrasting the picaresque of Mann with that of Defoe.) A novel organized as variations on a theme runs into the peril of uncontrolled exhibitionism; it needs the support of another narrative method, either picaresque (as in Felix Krull), the memoir (Proust, Dr. Faustus), or the parodic epic (Ulysses). If the formal implications of the secondary technique are observed, then the thematic material can be distinguished as the crucial, underlying form. When the secondary convention is not observed, then the narrative collapses, and the thematic material looks like notes for a novel. A theme can be found to cover almost any disorganized book, but then it will be seen as the artificial, imposed form Proust talked about in La Prisonnière. (This was discussed in the Summer, 1956, issue of the Kenyon Review.) This, it seems to me, is the case of By Love Possessed. The novel stands at best as an immense prologue to a novel: all the vital relationships will appear in that alteration of the old relationships which Winner's discoveries entail. If the novel had begun shortly after the discoveries, gone back for the essential past, and then come up to deal with the difficult consequences, one could suppose an exciting novel as the result. Not, of course, the one here written.

A bad book, a labored book, and—God knows why—a popular book. For years Cozzens has been writing fine novels. He has won prizes, a Scribner contest in 1931, the Pulitzer Prize in 1948, been praised by influential critics (De Voto, Fadiman), and had the Book of the Month Club's support four times, yet till now, his books have not sold well, and he has been almost entirely ignored by serious critics. One hopes that this most ornery of his books will not deflect serious readers from the fine ones, particularly from Men and Brethren, Ask Me Tomorrow, and Guard of Honor. It almost looks as if such fictional perversity as By Love Possessed exhibits was nurtured in that isolation which lack of serious criticism inflicts on serious writers.

Frederick Bracher (essay date 1959)

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SOURCE: "Style and Structure," in The Novels of James Gould Cozzens, Harcourt, 1959, pp. 49-76.

[In the following excerpt, Bracher explores Cozzens's use of description, alliteration, poetry quotes, and characters.]

Until 1957, reviewers and the few critics who wrote of him at all were almost unanimous in praise of the lucid precision of Cozzens' style, and Bernard De Voto after the publication of Guard of Honor concluded that the author's reputation would rest largely on his technical achievements as a writer. This prediction seemed reasonably safe until the appearance of By Love Possessed, in which the occasional idiosyncrasies of Cozzens' basically classical style were at times exaggerated into the convolutions of the baroque, if not the eccentricities of the rococo. Malcolm Cowley, in a discerning review of the novel [in The New York Times Book Review, 25 August 1957], took gentle note of the change: "His style used to be as clear as a mountain brook; now it has become a little weed-grown and murky, like the brook when it wanders through a meadow."

Other critics were more harsh. Deploring "prose of an artificiality and complexity that approaches the impenetrable—indeed often achieves it," Dwight Macdonald [in Commentary, January, 1958] quoted excerpts to illustrate a whole gallery of supposed faults. The device is not very impressive to a reader who knows how easily stylistic effects can be distorted when sentences are removed from the field of force generated by their context; and Macdonald's bald lists of examples are certainly unfair. In an attempt to discredit Cozzens without damaging other writers notable for their complex meanderings, he adds,

James's involutions are (a) necessary to precisely discriminate his meaning; (b) solid parts of the architecture of the sentence; and (c) controlled by a fine ear for euphony. Faulkner does meander, but there is emotional force, descriptive richness behind his wanderings…. Their style is complex because they are saying something complicated….

Confronted with such arbitrary condemnation one can only try to make some further distinctions, not so much in the expectation of making converts among those who find Cozzens' latest style antipathetic as with the hope that his style may be seen for what it is, whether anyone likes it or not. The following is the kind of sentence hostile critics like to pin up on the wall as a horrible example:

Here was Elmer Abbott, an Orcutt, a well-off man (with all that meant in the way of perfect freedom to quit himself like a man) so tame, so pridelessly relieved at the withdrawal of a false charge, at the permission to continue his namby-pamby round, keep his piffling post, his unpaid job's clung-to prerogative of inflicting on a captive audience his mediocre music, that he cried! [By Love Possessed]

This is knotty and mannered, and the alliteration is perhaps excessive. But in context this summarizing sentence is a deliberately rhetorical conclusion to a long passage (six pages) of meditation by Arthur Winner on Elmer Abbott's past. In the passage, 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 (it is especially effective in the brilliant scene with Mrs. Pratt in the garden); 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. Moreover, such meditative interpolations do not lack psychological realism. Cozzens is only articulating in precise detail a pattern of thought which perceptive minds might hit upon in flashes of intuition. The convention that readers are asked to accept is no more than the exposition of the full, coherent content of such intuitions. If the passages are neither euphonious nor simple, it is because they clearly were not meant to be; they are intended to arrest and challenge. In its context the sentence about Elmer Abbott is appropriate and functional in providing a deliberately rhetorical conclusion to the long interpolated meditation.

It should also 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.

Though the waking mind clutched at its relief of recognizing the dream as such—not really real, not really happening, not really requiring such an anguished effort to grasp and to explain—the dreaming mind with desperate hypnagogic attachment would not let go, leave off. A running engine of phantasmogenesis, powerfully engaged again, pressed him to dream on; and, little as life, Dunky (could that man be still alive?) angrily, excitedly, confronted him. [By Love Possessed]

The two devices just illustrated are common as early as Men and Brethren (1936).

The words returned, of themselves, with unforced deliberation, over and over. Soon he was aware, without the distraction or the interruption of taking an interest in it, of the automatically increasing depth of his breathing, the modulation of his heart beat. Set, by the familiar practice of his will, on the deceptive threshold over which some people stepped to a supposed spiritual apprehension—where the senses, starved of nervous energy, were narcotized, kept no more check on actuality; where reason, deprived of ideas to work with abdicated, impotent; where Grace might very well appear, as Calvin supposed, irresistible—Ernest released himself.

Compare a typical passage from Faulkner which uses the same devices, especially the piling up of appositival absolute constructions.

In the surrey with his cousin and Major de Spain and General Compson he saw the wilderness through a slow drizzle of November rain just above the ice point as it seemed to him later he always saw it or at least always remembered it—the tall and endless wall of dense November woods under the dissolving afternoon and the year's death, sombre, impenetrable (he could not even discern yet how, at what point they could possibly hope to enter it even though he knew that Sam Fathers was waiting there with the wagon), the surrey moving through the skeleton stalks of cotton and corn in the last of open country, the last trace of man's puny gnawing at the immemorial flank, until, dwarfed by that perspective into an almost ridiculous diminishment, the surrey itself seemed to have ceased to move (this too to be completed later, years later, after he had grown to a man and had seen the sea) as a solitary small boat hangs in lonely immobility, merely tossing up and down, in the infinite waste of the ocean while the water and then the apparently impenetrable land which it nears without appreciable progress, swings, slowly and opens the widening inlet which is the anchorage. [William Faulkner, Go Down Moses, 1942]

Cozzens' style is perspicuous, even when twisted and baroque, in the sense that its ornate complications serve to qualify, sharpen, and enrich an approximately specific meaning already established by the basic structure. In Faulkner the interminable increment of absolute phrases is cumulative: the meaning is not defined by an articulated structure but emerges as a kind of essence of the tangle of sentence elements, heaped up like branches on a bonfire—a glow that appears now and then dimly through the smoke and occasionally bursts free in bright flame. Though Cozzens' later style is, in rare instances, smokily obscured, it characteristically gives off a steady, dry light.

This is to say that 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 prose of Faulkner, on the contrary, even when the structure is relatively simple, is suggestive rather than explicit; and it is ambiguous in the sense that, like poetry, it sometimes manages to express what cannot really be said. 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. Cozzens seems to know, and to be able to say, exactly what he wants to express; as to ornament he would probably agree with Aristotle that "the perfection of style is to be clear without being mean." It is true that Cozzens' later style makes heavy demands on the reader, but it richly rewards those who still cultivate the art of full reading.

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. Again, it is ridiculously easy to make fun of this vocabulary by compiling lists of outlandish terms from Cozzens' novels. Out of context they give a false impression of their frequency of appearance and a smack of the pedantic Latinism of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. Actually, since such words are not common in the dialogue that makes up a large part of the novels, their frequency can easily be, and has been, exaggerated. They do not occur on every page but tend to cluster in occasional set pieces of rhetorical fireworks. While some of them—anfractuosities, furibund, or succussive—make no obvious addition to the meaning, many of them (including most of those listed by Dwight Macdonald) make the precise discriminations appropriate to the literate sensibilities of the characters through whom comment on the action is made. Colonel Ross, who constantly quotes Milton and Pope, may be allowed an occasional word like chicanery, senescence, or irruptive, especially when, as in the last example, the word is so effectively used: "that horrid irruptive roar" of airplanes passing close overhead.

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. Reminded of the phrase "an old style Princeton Seminary supralapsarian," Ernest Cudlipp interjects "What a marvelous word, by the way!" and rolls on his tongue its opposite, "infralapsarian," which he equates with "a dreary Arminianism, a mess of Methodist pottage." The orotund terms and the veiled allusion, are sharpened by contrast with the Anglo-Saxon earthiness of "Calvin would spit on them!" The rhetorical effect—colloquialism pointing up rhetorical opulence, and vice versa—is a marked characteristic of Cozzens' style, and it can be extraordinarily effective in puncturing a balloon, as in the following passage describing the Catholic Church's facility in dealing with the weakness of the flesh:

But among the forewarned, forearmed faithful, such escapes were no occasion for panic, nor even for agitation. The strays were the devil's—bad; they worked evil; they spread confusion among pious or sacred thoughts and intentions; but what would you? Evil's energies must flag, too; and when they flagged, means to recapture and recommit the unclean spirits had been appointed. Grace, failing to confine, still enabled contribution; mercy saved the contrite—just keep your shirt on! Meanwhile, nature must take nature's course. [By Love Possessed]

Similarly the studied, self-mocking, defensive artificiality of Julius Penrose's speech achieves an additional incongruity when used to describe some bald fact and gives a mild relish of irony to the style. 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. Cozzens is said to admire Macaulay, and he justifies his own style, by implication at least, when Arthur Winner contemplates the florid Victorian inscription in the lobby of the Union League Club:

That epigraph embodied a seriousness of purpose still respectable. Were people really the better for not talking like that any more? Was there any actual advantage of honesty when high-sounding terms went out? Had facts of life as life is lived been given any more practical recognition? [By Love Possessed]

The bare, plain style recommended by Bishop Sprat for use by the Royal Society in the late seventeenth century is not the only possible style, and those who insist on its use in the novel seem to fall into the Puritan fallacy of assuming that all ornament is bad. Even at its most rhetorical, Cozzens' style in By Love Possessed is rich, sonorous, and masculine. The sentences are architectural 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. Its rhetorical opulence is a pleasant surprise in a day when the concept of unembellished functionalism has been so widely and unconsciously accepted that Renaissance splendor (as revealed, say, in a film like The Titan) comes as a shock to the average American.

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 artificial speech of some of the characters provides them with a kind of defense against falsity, against too open a revelation of deep feeling. Lieutenant Amanda Turck's "wry phrasing" and intricately formed sentences [in Guard of Honor]—"I will stop drinking your valuable whisky, clean up these things, and with heartfelt thanks for your kindness and your cash outlay, make myself, as we said when I was young, scarce"—are not in the normal spoken style of even educated Americans. They are, as Nathaniel Hicks recognizes, defensive; and he is touched by "this controlled and composed, yet ceaseless struggle … against that obsessive self-consciousness." He remembers her "in the terrible heat of yesterday's high afternoon pronouncing a little stiltedly: 'The Lybian air adust—' it was defensive, he could see now. It intended the irony, for what that was worth, both ways. Though she reeked, she thought, of sweat, she quoted Milton; and though she quoted Milton, she reeked, she thought, of sweat." Her wry raillery is "aimed at herself; her defense against everything."

The affected speech of Julius Penrose [in By Love Possessed]—"the finished phrases, in their level precision almost rehearsed-sounding, the familiar deliberately mincing tones that mocked themselves with their own affectation"—is likewise a defense against hurts to one's vanity. Though not in the ordinary sense realistic, they are realistically appropriate to the hypersensitivity of a proud, crippled man. Julius' habit of speech, ironic at his own expense, serves to hold strangers at arm's length while partially sharing, with old friends, "the privacy, or even secrecy, which alone, at some points, dignifies a man."

Cozzens' own sensibility may well be similar to that of Julius Penrose or Amanda Turck. In a letter written in 1955 he admits that the account of the young writer in Ask Me Tomorrow is to some extent autobiographical; and the theme of the novel is pride. Francis Ellery, over-sensitive and proud, interposes a series of masks between himself and the world, and Cozzens' use of a central consciousness in the later novels serves as a similar protective device. The point of view shifts in the early novels, but after 1933 it is only in Castaway that the author consistently speaks out in his own person. The entire action of Men and Brethren is seen through the sensibility of the Reverend Ernest Cudlipp; Abner Coates is unvaryingly the central consciousness of The Just and the Unjust; the melodramatic events of By Love Possessed are given us only as seen through the normally dispassionate eyes of Arthur Winner. In Guard of Honor a few incidents—General Beal on the target range, Sergeant Pellerino at the Knock and Wait Club, the WAC officers at breakfast—are narrated directly, but most of the action of the book is seen through the eyes of the youthful Nathaniel Hicks or the aging Colonel Ross. The device enables Cozzens not only to develop the theme of Hicks' moral education, but to attribute to the colonel a ripened wisdom which a sensitive author might hesitate to offer in his own right.

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. A good many readers, including the parodists, have noted, sometimes with annoyance, the frequent repetition of the full name "Arthur Winner." The device may sound mannered, but it serves to establish the slightly formal tone that Cozzens seems to intend. Outside the Society of Friends no one in real life calls another person by his full name; normal idiom would require "Arthur," or "Art," or "Mr. Winner," depending on the degree of intimacy. These names are all used by characters in the novel, but none is really appropriate for the author's use. Garret Hughes, Julius Penrose, Noah Tuttle, and Helen Detweiler are dramatis personae, not personal friends, and in By Love Possessed (as in Guard of Honor, where military titles are used) the slightly formal note struck by the repetition of the full names helps to detach the characters from the author and to stress the fact that, like actors in a play, their opinions are not necessarily those of their creator.

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. It is probably true, as suggested in Ask Me Tomorrow, that Cozzens no longer finds satisfaction in writing poetry, but the quotations indicate that he still finds poetry rewarding to read. The English poets of every age since the Renaissance are represented, and references to Shakespeare and the Bible are particularly frequent. Sometimes the quotations are unmistakably indicated by italics or quotation marks, as when Arthur Winner quotes from one of Hotspur's speeches or Julius Penrose recites a stanza from In Memoriam. More frequently they are worked unobtrusively into the structure of Cozzens' own sentences. On two of the pages describing the death of Warren Winner there are unacknowledged fragments of Julius Caesar, Keats, and Tennyson. An account of the orgies at the Osborne farm, known to the natives as Alcoholic Hill, concludes: "At any rate, the revels, silly or scandalous, now were ended." Mrs. Pratt makes a "fresh deviation into sense"; Arthur Winner thinks of the dimming "image of his late-espoused saint." The appropriateness of such fragments varies. Lieutenant Winner and Tennyson's eagle have obviously a good deal in common, and other fragments are more or less ironic. But some of the allusions are so recondite as to be easily missed by the average reader, who could hardly be expected to think of Sir Christopher Wren when Arthur Winner speaks of his father's monument. Many quotations have no apparent function beyond embellishment. Presumably they just occurred to Cozzens, as fragments from "Abide with Me," echoing the hymn tune played on the carillon, occur to Arthur Winner while he contemplates Colonel Minton's ruin.

The constant casual use of quotations in the novels has something of the effect of a genre of poetry popular in the eighteenth century—the "imitation." Like Pope's imitations of Horace, Dr. Johnson's "London" is neither a translation nor a new poem. The trick of writing an Imitation was to follow the content and plan of the original poem but to supply new, contemporary names and events and if possible to demonstrate a contemporary relevance in the thought of the "Ancients." The relevance might be ironic, as when Pope directed his Imitation of the first epistle of the second book of Horace not to that famous patron of poetry, the emperor Augustus Caesar, but to George II of England, notorious for his philistine scorn of literature and the arts. The effectiveness of a successful Imitation consisted partly in its demonstration of the idea, popular among neoclassic writers, that human nature did not change, that what oft was said could still be relevantly expressed. Partly, too, an Imitation was effective because it flattered the reader. Written for a small group of educated gentlemen, who could be counted on to be conversant with the Latin classics, an Imitation afforded the pleasure of a familiar Latin phrase turned to a new use. Whether the use was exactly apposite was not crucial; the pleasure of recognition was considerable, and it was increased by a flattering sense of belonging to a small, exclusive, superior group. The reader of Cozzens is likewise complimented by an implied offer of admission to the circle of educated professional people in whose mouths and minds the quotations appear.

Similar in use and effect to the quotations in the text are the epigraphs to the novels or to parts of novels. Some are ironic—for example, the text that introduces The Just and the Unjust: "Certainty is the Mother of Repose; therefore the Law aims at Certainty." Some are structural in the sense that they announce a theme. The quotation from Acts 2:37, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" relates the title of the book to the central question answered in the novel. The epigraph to Castaway directs the reader to the parallel with Robinson Crusoe; the quotation from Troilus and Cressida at the beginning of Ask Me Tomorrow introduces the theme of frustrated youthful pride. But frequently the epigraphs have no clear, unmistakable relevance. Their significance must be seen, if at all, by peripheral vision, out of the corner of the eye rather than by direct examination. Ariel's speech to the earthbound Caliban beginning "I and my fellows/Are ministers of fate" and stressing his invulnerability to earthly weapons may strike the strictly logical mind as a baffling epigraph for Guard of Honor. But it has a kind of glancing relevance in its stress on the intractability of those inexorable forces which, despite our wishes and best efforts, determine a considerable part of what happens to us.

Similarly, the epigraph to By Love Possessed may have an indirect significance in addition to its explicit stress on the passage of time. It is taken from a speech by the weak and unhappy King Henry VI, who in the midst of battle wishes that he were a simple swain tracing the uneventful hours of a life that will in due time "bring white hairs unto a quiet grave"; instead of a king who, despite his rich surroundings, is waited on by "care, mistrust, and treason." Arthur Winner, too, had hoped for an ordered, blameless life but is forced to endure an increasingly heavy burden of dangerous responsibility. The epigraphs to the three main subdivisions of the novel are all stage directions, the first two only indirectly relevant. "Drums afar off" probably refers to Coriolanus, where the drums are a call to battle. "A noise of hunters heard" is from The Tempest and seems to be related to the metaphorical sounds—"Were they of hunting, of pursuers?"—which Arthur Winner takes as premonitory intimations of disaster. Both have a faintly ominous note and thus lead up appropriately to the short, climactic section headed "Within the tent of Brutus."

The parallel between the last section of By Love Possessed and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is too striking to be missed, yet not easily generalized or defined. Helen Detweiler, like Portia too easily despairing, "fell distract,/And, her attendants absent, swallow'd fire." Julius Penrose, who like Cassius "smiles in such a sort/As if he mocked himself," gives Arthur (Brutus) wine to restore his spirits. Brutus, "arm'd so strong in honesty," accuses Cassius of condoning bribery.

                Shall we now
       Contaminate our fingers with base bribes,
       And sell the mighty space of our large honours
       For so much trash as may be graspéd thus?

Cassius' justification of himself is essentially Julius Penrose's insistence that in view of the factual situation principle must sometimes be shelved. Finally, paralleling Cassius' statement that "a friend should bear his friend's infirmities," Julius indicates that he knows, and is able to accept, still loving, the weakness that had led Arthur Winner into adultery with Marjorie Penrose. Those readers who, like most of Cozzens' generation, have studied Julius Caesar in school will find a reading of the last section of By Love Possessed enriched by half-recognized echoes from Shakespeare's play; just as the scene with Mrs. Pratt in the garden produces a faint resonance—inexplicable on logical grounds since the details are changed with the casual inconsistency of a dream—set up by parallels with Milton's account of the fall of man.

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. In resolving the dilemma of what Joseph Warren Beach [in The Twentieth Century Novel, 1932] calls "subjective drama in the novel"—if it is to be drama, it must be presented rather than recounted or explained; if it is subjective, it must be told about since it cannot be presented through overt action—Cozzens follows the practice of Henry James. The description of internal, psychological experience is given as it occurs in the consciousness of characters in the novel, rather than by the author in his own person. In Ask Me Tomorrow Cozzens deliberately eliminated first-person observations from his original manuscript and lets his main character think about and comment on what happens. It is not necessary for him to "go behind" the consciousness of his characters, since those whose points of view he uses are apt to be, like Colonel Ross or Arthur Winner, almost preternatural in the sharpness of their perceptions, the breadth and depth of their understanding, and the articulate clarity of their thought and speech.

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. The time covered by the novel is characteristically brief—several weeks in The Last Adam (the time required for the spread and crisis of a typhoid epidemic); three days in The Just and the Unjust; two days in S.S. San Pedro, Guard of Honor, and By Love Possessed; a day and a night in Men and Brethren. (Ask Me Tomorrow is an exception, both in the looseness of its structure and in the length of time covered.) Into these short periods Cozzens crowds relatively large casts of characters, a variety of crucial incidents, expository flashbacks sufficient to identify and explain both the persons and their actions, and a good deal of comment and speculation.

To present coherently and perspicuously this packed complexity of diverse material is a difficult technical problem even in a short novel like Men and Brethren. For the longer novels—Guard of Honor or By Love Possessed—the problem is fairly staggering. The author's awareness of the difficulty is made clear in a letter to his English publisher:

What I wanted to write about here [Guard of Honor], the essence of the thing to be said, the point of it all, what I felt to be the important meaning of this particular human experience, was its immensity and its immense complexity…. I could see I faced a tough technical problem. I wanted to show … the peculiar effects of the inter-action of innumerable individuals functioning in ways at once determined by and determining the functioning of innumerable others—all in the common and in every case nearly helpless involvement in what had ceased to be just an "organization" … and become if not an organism with life and purposes of its own, at least an entity, like a crowd…. I would just have to write off as readers everyone who could not or would not meet heavy demands on his attention and intelligence, the imagination to grasp a large pattern and the wit to see the relation which I could not stop to spell out between this & that.

The first step in dealing with such a mass of material is a thorough job of organization, and this requires an intellectual effort which many novelists seem unwilling to make. Captain Hicks, in civilian life editor of a popular magazine, comments irritably, in a tone that suggests Cozzens is expressing his own feeling, on the irresponsibility of some modern writers of serious fiction. "One of you prose artists can screw up a simple, factual story until hell won't have it. You never know anything about organization of the material, and most of you won't learn; you think you know it all" [Guard of Honor].

In another connection Hicks speaks of the "austere beauty of order," and the phrase is an apt description of the effect of the Cozzens novels. Order is produced by "the important arts of selection and elimination" and a careful organization of the remaining details. 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. Even so unsympathetic a critic as Irving Howe [in The New Republic, 20 January 1958] admits Cozzens' success in creating "the illusion of verisimilitude." The structure of the novels, though tight, appears organic.

Guard of Honor is perhaps the best work to illustrate the point, since it incorporates an especially wide variety of material and the plan is simple enough to permit the bare bones of structure to be easily discerned. The novel opens with a superb account of an army airplane flying back in the late afternoon to Ocanara Air Base in Florida. The military personnel aboard are disposed in a stylized order based on rank. At the controls is General Beal, the commanding officer of AFORAD. Next to him, necessarily but significantly out of rank order, is his copilot, Lieutenant Colonel Carricker. At the foremost of the three navigators' desks is Colonel Ross, the Air Inspector. The other two desks are occupied by Captain Hicks and Lieutenant Amanda Turck, WAC. Behind them, on the pull-down seat by the door, is Sergeant Pellerino, the general's crew chief; and in the tail of the airplane, perched on the seat of a chemical toilet, is T/5 Mortimer McIntyre, Junior, a Negro from the Base Services Unit.

The arrangement reflects the chain of command, which in the Army determines the possession and flow of power, a main theme of the novel. The personnel aboard are key figures in the tense, two-day drama about to be enacted, and they represent the various lines of action that are brought to a practical, if not indubitably moral, solution by Saturday night. General Beal is the dramatic center of the network of events to come; his freezing on the controls when a collision seems imminent typifies the temporary loss of command around which so much later action centers. Carricker, the hot pilot, precipitates by his anarchic defiance of proper military procedure the racial conflict which is another main thread of action. Colonel Ross, the imperturbable man of responsibility, shows even in this introductory scene the qualities of rational, controlled efficiency which make him, in Mark Schorer's words [in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, 10 October 1948], the "thematic center" of the novel: he is the man who takes over and straightens out the messes produced by the impulsive or emotional behavior of others. Captain Hicks and Lieutenant Amanda Turck are the fated but as yet barely acquainted lovers; and the flight into Ocanara, with Hicks a hapless passenger, parallels his flight out of Ocanara at the end of the book, morally shaken and confused by the disruptive events of the past two days. Sergeant Pellerino represents the group of essential career technicians who really keep the air base operative and whose disciplined competence and assurance are contrasted with the bewilderment of the reserve officers, forced to fit themselves somehow into the immense, ordered confusion of the wartime Air Force. T/5 McIntyre, almost AWOL through ignorance and negligence, has gained the grudging assistance of Captain Hicks in getting back to the base, and his place in the airplane suggests the racial injustice with which much of the subsequent action is concerned.

The flight to Ocanara serves as a kind of overture, sounding all the principal themes to be developed later in the novel. It begins as a routine operation, and in the early hours of the flight Cozzens sketches in, by means of very skillful flashbacks, the immediate background and present situation of each character. General Beal is being watched by the Air Force high command, who hope to give him, if he measures up to his present responsibilities, a major role in the later stages of the war. The account of Carricker's earlier heroism in combat reveals, along with the fact of his skill and physical courage, signs of his lawless, destructive individualism. The frustrating efforts of Judge Ross to get an assignment in the early days of the war, Captain Hicks' daily round of futile hack work, Amanda Turck's gallant efforts to overcome an ingrained maladjustment to life, all are interpolated into the account of the flight.

Thirty minutes from Ocanara, the persistent head-winds turn into a storm, and as the General attempts a landing in a thunder shower he narrowly misses a B-26 that slides into the runway ahead of him bearing one crew of the Negro medium bomb group who are to be tested and trained at AFORAD. The jolting disorder of the landing, with Lieutenant Turck sick and Sergeant Pellerino cut and bruised on the floor of the airplane, anticipates the only other violence directly presented in the book: the injury and drowning of the paratroopers at the review in honor of General Beal's forty-first birthday—the day on which he recovers the authority of command and qualifies as a full adult. Just as the flight to Ocanara serves as an overture to the grand opera that follows, so the whole novel serves as a kind of overture to the impending Götterdämmerung of the final assault on Japan. The first section ends with a superb curtain scene: in the glare of lightning flashes the whole party, from general to T/5, run just ahead of the thunder-shower for the Operations Building, Colonel Ross (the Prospero of this tempest) pausing characteristically to shepherd the new arrivals to shelter.

The multifarious activities of the Air Base—from high policy discussions among the generals to the routine problems of the WAC detachment and the Negro service units—are presented in a series of close-up shots, all organized around a carefully marked time scheme. The novel is divided into three main parts, entitled Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Each of these parts is subdivided into numbered sections which cover shorter periods of time, usually about an hour. These sections often consist of several scenes in different places, the camera eye moving from one area of the base to another.

Section VII of Saturday covers the period just before lunch. The scene is the Base Hospital, and it involves Captain Hicks, Colonel Ross, General Nichols, Lieutenant Stanley Willis (the battered Negro pilot), and his father. That they are all present at the same time is due to a complex of earlier, apparently unrelated—but, as it turns out, providential—incidents. Section VIII includes a number of scenes, and all occur during and just after lunch. The first is at the Chechoter target range, where General Beal relieves his feelings by blasting targets with his 50-caliber machine guns and, as it turns out, solves his personal problems in his own unorthodox way. The second scene shows Sergeant Pellerino and the other master sergeants enjoying an after-lunch game of dominoes at the Knock and Wait Club. In the third scene Colonel and Mrs. Ross, discussing the Negro problem during a belated lunch at home, are interrupted by Mrs. Beal, who has tried to drown her worry about the general by drinking most of a bottle of Scotch and has come to the Rosses' house, drunk and sick.

Though they seem on the surface made up of random incidents, Sections VII and VIII are actually the turning point of the novel since they embody solutions to the two chief problems confronting General Beal. Both have been introduced in the Thursday overture. The first is the social and military problem of racial antagonism, which has become acute when Carricker smashes the nose of Lieutenant Willis, the Negro pilot of the errant B-26. The problem has been latent for some time: Army regulations permit no discrimination on account of race, but the Air Base is located in central Florida. In an attempt at compromise the local military authorities have established separate Officers Clubs, but the punching of the Negro pilot, magnified by rumor, leads the other Negro officers to organize a demonstration. They force their way into the main Officers Club and are arrested; the news leaks out to the papers, and General Beal gets a direct order from Washington: straighten out this mess without apparently backing down, without antagonizing the Negroes, and without obviously violating Army regulations against segregation.

The second major problem is personal and psychological. General Beal, accustomed to an active life as commander of fighter pilots, whom he likes and understands, has been going to pieces under the unfamiliar strain of sedentary, large-scale administrative command. He becomes acutely aware of his loss of assurance and authority when he freezes on the controls Thursday night and almost wrecks the plane. His abdication of authority is confirmed by his flighty behavior on Friday, and his lowest point comes on Saturday morning at the Base Hospital, where his arrogant demand for a sedative conflicts with the professional ethics of a disgruntled young doctor in uniform. One of Colonel Ross's many jobs is to keep the visiting general, who represents the Chief of Air Staff, from knowing that Beal has lost his grip.

Section VII shows Colonel Ross, by a masterly exploitation of accident and coincidence, settling, at least temporarily, the Negro problem. The father of the injured Negro pilot is flattered into accepting an artfully slanted but accurate version of the affair: Stanley Willis was not "beaten up"; he merely got into a squabble—"it had to do with flying"—with "another officer," and got punched in the nose. At the same time a reward is tacitly offered. If Stanley shows the ability to command (i.e., if he is able to calm down the rebellious members of the Negro experimental bomb group), he will be made its commanding officer. After Colonel Ross has read the citation, General Nichols presents Lieutenant Willis with the Distinguished Flying Cross—which, like the Negro father, has providentially arrived from Washington; and it is soon reported that Lieutenant Willis, having made a speech to the rebels, "does not think they will do it again."

General Beal's personal problem is solved over the target range, though the details are not reported until later. In a fantastic game of "chicken" played with fighter planes high in the air, he makes Carricker flinch.

"Benny's had it close before; but I bet he never had it closer…. I moved in on him a little; and he hauled off fast, yelling: 'Stay away, damn it, keep away!'"

Having demonstrated, on Carricker's own primitive terms, that he is still as good a man as Benny, General Beal is restored; and he returns with vigor and assurance to the responsibilities that Colonel Ross has been bearing for him in the interim. The final episode—the accidental drowning of the paratroopers—serves to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of even the "hatchet man" from Washington, General Beal's complete recovery. In a burst of self-assurance, he contradicts his infallible, indispensable mentor, the Air Inspector.

"This way isn't going to work," Colonel Ross said. "But you're the general."

"You're damn right I am," General Beal said.

"They have to prove to me they can't do it, not just say so."

At the very end of the novel, General Beal puts General Jo-Jo Nichols and by implication Colonel Ross in their proper places.

He put his hand suddenly on Colonel Ross's shoulder. "Even Jo-Jo knows they could do without him before they could do without me…. Jo-Jo can talk to Mr. Churchill; but the war, that's for us. Without me—without us, he wouldn't have a whole hell of a lot to talk about, would he?"

Colonel Ross, "feeling the thin strong fingers, nervous but steadily controlled, pressing the cloth of his shirt," recognizes the gesture—the kindly hand of youth humoring yet firmly directing an aging subordinate. He accepts his position in the spirit of the lines from Samson Agonistes which have been running through his mind on the reviewing stand: with new acquist of true experience from this great event, and calm of mind, all passion spent. The final sentences of the book, while they imply another beginning in the interminable cycles of the war, round off this ordered cycle of minor tempest by introducing a different scale of proportion.

The position lights of the northbound plane could still be made out by their steady movement if you knew where to look. The sound of engines faded on the higher air, merging peacefully in silence. Now in the calm night and the vast sky, the lights lost themselves, no more than stars among the innumerable stars.

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 6 May 1965)

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SOURCE: "The Artless and the Arch," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3297, May 6, 1965, p. 356.

[In the following review of Children and Others, the critic lauds Cozzens's ability to present the complexities of growing up.]

[On] the evidence provided by the seventeen [stories] in Children and Others, Mr. Cozzens is probably at his happiest when working on a large canvas. "Eyes to See," the last story in the collection, is much the longest—more of a novella, really than a short story—and much the best. A fifteen-year-old boy is called home from school by his mother's sudden death, and, as the families gather for the funeral, Mr. Cozzens sets out for us most subtly young Maitland's growing awareness of all the complexities, cross-currents, and latent violence of adulthood. Childhood and adolescence are a recurring theme in many of the pieces, and all are beautifully shaped and full of meat. Two quite different ones are about war. In "Men Running" young Holcombe, a volunteer in the American Civil War, is suddenly faced with harsh and heavy responsibilities. Mr. Cozzens skilfully re-creates the authentic nightmare quality of war—that feeling of stepping on to a stage in order to take part in a play that has never been rehearsed.

John Brooks (review date 25 August 1968)

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SOURCE: "The I in Henry Dodd Worthington," in The New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1968, pp. 3, 33.

[Brooks was an American critic, novelist and journalist. In the following review of Morning Noon and Night, he examines the novel's structure, Puritan themes, eccentric prose style, and plot.]

In 1957, when James Gould Cozzens' By Love Possessed finally appeared, nine years after his last previous novel, Guard of Honor, it was instantly pronounced a masterwork by critical and popular acclaim and, an almost incredibly short time thereafter, it was dismissed (by what eventually came to be at least general critical assent) as a fake masterwork. On rereading, it seems to be neither, but rather a sound, skillful and entertaining portrayal of a part of American life marred, as Mr. Cozzens' earlier work had seldom been, by pretensions to both a style and a significance that were simply beyond its natural scope. One way and another, the book became a great cause célèbre: The reactions to it became, in themselves, a parable of the literary life, a write-it-your-self novel, obscuring the merits—obscuring the very being—of the novel that had actually been written.

Now, after a lapse this time of 11 years (broken by publication of Children and Others, a short-story collection), Mr. Cozzens has at last let a new novel go out of his workshop, and obviously he and it are very much on the spot. Has he bowed to the critics of By Love Possessed by returning to the simpler style and more manageable subject matter of his earlier novels? Or defied them by pressing the eccentric innovations of that book still further? Well, he has done both, and neither—he has ignored the critics. Whatever else one may say for or against Morning Noon and Night, it makes clear beyond cavil its author's austere, magisterial, almost relentless disregard for literary fashion.

Morning Noon and Night sets out to be a searching study of the Puritan heart and mind (as The Just and the Unjust was of the American law, for example, and Guard of Honor of the American military). No character more than remotely mentioned in it is of other than Puritan ancestry. The world it describes is as parochially Eastern Anglo-Saxon Protestant as, say, that of Saul Bellow's Herzog is North American Jewish. Its hero and narrator is Henry Dodd Worthington, a successful management consultant in his sixties and beginning to feel his mortality intensely; its content is his memoirs.

Henry's background is classically genteel: father a Chaucer specialist at and finally president of a small, respectable Eastern college; grandfathers likewise professors; parents (like those of so many such people) distantly related to each other. His life story is unsurprising: placid campus boyhood; good prep school; sexual initiation at a genteel beach resort with a married neighbor lady of his parents' generation; Harvard; an abortive attempt to become a writer; marriage to the daughter of a high-church Episcopal clergyman; a few years' fling at a raffish job (maliciously arranged for him by a stern uncle) as a bill collector; the formation of the firm that is to bring him success; high-level, noncombatant military service in World War II; divorce; remarriage to a lifelong acquaintance who has been for some years his secretary.

At the time of his writing, his only daughter is bitterly facing her third divorce. His first wife, also embittered, is dying. His second wife is dead by what seems to have been suicide. He has come to realize that his relationship with his late beloved business partner was based in part on a cynical deception he had been guilty of as a schoolboy. Now, very much alone, he is asking himself, "What is this life? Who am I? What is this 'I' in me?"

A banal life, then; there is less story here than in any other Cozzens novel except Castaway, the other sport among the author's works. Surely this is intentional. Where Mr. Cozzens wants the highlight to fall is on Henry Worthington's style and ideas, the essence of his inherited Puritanism. His manner of telling his story is free-associational (and sometimes plain haphazard) rather than chronological or logically consecutive.

There is no attempt at suspense, the narration consisting of ruminations interrupted, not very frequently, by "stage plays of memory" in which the only action and dialogue occur. The first stage play (hardly one of memory) gives warning of what is to come. It is a description in elementary-science-textbook terms (sperm, Fallopian tubes, gametes, zygote), of the mating of his parents at which he was conceived. Here, as elsewhere, a tendency to laughably clinical exactitude and factual detail on the subject of sex seems to mask, or deny, embarrassment.

Henry's prose style is eccentric in the extreme. In the "stage plays," he inclines to nervous shiftings between the present and past tenses, and between the first and third persons. Where he uses the third person, he himself when younger often becomes "our Hank" or "our excited boy," as in the conventional fiction of a century ago. Always he inclines to sentence inversion, the passive voice, the ablative absolute, the long-obsolete usage, and other devices that create an effect, not so much of "old-fashioned grandiloquence" (a key phrase from By Love Possessed), as of archness and pomposity. Sometimes he writes purest old-fashioned Time-style: "In April died the old Secretary of Navy, and raised to his place was the Under Secretary."

And his ruminations? Henry (or "our Hank") thinks of them as "sagacity," partly in irony and partly not, but to the reader they come out as highly uneven in wisdom content. To the "Who am I?" query he replies, with resolute contempt for psychological self-analysis—perhaps inherited from a grandfather who was a renowned anti-Freudian—"Don't ask me." Here is a sampling of his apothegms:

"Legend's very nature must make for the struck pose, the formal stance, the act put on."

"Never the great and powerful, but only those of little or no real power will hurt for hurting's sake."

"The very fact that a man is a man and by that fact controlled (homo est!) is going to make him, reluct though he may, find—if not think, then feel—many very human things alien to him."

"Ingestion of beverage alcohol, not or not often to real excess, yet steady and systematic, has penalties."

Why does Henry talk, or write, that way? In part, it would seem, simply because he is something of a windbag when it comes to discussing himself. At times, the reader suspects that he has failed at human relationships not because of the excessive success-drive, the inherited streak of deviousness, and the sexual inhibition that he states or hints are the reasons, but because he has bored everybody close to him to distraction. But certainly he is not all windbag, as his huge professional success in management consulting (an occupation that is described, in the Cozzens tradition, with scrupulous fidelity) attests. There is a solid core of good sense, hard-earned skill, and natural perception in Henry. Perhaps his circumlocutory banalities are the outcome of an attitude toward the world more defensive than he cares to admit, and this is essentially a book about chronic embarrassment.

Since it certainly does not seem to have been so intended, and since it fails to deeply engage the reader's mind or heart as such, Morning Noon and Night has to be accounted a failure. Marquand's George Apley is pretty much of a bore (and so, for that matter, is Herzog) but the novels in which they appear succeed because of the authors' controlled mixture of irony and detached affection toward their heroes. Mr. Cozzens' attitude toward Worthington, as seen through Worthington's attitude toward himself, wavers uncertainly between irony and identification.

Because, along the way, Worthington expresses many ideas that the author himself has expressed in the past—a conservative outlook on human affairs in general, frank distrust of intellectual liberals, disdain for writers' conferences—and because of the tone of the whole book, one finds more than a hint here of a personal testament. Indeed, the reader wonders whether he is meant to discern the author's voice—the voice of one of the master craftsmen in American fiction in our time—behind Henry Worthington's valedictory, delivered after a last "stage play" in which Henry, as a boy, on a trip abroad with his parents, wanders out among classical ruins at sunset, knowing that in a few moments he will be ordered to bed, and thinks about the endings of things: "Good night, any surviving dear old Carian guests. Good night, ladies. Good night, all."

This reader, who has had so much pleasure in so many Cozzens novels and looks forward to more, certainly hopes not.

John Updike (review date 2 November 1968)

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SOURCE: "Indifference," in Picked-Up Pieces, Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, pp. 416-22.

[Updike is a prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, critic, short story writer, essayist, poet, and dramatist. In the review below, originally published November 2, 1968, in The New Yorker, he faults Morning Noon and Night for its stuffy, tedious, pessimistic, and pedantic style.]

Beginning, forty years ago, with a style of sober purity, James Gould Cozzens has purposefully evolved a prose unique in its mannered ugliness, a monstrous mix of Sir Thomas Browne, legalese, and Best-Remembered Quotations. The opening chapter of his new novel, Morning Noon and Night, cloudy as a polluted pond, swarms with verbal organisms of his strange engendering. As Cozzen-sologists before me have discovered, there is no substitute for the tabulated list. We have the Unresisted Cliché:

Here are clouds of witnesses, faces and forms in serried ranks …

I don't intend here any telling in mournful numbers.

Simply, the wood is not to be seen for the trees.

The Lame Echo:

To be sure, in this distraction of the mind, as through a glass darkly …

You have not world enough and time….

I feel it leaves man as much as before the glory, jest, and riddle of the world.

The False Precision, the Legal "Or":

… to inform yourself of any peculiarities or limitations of his that could have affected his observation or could now be coloring his report.

… what they seem in our work or practice. I am not suggesting that I feel we are or ever could be ethically obligated….

… by elements of lust whether loving or unloving, a catalog longer or shorter of women …

The Vapid Expansion:

What used to be, not just well enough, but often very good indeed, must be left religiously alone.

The Inversion Frightful, Capped by Cute Periphrasis:

In eating employed now are partial dental prosthetic devices.

Be that how it may, Nancy, as friends call her, will not refuse the rites mysterious of connubial love.

The Gratuitous Scientism:

Penetrated, the microscopic cell is fertilized (in accepted language of the process, two gametes fuse to form a zygote).

The Infatuated Sonority:

His course of ripe and ripe is running, and the rot and rot won't fail to follow….

Multitudinous as these remembered works of Nature may be, more multitudinous still, and by far, must be remembered works of man.

What Cozzens has set himself to achieve, and has, as he might say, so regrettably succeeded in achieving, is the literary equivalent for or capture of the all too veritably human quality of stuffiness. In tone and tedium, Morning Noon and Night is a four-hundred-page-long after-dinner speech.

The speaker is Henry Dodd Worthington; the dinner has been his life. Born at the turn of the century as the son of a small-college English professor, the narrator of this novel, after an acceptable education at an unnamed prep school and Harvard, and after shrugging off both teaching and writing as possible careers, drifted into employment with a Boston collection agency, and from this indifferent beginning rose to found Henry Worthington Associates, a management-consultant firm of prestige so immense that both he and the reader find it implausible. He has been twice married: his first wife, Judith, cuckolded and divorced him; his second, Charlotte, committed suicide. Violence, indeed, has made rather free with his relatives; his parents were asphyxiated in a hotel fire, and his two grandchildren were killed in the crash of a plane. Henry (or "our Hank," as he jocosely calls himself) is of genteel Protestant background, an indirect descendant of President Franklin Pierce; during the Second World War he served as an Air Forces major, mostly in the Pentagon; his present preoccupations are the unhappiness of his daughter Elaine, now on her third divorce, and the composition of this memoir. The events of his life are not related consecutively but emerge as his memory rambles over the past; he ruminates at length upon such diverse matters as his grandfather's feud with the early Freudians, the tricks of management consultation, the technique of running an antiques shop, the sinking of the Titanic, the vagaries of chance, the nature of the Puritan heritage, the ups and downs and ins and outs of sexual "appetency," and (an unexpected obsession) the shabbiness of the literary world. Many of these essays, once the muddled sonority of the style is tuned out, possess interest, even a certain surly brilliance, but as a life the book lacks what it must have—life.

Elaine is the only character other than the narrator allowed to have any kind of a say; the novel's keystone scene is an interview between the distressed daughter and the stiff but sorry father, held in the courtyard of H.W. Associates' posh new suburban plant. But when, after seventy solid pages of authorial discourse, quotation marks appear amid the print and Elaine breaks into speech, she talks just like a little Henry, or (since without a doubt our Hank is pretty much our Jim) a little Cozzens. Listen to her:

"So when Wilfred deflowered me I was pretty much, as the books say, unawakened."

"You know; lovely Sue makes like softly panting while the geranium tree is planting. And doesn't that show what's up for grabs here is love forever true, and oughtn't he to latch onto it?"

"You bet! Moving finger writes. Correct. And all my tears, or such as I've let drip, don't wash out a word."

Embarrassed, apparently, by her own wealth of literary tags, she admonishes her father, "Don't forget the expensive liberal-arts education you bought me. When it pays to, I can sound tolerably literate." But it doesn't pay; their conversation is lumpy with false wit and stilted slang and brittle with a supervisory knowingness—not a dramatization of her plight but an awkward exposition of it. So it is with the entire book. Henry's marriage to Judith, by all indications the deepest relationship of his life, is represented by some mocking paragraphs on newlywed lust, a potentially poignant but skimped account of their courtship, an unskimped theory as to how her father's anti-sexual High Anglicanism drove her decades later to promiscuity, a few cursory references to their divorce, a full exposition of Henry's financial advice to the antiques business she sets up in, and a glancing admission that now she is dying. She hardly speaks a sentence; for her one moment onstage, she is seen through her daughter's eyes distantly on a beach, coupling with a lover. Charlotte, the second wife, appears in Henry's account as a suicide note, as a glimpse of her in the shower (heavily misted by panting references to David and Bathsheba), and as an equable compliment to her secretarial ability. All the characters—wives, friends, business associates, service colleagues—are immersed, mute and all but immobile, in the tyrannous flow of Henry Worthington's disquisitional lava.

Now, to what extent does the author stand apart from his persona, as, say, John Marquand does from George Apley? How much of Henry's stuffiness is intentional caricature? Is his sluggish eclipse of the life he has lived a novelistic defect or an ironical comment? Mockery there is in abundance: Henry mocks his youthful ardor, his elderly dignity, his riskless wartime career, the little shams and maneuvers of his trade. His memory seeks out low moments: "mean actions of mine; uglinesses of greed or lust; shameful exhibitions of ignorance; deserved humiliations; mortifying follies and defeats." And the epigraph from Shakespeare's Sonnet 94, describing those who, "moving others, are themselves as stone," suggests that a selfportrait of a type of man and an implicit judgment were intended. But Marquand, even in his later novels, maintained an outsider's perspective on his Brahmins, whereas Worthington's voice and Cozzens' are indistinguishable, and the opinions of author and character merge in a ponderous, pessimistic morass of self-distrust and weary puzzlement.

Having troubled to invent a business profession for his alter ego, and having supplied a convincing amount of data and theory, Cozzens compulsively reverts throughout his narrative to the problems of the literary practitioner, to attacks upon "half-writer pretenders" and "liberal intellectuals." He includes a coy reference to the minor American writer Frederick Cozzens. He gives Henry, the supposed author of a million memos and directives, his own preposterously pedantic style, including the obligatory exotic words—inappetency, erethism, furibund, condign, innominate, muliebrity, deontology. Frequently heard is the rumble of hobby-horses being ridden by that ultra-conservative Cozzens displayed years ago in Time—a kind of male Ayn Rand who in this book must dote upon a fictional bank's status "in the best financial circles" as being "better regarded than the latter-day not always prudent House of Morgan," who speaks of Roosevelt's "near-senile megalomania" and the Kremlin's "dupes" and "expert perfidies and duplicities," and who seems pleasurably smitten by the speculation that a typhoon would have wiped out our scheduled invasion of the Japanese home islands had not the war been ended by the atomic bombs, which in passing are viewed as the "means to right a ceaselessly growing imbalance in Nature, to solve quickly and easily theretofore insoluble problems of excess population."

Not that political conservatives should be barred from the halls of fiction; rather, they should be better represented there, to relieve the present rather shrill unanimity on the left. Nor is author/alter-ego closeness an intrinsic handicap; Herzog, for example, is an excellent novel. Its superiority to Morning Noon and Night lies not only in Bellow's far livelier gift for conjuring up personalities but in his, and Herzog's, belief that a better world somewhere exists, that improvement can be sought and choices can be made. The illusion of free will, illusion or not, is necessary to a novel; excitement and import derive from the reality of human decision. As Henry Dodd Worthington describes himself, he has been always a product, a zygote formed by two fused gametes, in the grip, successively and simultaneously, of biology, heredity, social usage, sexual impulse, chance, and inertia. The turning points of his life—his marriage to Judith, his entry into the world of business, his enlistment in the Army Air Forces, his divorce and remarriage—are all seen as uncaused drift, "little governed by logic or demonstrable cause and effect." Herzog, at the end, can stop writing letters and set the table for a tryst, whereas Henry can only conclude that he knows nothing, that his life has been a "wandering directionless," a game of "blindman's buff—now sightlessly bumping into things, now surprised by sportive unreturnable blows." His memories—in the book's last, best flight, of imagery—are seen as ruined fragments and, far off, "a dozen or more aqueduct arches, commencing suddenly, suddenly ending, coming now from nowhere, now going nowhere." There is "thin final sunlight," and then "the child must soon be taken away to bed." A child is someone who lacks responsibility and power of choice; Henry Dodd Worthington, adviser to big business, labels himself as one. This vision of helpless, pointless process is at the heart of the novel's profound inaction, of its analyzed but unrealized events, and even of its reactionary style, seeping backward to include all those tired mottoes and phrases and clichés as if wryly to admit that nothing new can be said. Resigned pessimism is a defensible philosophy, and may be the natural end of American enterprise, but it makes for very dull fiction.

Piqued by this book's curious badness, I turned to Cozzens' first full-length novel, The Last Adam. Though a trifle slick, with its climactic town meeting and its magnificent starring role for an aging screen idol (it was made into a movie, Dr. Bull, starring Will Rogers), it holds up well; the evocation of the Connecticut town of New Winton, the tight knit of weather and geography and people into a plot, the particularity and immediacy of every scene all show a mastery remarkable in a man of thirty. Cozzens then had more grasp of ordinary, middling America—or at least more willingness to transmute his grasp into art—than Hemingway and Fitzgerald ever showed. The hero of the novel, Dr. Bull, is sixty-seven, just about Henry Worthington's age, and he remembers the sentence from the Psalmist with which Henry begins his memoir: "I have been young and now am old." And cosmic nullity is present in both books: "Left to herself [a telephone operator in The Last Adam], and to what she could see of the universe, real and ideal were lost together in an indifference so colossal, so utterly indifferent, that there was no defining it." This colossal indifference, this abyss beneath society and conventional success, has always been with Cozzens, but as a threat, as a defining darkness, not as an all-swallowing enemy. From The Last Adam to Morning Noon and Night, the broad social scene of New Winton, primarily Protestant, has dwindled to one member of the Puritan aristocracy; class consciousness has narrowed to class loyalty. Cozzens has become like a Yale undergraduate in the earlier book: "He knew by now that he and his more intimate friends were right; or, at any rate, he could easily see that people who differed conspicuously in dress or behavior, in ideals or attitudes, were, as far as his college was concerned, wrong. His gray eyes considered all those in error with a level, complete indifference." Arthur Winner, of By Love Possessed, gave those not of his sort short shrift. Henry Worthington doesn't see them at all, they are squeezed into the remotest margins of his memoir, and there is nowhere to stand to see him, to judge him. Only the bitter vacuity of his conclusions betrays the possibility that somewhere along the way he went wrong.

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 30 January 1969)

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SOURCE: "Ponderosity," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3492, January 30, 1969, p. 116.

[In the following negative review of Morning Noon and Night, the critic contends that Cozzens's attempt to expose "the reality beneath pretension" is undermined by a ponderous prose style.]

The narrator of Mr. Cozzens's new novel [Morning Noon and Night] is Henry (Hank) Dodd Worthington, the sexagenarian founder and head of H.W. Associates, a firm of industrial management consultants preeminent in that field. The novel is presented in the form of a meditation on his life, or lives, and those of his ancestors, an inquiry that may be meaningful to others in so far as it is also an inquiry into the meaning of life at different ages and on different stages. H.W., the public figure, is as highly regarded as he is successful. But Hank has done many shameful things, the ill consequences of which he has avoided only by good luck; and the good management, in which his company specializes, is only the exercise of common sense in those chosen conditions where common sense gives an answer.

I remember a line of Montaigne's: Amusing notion; many things I would not want to tell anyone, I tell the public. I see what he means. Droll indeed the reflection that informing against yourself to one person is often imprudent, but not informing against yourself to the whole world. There you can count on a strange but true safety in numbers.

This reflection may be true of Montaigne or Mr. Cozzens or any other writer. But it is not true of Henry Worthington, whose confessions made to the whole world would do even more damage to the business reputation of himself and H.W. Associates than a private avowal; and well would he know it, if he had half the shrewdness he professes.

This basic flaw in the presentation of the novel is not concealed by the style which the author has given H.W. The descendant of a long line of professors and a broken line of writers. H.W., having taken his A.M. in English literature, has played with, but rejected, the ideas of teaching and writing. After starting in the "amusing" business of collecting debts in Boston, he has with the aid of inherited money and acquired school and college friends built up his consultancy business first in that city, then in the ultramodernity of Madison Avenue, and finally in the Georgian replica of good taste outside New York City, having had a safe and successful war in the Air Force. He is very much a man of his times, not the phoney red who got worked up about Sacco and Vanzetti, the evils of the Depression and the threat of fascism, but the percipient man who broke only with the old establishment to establish himself with the new.

The way he expresses himself is a rococo version of the way in which Mr. Cozzens expressed himself in By Love Possessed. The rhythms are similar but exaggerated. Mr. Cozzens's literary hesitation becomes a stammer. Where one word will do justly, Mr. Cozzens uses a dozen and Henry Worthington a score.

Normal aging's occasional distresses of sudden visceral ill ease, desultory muscle twinge, and hard-to-diagnose ache of bone and stiffening of joint visit me. Old skin, now too slowly renewed, suffers routine itches and allergy rashes. The breath of the image shortens, and, because it now sweats so easily, drafts need to be guarded against. Long ago glasses began to be required for reading. In eating employed now the partial dental prosthetic devices. Heating may soon have to be aided electrically. Yes many and sharp, if not yet very sharp, those numerous ills (the old mind is nervous and worrisome) inwoven with our frame.

His sentiments are often crudities condited in the recondite.

… inappetency may well decide that a one only right name for the malodorous grapple, the damp assault on the subventral slit, the seesaw pump of in-and-out, the breakoff, spent and soiled, must be not loving, but, blunt and unvarnished screwing.

Mr. Cozzens is a deliberate writer, whose ponderosity is contrived to his own satisfaction. If the reader can take a short story cut so elaborately long, there is much in Morning Noon and Night which is shrewd or wise. The point of view, presented as H.W.'s (but the author's own?), has the merit of singularity; a complex attitude, apparently exposing the reality beneath pretension while really erecting an entirely different pretentiousness over the exposure.

James A. Epperson (review date 8 December 1978)

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SOURCE: "Eclipse," in National Review, Vol. XXX, December 8, 1978, pp. 1552-54.

[In the following review of Just Representations, Epperson examines Cozzens's career, his fall from critical esteem, and argues that his work has significant literary merit.]

Only twenty years ago, any list of our top-ranking novelists would surely have included the name of James Gould Cozzens. His short stories and novels had won prizes and critical attention. Six of his books had been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club. By Love Possessed (1957) received all the acclaim a writer could hope for: commercial success as a best-seller, condensation in the Reader's Digest, a cover story in Time, $250,000 for the movie rights, and, in 1960, the prestigious Howells Medal for fiction, awarded every five years by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One respected critic went so far as to suggest Cozzens as a nominee for the Nobel Prize. And such a suggestion seemed, at the time, perfectly apt. Cozzens had written a number of distinguished novels fully in the tradition of Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, and Henry James. One of them, Guard of Honor (1948), a fine novel by any standard and in any time, received the Pulitzer Prize and was called "the best American novel of World War II."

Such honors and distinction, one thought in 1957, would assure Cozzens of an enduring literary reputation. Yet now who reads his novels? Who not yet in middle age has even heard his name? He is certainly not read in college courses devoted to modern American fiction, where one naturally finds such contemporaries of Cozzens as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner—but also Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Burroughs, writers of little or no reputation in the late Fifties.

After about 1960, while other and perhaps less significant novelists rose to popularity, Cozzens virtually disappeared from our collective literary consciousness. His last book, Morning, Noon, and Night, received scattered and generally hostile notices when it was published in 1968, a bad year for books as for many other manifestations of American culture.

Perhaps now that the turmoil of the Sixties is fading, Cozzens' work may emerge from the curious limbo to which it has been assigned. The volume under review [Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader] is an attempt to help it do just that, to provide an introductory and comprehensive review of Cozzens' fiction in an omnibus that includes one complete novel (Ask Me Tomorrow), generous and relatively self-contained excerpts from six of his major books, and some stories, essays, letters, and reviews. Sandwiched between these chunks of Cozzens are appreciative essays by distinguished critics and men of letters. Professor Matthew J. Bruccoli, who edited the volume, has also contributed a perceptive biographical essay. In addition to the reprinted pieces by Jerome Weidman and Brendan Gill, there are four critical essays by academic writers, all of whom write appreciatively of Cozzens' art; in particular, Noel Perrin, Frederick Bracher, and Richard Ludwig offer analytical commentary in support of their enthusiasm.

All the critics included in this volume are puzzled and rather aggressive about what they rightly see as the unjustified, almost conspiratorial, neglect of Cozzens by the critical establishment—that is by the majority of academic and "New York" literary critics. Explaining this neglect and overcoming it is largely the task of these critics and is, one assumes, the purpose of the anthology itself.

Several reasons are given for the sudden eclipse of Cozzens' once brilliant reputation, none of which seems convincing. Some point to Cozzens' obdurate refusal to grant interviews, to appear on talk shows, to become a celebrity. Such reticence, however, has not injured the esteem granted to Thomas Pynchon or (still) to J. D. Salinger, both of whom remain firmly and obsessively private. Others argue that Cozzens' style is too cerebral, too allusive, too controlled. Yet no one would deny cerebration, allusive reference, learning, or architectonic control in the writers named above, not to mention Mailer, Nabokov, Joyce Carol Oates, Bellow, John Hawkes, or Donald Barthelme—all writers whose works are regularly explicated in university lecture halls. The causes for this neglect of Cozzens must be found elsewhere, in the mysterious turns of literary fashion, and in the tremendous cultural upheavals of the last two decades, which fractured and then fragmented our literary ideologies.

We find a clue to these changes in the year 1957, the year of Cozzens' most successful novel, By Love Possessed—and also the year in which Norman Mailer turned in a new and astonishingly fruitful direction with the publication of his essay "The White Negro." At the same time, Kerouac published On the Road, a book that was to have an immense influence on the thoughts and deeds and writings popular in the Sixties. Both of these authors consciously rejected the novelistic form that they and Cozzens had inherited from a long American tradition, a form that Cozzens sharpened and refined in over three decades as a writer. His novels attempted to be "just representations" of men and manners in the twentieth century, judicious, realistic, objective, and accurate imitations of tone and detail. In contrast, the novel of the Sixties and Seventies was to be fact-and-fiction, reportage, polemics, or propaganda; it was to be autobiographical, plotless, solipsistic, or narrowly topical, and to range from the impressionistic to the surrealistic and absurd. Cozzens rigorously rejected these fashionable positions.

In addition, our most recent novels have played on (and perhaps played out) themes of anxiety, despair, violence, moral and spiritual relativism, and the blind aggressions of military, sexual, or social conflict. Cozzens' novels do not ignore these themes; to do so would have indicated a willful disregard of the stresses of our century. Nor does reconcile the problems these themes raise with sentimental or contrived solutions. Cozzens can be as bleak as Pynchon, as realistic as Mailer, and as ironically searching as Bellow.

Where Cozzens parts company with his contemporaries is in his ideological stoicism, his refusal to yield to despair or trendy nihilism, his steady belief that intelligence can impose form on experience, that excellence is necessary and possible, and that the abiding virtues in what we now pejoratively call the Puritan Ethic are indeed virtues. In other words, his novels celebrate and define the limits of honor, faith, education, hard work, dignity, loyalty, restraint, and the responsibility incumbent on those who possess (accidentally perhaps) social rank and material wealth.

Cozzens, then, pursued subjects that might well be called old-fashioned and conservative—or, put another way, subjects that are worth conserving. His preoccupations naturally affected the way he wrote and the world he wrote about. He was a traditionalist who subordinated his ego, intelligence, and considerable skill to the demands of narrative and character. Honoring hard work, he worked hard and long at his craft, with a faith and diligence we cannot help but admire. His subjects came from that segment of American society, the privileged and educated elite, of which he unapologetically felt himself a part. (His essays on the Kent School and Harvard place him squarely and cheerfully among the Eastern gentry.)

His best books are about that class of Americans, professional people, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, going about their responsible and complicated lives with a sense of duty and compassion, sure of their abstract convictions but uncertain—as we all are—when the abstract collides with the concrete instance. It is this collision and the resulting incongruity that form the central interest of Cozzens' best novels. Lawyers discover that legalistic concepts of justice are inapplicable to matters of the human heart. Doctors, clergymen, and generals learn that the honorable and necessary principles of their professions, principles that have shaped their thoughts and actions, are inadequate to explain or control the complexities of experience. Despite these inadequacies, these limits (and Cozzens is a writer who explores our limitations), Cozzens' heroes retain their virtue and dignity even as they are disillusioned by experience. Perhaps this hard, classically stoic, even illiberal recognition of our limitations and helplessness accounts for Cozzens' unpopularity with the literary-critical establishment.

Or it may be, as Bruccoli argues, that Cozzens is in disfavor because he writes about those who are generally regarded as successful—the educated, intelligent, socially prominent, well-to-do. The liberal cliche, of course, has it (to quote Bruccoli) that "success is a sign of corruption…. Cozzens alarms proponents of the higher failure." There may be truth in this comment. Only one other author of stature, Louis Auchincloss, has written with intelligence and knowledge of the nation's managerial and professional classes, a segment of our society by no means inconsequential or uncharacteristic. Yet Auchincloss, like Cozzens, gets short critical shrift in the pages of the literary quarterlies.

It is too soon to predict the reemergence of Cozzens as a major figure of American fiction. He died on August 9, ten days before his 75th birthday, the date on which this anthology was released. Like a character from one of his own novels, he must surely have been aware of the irony of this book's genesis and appearance, a project conceived and executed by academics who hoped to rescue him from oblivion. Personal oblivion came to him before he could know of the success or failure of this belated rescue operation. One likes to think that he did not much care, that a lifetime devoted to the writing of books in the best way he knew how was satisfaction enough. Whatever the case, his books will last because they are true, faithful, and intelligent. Those who know his novels will honor his memory. For those who have not yet read Cozzens' work, the omnibus serves as a fine introduction.

Robert Scholes (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: "Moral Realism: The Development of an Attitude," in James Gould Cozzens: New Acquist of True Experience, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Southern Illinois University Press, 1979, pp. 44-62.

[Scholes is an educator and author of several books on literature, including Elements of Fiction (1968) and Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English (1985). In the following essay, he discusses the evolution of Cozzens's literary style and his rejection of romanticism in favor of moral realism.]

The following quotations may be read as a dialogue. The first speaker is a young man in a novel of 1929. The second is an old man in a novel of 1942.

That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you.

Don't be cynical…. A cynic is just a man who found out when he was about ten that there wasn't any Santa Claus, and he's still upset. Yet, there'll be more war; and soon, I don't doubt. There always has been. There'll be deaths and disappointments and failures. When they come, you meet them. Nobody promises you a good time or an easy time. I don't know who it was who said when we think of the past we regret and when we think of the future we fear. And with reason. But no bets are off. There is the present to think of, and as long as you live there always will be.

The young man who spoke first was Frederic Henry in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms; the old man who answered was Judge Coates in James Gould Cozzens's The Just and the Unjust. I do not wish to suggest that Cozzens in this passage is consciously and specifically attempting to rebut Hemingway. Rather, my intention in juxtaposing the two is to locate the unknown by its relation to the known—to make Cozzens's view of life clear by its polar opposition to the more familiar vision of the cosmos characteristic of Hemingway.

His view of life is certainly the right place to begin a consideration of James Gould Cozzens as a writer of fiction. This is true for a number of reasons. First, he is much more than most American writers of his generation a novelist of ideas. Second, and possibly because of the first reason, his technical development as a literary artist has been intimately connected with the development of his thought. This is not to say that he uses fiction (like George Orwell, for example) as a vehicle for polemical thought, but that a particular and very carefully worked-out attitude toward life operates in his fiction to determine the essentials of plot, character, and setting.

The speech of old Judge Coates from the end of The Just and the Unjust is characteristic enough to stand as a fair statement of the attitude toward life that dominates Cozzens's later and best fiction. But it is only characteristic. It is not an ultimate formulation, a solution to the problems of living. It represents a significant phase in his thinking, which is associated with much of his best work, but it represents a phase only—not the whole process of thought. The process is the important thing—the continuing development that began with his earliest fiction and is still in progress.

The early novels are Confusion (1924), Michael Scarlett (1925), Cock Pit (1928), and The Son of Perdition (1929). Cozzens was an undergraduate at Harvard when his first book was published—an event he has since regretted;

It made me, in my own eyes, a real figure in literature, at once; an author of far too much promise to waste time any longer at schoolboy work. So I quite school and got at my career, started right in at what I thought was the top. In that way every natural fault was solidified, and it is taking all my effort now, in my mid-thirties, to wipe out those faults, to really learn to write. [Cozzens in an interview with Robert Van Gelder, "James Gould Cozzens at Work," New York Times Book Review, 23 June 1940]

This separation of the first four novels from the later works is not entirely a device of criticism on my part. Indeed, they were first dissociated by their author, who has failed to mention any of them in the lists of "Other Books by James Gould Cozzens" that appear opposite the title pages of his later works. That his repudiation of his earliest works is a result of their technical shortcomings can certainly be inferred from his statement just quoted, but there is yet another reason why at that time he found these early novels "much too painful to talk about."

When I was that age I admired a friend of mine who got drunk at 9 o'clock in the morning. That is too early in life to begin to think of yourself as a writer. Because you are very young when you think a fellow who comes to your rooms early in the morning, already drunk, and is heaving bottles against near-by walls at noon, is entirely admirable. ["James Gould Cozzens at Work"]

The reasons for the repudiation of these first four novels were more than technical. In fact, the implication seems to be that it is the greenness of judgment rather than the technical faults which makes those first books "much too painful to talk about."

Confusion is a novel about a girl who develops a sensibility too exquisite to allow her to function in a world that has too little to offer her. In the matter of theme the book bears a close resemblance to a work published in the following year: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby is described as having "something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away." Cerise D'Atrée, the heroine of Confusion, has something of this same "heightened sensitivity to the promises of life." The descendant of an ancient French family, Cerise is given the best education the resources of her family and the intelligence of her two godfathers can provide. As she grows up, these two well-meaning gentlemen become aware that something has gone wrong. The more sensitive of the two, Tischoifsky, expresses it in this way:

We gave her the past in full measure, we laid a foundation of exquisite sensibility and appreciation. It was to have been her most ready servant. It has turned on her and she is going to be its slave. You can see it. She has a remarkable instinctive taste in things. She has a youthful capacity for idealization, of course. Ordinarily the realization of life as it is—to use that for lack of a better phrase—would fall on semi-developed taste and immature appreciation. Both those safeguards we have obliterated in Cerise, we have put years and constant effort into obliterating. Now you see Cerise stripped of all protection except the unreliable slowness of experience to divulge the full force of disappointment. [Confusion]

Later the disenchanted bride, Jacqueline Atkinson, directly tells Cerise essentially the same thing about herself: "… I'd hate to see it happen to you. And you're one of the ones it would happen to. You're looking for more in life than there is…." The death of Cerise in an automobile accident is meant, I am sure, to emphasize the world's inability to fulfill her, as well as to bring the story to a conclusion.

Fitzgerald and Cozzens in these two books both seem to feel that there is something wrong with a world that can not present such people as Gatsby and Cerise with "something commensurate to their capacity for wonder." The difference between the two novels—aside from any question of superiority of technique—is that The Great Gatsby is ripe Fitzgerald, while Confusion is very green Cozzens.

This motif of a sensitive young person destroyed by an indifferently cruel world is repeated in Cozzens's second book, Michael Scarlett. This is a historical novel, set in Elizabethan England, in which such characters as Nashe, Marlowe, Donne, Shakespeare, Southampton, and Essex figure prominently. But for all its period setting, the main outline of the story is very like that of Cerise D'Atrée. Michael Scarlett is "an exquisite youth" raised by a guardian, educated but sheltered—just as Cerise was. He comes as a young man into a Cambridge and a London alive with faction and is soon unwittingly embroiled. Shakespeare and Southampton speak of him:

"I would have thought," commented Mr. Shakespere, "that my lord Essex, Mr. Marlowe, and Mr. Nashe between them dominated him wholly; they call, and he comes. A strange melancholy of indecision hath smitten you young people, Harry. Him chiefest of all."

"I had not meant to hint I liked him less," answered Southampton quickly, "but that I pitied him more. It was an evil thing he ever came to London. See how an unplanned, undesired chain of event hath placed him in the saddle where he sits neither safe nor happy. Essex was fitted to taste in his championing of the high party. Essex requires aid at a duel (by irony, on Michael's behalf). Michael, with nice swordsmanship, saves the day and Devereux's life; yet so greviously hurting Captain Blunt that he transfers the popular leadership of his party from Essex to himself, which he neither wanted nor needed, and having, can neither manage nor hold. He doth not understand the issue, he cares little for the outcome. Those that do care, borrow his name to forward their own ends. Being confused and not comprehending, he hath submitted thus far." [Michael Scarlett]

Michael's death results from a senseless fight in which he attempts to enable Nashe, wanted for an accidental killing, to escape capture. Nashe refuses to flee, but fights by Michael's side until wounded.

In the last chapter of Confusion, "White Roses," the dying Cerise had gazed from her bed at a vase full of roses and mused that it was "strange that a rose which would presently die should be so beautiful." A rose figures in the closing pages of Michael Scarlett, too. Michael, bleeding to death in the snow, asks a mad prostitute to deliver to Southampton a memento he has carried in his shirt. He dies as she removes the object and inspects it.

"How, a rose?" she murmured, "i' faith, a pretty wooden rose, yet much decayed and dry."

She tossed it up and down as a child tosses a toy.

"Poor rose, sweet rose," she sang, "yet thou'rt very dead."

She looked at it for a space.

"Prithee burn, rose," she said.

It fell into the fire and was lost.

In each novel the roses, living or dead, seem to represent (clumsily, perhaps) the young person whose life and death has been the matter of the story. The suggestion that life is a sad affair because beautiful roses and exquisite young people must die in its confusion can only be described as sentimental. It is undoubtedly this sentimentalism, strikingly evident in the early novels, that makes their author so reluctant to discuss them.

It seems for a time in the third novel, Cock Pit (1928), that the familiar pattern of the first two is to be repeated. The story is set in Cuba against the prominent background of the sugar industry. The principal focus is on the daughter of an engineer at one of the mills.

Ruth Micks is not an "exquisite youth" as Cerise D'Atrée and Michael Scarlett were, but she is superior to and in conflict with her environment. The discerning bank manager, Mr. Britton, observes and judges her:

He took a swallow of wine. Romanticists! His own practical mind made allowances for it as one would make allowances for the difficulties of a cripple.

That cool and calculating efficiency of thought and judgment which made him one of the bank's most trusted managers appraised … them all…. He had nothing but admiration for Ruth, unlikely to criticize an intelligence which he felt to be understandable, like his own. Across it ran the softer stuff, the gentler, yes, stupider, sentiments of Mary and Maurice. Ruth went through them like steel through wax.

No; he held that. Not steel. You missed Ruth altogether if you could see only that clean cutting power. That was superficial, a clear head working easily among muddled ones. His own clear head could recognize that with admiration, but there was something deeper, he knew, for he felt, totally unsentimental, an attachment for Ruth, a sense of understanding her, of seeing what none of these people saw, not even her father. His mind with a clearing flash, like the dropping of the jumbled pieces of a kaleidoscope into perfect pattern, held it there.

By God, he thought, not surprised, for he had known it all along, he supposed; what a rotten shame! Not even her father….

An unutterable and very simple sadness came over him. It turned from Ruth, for that was the end he saw, not temporary, but a final frustration. [Cock Pit]

There is a hint in Britton's meditation, which occurs midway through the novel, that Ruth's story is to end in frustration as Michael's and Cerise's had, but it remains only a hint, ultimately belied by the plot. At the close of the story Ruth is a successful heroine, having conquered by her cleverness and courage the ruthless sugar baron, Don Miguel Bautizo. Don Miguel is not only defeated, he is made to like it, demonstrating that under his ruthless exterior beats the heart of a gallant gentleman.

The musings of Britton serve to illustrate a conflict that will prove most important for an understanding of Cozzens's novels. His opening condemnation of "romanticists" sounds a theme that recurs with increasing emphasis in Cozzens's work. The qualities Britton marks in those "romanticists" are "stupider sentiments" and "muddled" heads, which are opposed to the "understandable" intelligences and "clear" heads of Ruth and himself. Since it is Ruth's clear head that prevails in the novel, we may assume that the author shares to some extent in Britton's condemnation of romanticists. Yet the state of affairs pictured at the end of the story is clearly the result of a sentimental or romantic way of looking at life. To believe that a young woman may triumph over the armed rapaciousness of a large and powerful industry is surely the result of a sentimental conception of reality; and to believe that the unprincipled head of such an enterprise, a man who once quashed the report of a United States Senate Committee, is likely to turn out to be a cavalier old gentleman is even more romantic.

In this way a novel has been produced that specifically attacks muddled thinking and sentiment under the name of "romanticism" but which can be shown to be vulnerable to the same charges in regard to its plot and at least one of its characterizations. This then is the sort of book a young man who thinks that "a fellow who comes to your rooms early in the morning, already drunk,… is entirely admirable," might be expected to write. And this is the sort of book that a middle-aged man, who no longer finds such antics entirely admirable, might be expected to find it "painful" to have written.

Still the struggle between sense and sensibility was clearly joined in this novel, and, if the victory of sense was marred because it was achieved in a sentimental manner, there were to be other struggles. In the works of the eight years following the publication of Cock Pit in 1928, this conflict was renewed again and again. The vague antiromantic notions that began to take shape in Cock Pit were gradually formulated into a complete and consistent doctrine, most explicitly expounded in Men and Brethren (1936); and, finally, this doctrine has been qualified and enriched in the later works.

The Son of Perdition (1929), like Cock Pit, is a product of Cozzens's year in Cuba, but despite the similarity in setting, it is a very different book from its predecessor. It represents a considerable advance in technique: an attempt, perhaps not quite successful, to do more than was done in the early novels. And we can observe in it an important shift in thematic emphasis.

Cozzens's first three novels dealt with the efforts of young people to adjust to their environments. The exquisite youths, Cerise and Michael, perished without succeeding. The clear-headed Ruth triumphed, but in a sentimental way. The central conflict in The Son of Perdition occurs within a mature man. Joel Stellow is the Administrator General of the United Sugar Company, a post that gives him a truly despotic power. The company has its own railroads, its own banks, its own armed guards, even its own villages. Stellow chooses to exercise his power benevolently—insofar as this is compatible with the best interests of the United Sugar Company. And herein lies the central conflict of the novel.

The particular crisis that exposes this conflict is brought about by the arrival in Stellow's little kingdom of a dissolute American, Oliver Findley. Wherever Findley is, there is trouble. In part this is caused by his personal characteristics. He is a liar, a thief, and a drunkard; and these facets of his character cause their share of difficulties. But beyond this, there is something about him that seems to act as a catalyst, bringing into violent action the potential danger or evil latent in any given situation. He strolls into a sugar mill; a man is crushed in the machinery. He asks a bartender to drink with him; the man's boss enters and fires the bartender for drinking on duty. He seduces a Cuban girl; a whole complex of terrible intrafamily emotions, hitherto balanced against one another, are unbalanced, resulting in a murder. From the most serious to the almost trivial, trouble follows in the wake of Oliver Findley. He is thought to be the Devil by Pepe Rijo, the simple mayor of the United Sugar village of Dosfuegos. His relation to Stellow is adumbrated by the book's epigraph:

—those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition.

St. John 17:12.

Findley, of course, is the son of perdition; Stellow the man who tries to keep "those that thou gavest me."

When Findley turns up at a United mill, General Administrator Stellow tries to find a use for him. A ticket to Habana and fifty dollars are to be his reward for a little chore. Leaving Stellow's office, Findley appraises the great man:

He wasn't sure, as he went out, that he understood Mr. Stellow—the man, that was, apart from the Administrator, the individual in contradistinction to the United Sugar Company. It was probably a shift from one to the other; from the Company, which asked what could be done with a liar and a thief, to the individual who tried to find a use in the face of that absolute nothing. A curious unemotional sympathy which would wish, for reasons too hard to guess, to give a human being a break where it was possible without hampering the Company. He wondered, struck by the thought, if Mr. Stellow, after these many years, had reached a point where he needed to believe that a human being could hamper the Company. [The Son of Perdition]

Stellow soon finds that Oliver Findley is not a man who can be given "a break." The son of perdition is caught stealing the same day. The Administrator, feeling that Habana is not far enough, decides to ship his guest to Bordeaux:

"I don't believe you'll ever get back to Cuba again," he said. "That's all I care about, Findley. Wherever you go there'll be trouble, and it's not going to be here. It's too late to make you over, Findley."

A change close to expression had moved Mr. Stellow's face; nothing direct, like pity or indignation. Only a trace of a sag, a contraction of the gray eyes…. Oliver Findley stood dumbly in the shadows, even his own relief lost in this final astonishment.

For the first time he saw Mr. Stellow as a person. He saw him in the ultimate, incredible obviousness of a human being apart from his position, divested of the small excrescences of habit and particular personality. Mr. Stellow was old, simply, and tired; as all men must be sooner or later. In the Administrator's last words had been also his own epitaph, and all his life, all that the eye had seen and the brain considered, could serve him no better than to make him understand it. [The Son of Perdition]

Findley is shipped off to Dosfuegos for further shipment to France. In the short space of time before he boards the ship he is the cause of an incident that affects Stellow not merely in his capacity as Administrator, but personally.

One of Joel Stellow's few friends, perhaps his only one, has been Vidal Monaga. Monaga is a fisherman, but because of his monumental family pride he is able to meet the Administrator as an equal. Findley casually seduces Nida Monaga, the daughter of Vidal. Nida's brother Osmundo suspects this seduction, and in his attack on Findley reveals to his father that his own relations with his sister are not purely brotherly. The old man, out of pride in his name, murders his son. He is imprisoned by the major of the village until Stellow can get there. On arrival the Administrator asks him to explain why he did it. Vidal explains that recent events have shown him that his son, now a grown man, did not know what it was to be a Monaga; and "Being sure of this, I saw that he would be better dead." Stellow, whose power is unlimited, has a report of accidental death prepared by his doctor. This effort to save his old friend from trial is frustrated by the man's pride in himself. Their conversation is overheard by Findley:

"You are released from the Alcalde's order of arrest," said Mr. Stellow. "The matter is officially closed."

It had never, reflected Oliver Findley, been open. Never in Mr. Stellow's mind, could it have been possible to allow the mechanical processes to grind up the simple stone of this old man. It went farther than that, no doubt. The wordless bond silently and invisibly held them too close. Such destruction would break down something of Mr. Stellow. Some saving faith.

Oliver Findley thought of it, seeing clearly now, moved more than he would have thought possible. He saw too, the transparent farce of it. Mr. Stellow setting up himself against himself. Driving the mills and railroads on one hand, covering the face of the machines with the fiction of this necessary illusion on the other, sustaining futilely the legend of man and his dignity and freedom, long after the last remnants were dust under the revolving wheels….

In the electric lighted room Vidal Monaga said, "No señor…. That I could not do…. It is not much to be a Monaga to any one but me, señor. But I will be turned over to the authorities, please…. Because of justice…."

Finally Mr. Stellow answered: "As you wish." [The Son of Perdition]

To Findley, Monaga's refusal to avoid justice represents a victory for man over the machine: "the machine's inhuman beauty, the reason and might of the machine, confounded so inevitably by the rooted folly, the poor stubborn pride of man."

One of the major faults of the book lies in the difficulties presented by having as its central intelligence a character so depraved as Oliver Findley. How much weight can we put on such a summing up of action as that quoted above? To attribute to such a dissolute wretch the clear insight needed to judge others is an error on the part of the author, equivalent to attributing a gentlemanly soul to a rapacious sugar baron. To rely on such a character to sum up, in the closing lines of a book, the action just culminated, is a technical error stemming from the sentimental error.

Another difficulty in the novel lies in its somewhat disordered complexity. There are numerous minor actions and characters, most of which seem to belong to the plot rather than the theme, and which tend to blur the theme, making the need for clarification of it especially vital. That we are forced to rely on Findley for such clarification thus assumes even greater importance than it might in a betterordered novel.

The significance of The Son of Perdition in the development of Cozzens's ethical attitude is that it represents a progress from the preoccupation with the problems of youth toward the less purely self-centered problems of mature individuals. The struggle within Stellow, between his duty to the company and his care for humanity—though sketched rather than developed in this novel—is a struggle that is more central in life than are the youthful flutterings of the early novels. But the book fails—aside from the technical difficulties—to give a moral order to the struggle presented. Other than a vague preference for people over machines, there seems to be present no unifying moral attitude. Is the triumph of humanity over the machine, acclaimed by Findley, punishment for Joel Stellow or vindication of him? Is Stellow's phrase of acquiescence to Monaga's desire—"As you wish"—the speech of a man who sees a higher truth than his own, or that of a man who has lost "some saving faith?"

This fuzziness of theme persists in the work of Cozzens for some years. His next works attempt by various devices to get around the problem of ethical attitude rather than to solve the problem by taking a stand. This is particularly noticeable in the two short novels, S.S. San Pedro (1931) and Castaway (1934).

It is probably best to consider these two short works together even though the full-length novel, The Last Adam (1933), was published before Castaway. These two novellas are experiments that have not been repeated, though they exhibit excellently some abilities and characteristics of their author. The Last Adam, however, is in the main stream of his development, where it appears as a marked advance over The Son of Perdition in the direction of the major novels.

S.S. San Pedro was first published as a prize-winning story in Scribner's Magazine in August of 1930. It is a fictionalized reconstruction of the actual events in the sinking of the S.S. Vestris in November 1928. The real disaster captured the journalistic imagination in its day because of some mysterious circumstances connected with the sinking. The ship left Hoboken bound for Brazil. She ran into heavy seas almost immediately, took on a list, and struggled ahead with cargo shifting and water entering the ship, probably through the submerged coal ports. The circumstance that disturbed the public so greatly was that the ship apparently had been in this state for a day and a night without sending out an SOS. A theory advanced was that the captain "seems to have been more afraid of salvage than he was of death" ["The Master of the Vestris," Nation 127, 28 November 1928]. The ship sank with considerable loss of life. Cozzens, working from the "transcript of the hearing before the U.S. Commissioner in New York" [Cozzens in a letter to Scholes, 14 March 1956] set about reconstructing one way in which such a disaster might occur. The events are seen through the eyes of the second officer, Anthony Bradell, and the Brazilian first quartermaster, Miro. The officer and the man, each extremely capable at his job, are unable to prevent the disaster. They can do nothing to avoid the ultimate, because of the structure of command, which requires action to be initiated at the top. Captain Clendening is overcome by a strange lethargy that renders him incapable of the necessary action. That this may happen is foreshadowed early in the book by the captain's doctor, who takes Bradell aside before going ashore and warns him about the captain's health:

"The captain," he said very low to Anthony, "is an old man, Mr. Bradell."

"What did you say, sir?" asked Anthony, taken aback.

"People grow old, Mr. Bradell. They break down, they wear out." [S. S. San Pedro]

Dr. Percival, who gives Bradell this warning, has a face like a death's head:

Doctor Percival's tight face was fleshless and almost gray. His lips sank in, rounded over his teeth. They were lips so scanty that you could see the line of the teeth meeting. His eyes, red-rimmed, lay limp in their sockets, appearing to have no color at all. Doctor Percival's intense pale gaze came out of holes covered with soft, semitransparent lenses. His head, one observed, jolted, was utterly hairless, and a pale-reddish star, a mark like a healed wound, lay across the crown. Every modulation of bone showed through a sere leaf of old skin. [San Pedro]

It is this face that Bradell sees at his side as he lies injured at the feet of Miro while the ship is about to founder. The story is told in a dispassionate "documentary" style, combining graphic observation of the physical details of the ship with the rather labored symbolism of the death-doctor. We are given an excruciatingly careful description of a foreordained event; thus no moral issues are raised. By choosing to depict the captain as the victim of forces beyond any man's control, Cozzens avoids the moral questions that might be raised had he made the problem the obvious one of the captain's weighing salvage costs against the possibility of weathering the storm. The whole of the action is carefully removed from the moral world of ethical choices.

Castaway is a story in many ways different from all of Cozzens's work, but bearing a closer resemblance to S.S. San Pedro than to any of his other books. It is the story of Mr. Lecky, cast away, not on a desert island but in a deserted department store. The epigraph is from Robinson Crusoe:

… how infinitely good that Providence is, which has provided in its government of mankind such narrow bounds to his sight and knowledge of things; and though he walks in the midst of so many thousand dangers, the sight of which if discovered to him, would distract his mind and sink his spirits, he is kept serene and calm by having the events of things hid from his eyes….

This epigraph is—like others of Cozzens's—an ironic one. It is precisely Lecky's fear of unseen dangers that destroys any possibility of his leading a peaceful existence in the great store. He is certain that there is someone else in the building: "the idiot" as Lecky calls him. Armed with a shotgun from the sporting goods department and a knife from kitchenware, he hunts the idiot down and kills him brutally. Then he discovers whom he has killed.

Crouching as he turned up the fearful face, he bent his own face toward it, saw it again. His hand on the head, studying the uninjured side, Mr. Lecky beheld its familiar strangeness—not like a stranger's face, and yet it was no friend's face, nor the face of anyone he had ever met.

What this could mean held him, bent closer, questioning in the gloom; and suddenly his hand let go … for Mr. Lecky knew why he had never seen a man with this face. He knew who had been pursued and cruelly killed, who was now dead and would never climb more stairs. He knew why Mr. Lecky could never have for his own the stock of this great store. [Castaway]

Presumably he has killed himself. One critic assures us that this is an allegory that "translates readily into half-adozen frames of reference (centering around a ritual of rebirth)" [Stanley Edgar Hyman, "James Gould Cozzens and the Art of the Possible," New Mexico Quarterly Review 19, Winter, 1949]. If one can believe that Lecky is a "God-Figure," and the idiot a "Devil-Figure" in a "dubious battle long ago joined," then perhaps their struggle has some large moral applications, but I find this conclusion as doubtful as the premises, which are very dubious indeed.

The descriptions of the store are as meticulous as those of the ship in S.S. San Pedro, and the inevitable action proceeds to its conclusion under the same uncommitted camera-eye. But this refusal on the part of the author to commit himself to a moral position could not be maintained in all his works. For, as Henry James said of Dickens, "a novelist very soon has need of a little philosophy…. When he comes to tell the story of a passion … he becomes a moralist as well as an artist. He must know man as well as men, and to know man is to be a philosopher" [Henry James, "The Limitations of Dickens," Views and Reviews, 1908].

Cozzens's philosophy, which seemed rather fuzzy in The Son of Perdition (1929), was to appear in unmistakable clarity in Men and Brethren (1936). In an effort to isolate some of the elements that compose that clarified attitude, I will consider some of the short stories published between 1930 and 1938.

These twenty-one stories tend to divide into three groups. The largest group, comprising almost half of the stories, is composed of potboilers. The second group all deal with the same subject, a boys' preparatory school. The third group includes stories interesting primarily for the light they throw on themes treated at greater length in the novels. The groups can not be dealt with chronologically, for each of them covers nearly the entire span over which Cozzens wrote short stories. There is little that can be said about the potboilers, except to note that they get increasingly slick from first to last; but the prep school stories are significant in that they deal with young people in a way quite different from the treatment of exquisite youths in the early novels. The school in the stories, Durham, is unquestionably modeled on the Kent School in Connecticut at which Cozzens prepared for Harvard. It is relevant to note at this time that Cozzens's first published work appeared in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly while he was in the fourth form at Kent.

The occasion of this event was an article by Edward Parmalee in the January 1920 issue of the Atlantic Monthly that expressed disapproval of the boarding-school system, making the charge that rigid discipline stifled any impulses the boys might have to learn self-government, and asking the question, "would not better results be obtained by a less autocratic and a more democratic system of government?"

Young Cozzens's reply, entitled "A Democratic School," made the point that institutions such as Parmalee was calling for did, indeed, exist and were successful. The prefect system, under which discipline was administered by three members of the sixth form appointed by the headmaster, and two members each from the fifth and fourth forms, elected by their peers, was a truly democratic system, he maintained, and added, "Perhaps it doesn't sound practicable, but then, it works." Note the emphasis on the practical and the present: "I will … offer the solution—not the visionary solution, but the solution that, in one school at least, works to-day." The young man who wrote the article on "A Democratic School" in 1920 seems in certain ways closer to the older man who wrote the Durham stories and the later novels than to the author of Confusion, which appeared only four years after the magazine article.

There are five Durham stories, the earliest appearing in 1930, the last in 1938. The only character who appears in more than one is the headmaster, Dr. Holt. The headmaster is an eminently practical man who understands equally well rebellious young people and demanding parents. The student and the school, as the individual and society in microcosm, provide a type of conflict that stimulates Cozzens to an extremely revealing series of comments on rebellious idealists in general.

"Some Day You'll Be Sorry" (Saturday Evening Post, 21 June 1930) is about a boy who nurtures a grudge against the headmaster. The boy's rebellion is based in part on some rather stimulating reading: "Smith III, as the saying goes, had read a book. It was Paine's Age of Reason." The following observation on Smith by Cozzens is interesting for the generalization it leads to: "Smith III's intelligence was much too acute to waste its strength in a permanent and ridiculous war with his environment. Real rebels are rarely anything but second rate outside their rebellion; the drain of time and temper is ruinous to any other accomplishment."

"Some Day You'll Be Sorry" is an especially interesting story because of its autobiographical overtones. As Frederick Bracher pointed out some years ago, youth versus age is a major theme in Cozzens's work. Now as bits of biographical information begin to become accessible, it is apparent that one of the favorite pastimes of the elder Cozzens has been chastising the recollected figure of his youth.

When, early in his fourth-form year, Smith III took occasion to inform the headmaster that he no longer believed in God, Doctor Holt sighed. Smith III's point had been that he did not see how he could honorably go to chapel when he considered the practice a superstitious farce. It is usual to hear most about the other side of these things—Shelley, at Oxford, is almost unbearably familiar—so it is worth a moment to consider Doctor Holt's position, confronted by a supercilious and impudent youth who appeared to get the only exercise he took from making trouble; who was very justly suspected of smoking without permission; whose marks were bad, and whose comments on life, society and the school were fitted nicely to the puerile sensation they made.

Smith III seems almost certainly to represent the way in which his own youth appeared to the very clear gaze of the maturing James Gould Cozzens in 1930.

A rather more mature rebel is presented in "Guns of the Enemy" (Saturday Evening Post, 1 Nov. 1930). This is a very fine story in which World War I descends on Durham in the form of a French officer. The ensuing conflict—among the agitated students, a young pacifist instructor, and Dr. Holt who sees the war as a monster that will destroy the youth to whom he is devoting his life—is endowed with a significance somewhat larger than that of a minor uprising in a small boy's school. "War was already enhanced by a noble solemnity and an emotional importance. Our attitude was, in fact, exactly that of America; with the special local result that when we took things hard, less than usual was said about it. When little is said, much must be taken for granted. As you know, what people took for granted was that we were fighting for humanity and could no longer allow the Germans to infest the earth." Dr. Holt does not share this attitude. He clearly sees the war as a horror, but he "had the courage—and courage it is if you value your reputation as a thoughtful man—to state: 'Our country, right or wrong.' Most people mistake the statement for jingoism, but it can be—and in Doctor Holt's case it was—the hard, honorable answer to an intolerable question." The man whose attitude disrupts the school is the young teacher, Mr. Van Artevelde. His pacifist leanings provoke a senseless physical assault from a student, whom Dr. Holt is then forced to expel. The school is threatened by a mass resignation in protest against the expulsion, but Dr. Holt, by main force of personality and skill in handling his boys, prevents this. Van Artevelde

was, naturally, a socialist of some sort. In those years directly before the war, almost everyone who had the happiness to be young, intelligent and carefully educated was a socialist. This was in part simple intellectual snobbery, and the first cold wind from the world as it was blew it away, but Van was also an idealist, as well as being stubborn. To men of his temper, socialism's pathetic impracticality is not its worst argument; just as the principal charm of pacifism may be its dangerous unpopularity.

Durham figures only in the background for "Total Stranger" (Saturday Evening Post, 15 February 1936), another fine story, which won the O. Henry Prize. A boy is being driven back to school by his father, who is the object of a grumpy, misunderstanding rebellion on the part of the son. The father "could see no sense in breaking the simple, necessary rules of any organized society; and wasting time was worse than wrong, it was mad and dissolute. Time lost, he very well knew, can never be recovered."

The boy feels this way: "In my position, I supposed that he would always do his lessons, never break any rules, and probably end up a prefect, with his rowing colors and a football letter—in fact, with everything that I would like, if only the first steps toward them did not seem so dull and difficult. Since they did, I was confirmed in my impression that it was impossible to please him. Since it was impossible, I had long been resolved not to care whether I pleased him or not. Practice had made not caring fairly easy." On the trip an incident occurs that makes the son realize that his father was young once—is a human being. He begins to see that his father's is not an impossible goal reached by a perfect human being: "Unfortunately, I never did do much better at school. But that year and the years following, I would occasionally try to, for I thought it would please my father."

The last Durham story, "Son and Heir," (Saturday Evening Post, 2 April 1938), is about another rebellious boy. This boy, an excellent hockey player, is embarrassed by his father's desire to push him. He tries to take out his resentment against his father and the school (the father is Durham '09) by disgracing Durham in a hockey game—not by playing badly, but by acting in an unsportsmanlike manner. Dr. Holt, in a locker room chat, helps him to grow up a little. The author comments: "Having no intent or volition of its own, he might guess that the world—surely it is the sum of a young man's possible education—would pay out to him, not with malice and not with pity, the things that were his."

The view of life implicit and explicit in these stories is consistent throughout. It is the classic conservative view. The father who "could see no sense in breaking the simple necessary rules of any organized society" is pictured as a good man and a not unreasonable one. Dr. Holt, whose principal occupation in the stories is the conservative one of trying to hold together his little world in the face of disruptive influences, is presented sympathetically. The rebels are given short shrift. The name that persistently comes to mind as one reads these stories is Edmund Burke. The positive side: the organic conception of society; and the negative side: the fierce distrust and suspicion of rebels in general are both present. The particular hostility to the influence of Thomas Paine is characteristic of both Burke and Cozzens. Thus a reference to Paine in Cozzens's 1940 interview should not come as a surprise to us.

This Summer I intend to spend many pleasant mornings hanging around court rooms because I plan to write a novel about a lawyer. "The Summer Soldier" probably will be the title. When Paine used that phrase he disdained the people who could be so described, he was calling on the men of his generation to forget their own concerns and fight for the ideal of the Revolution, to lose themselves in an ideal. He had no use for the militiamen who were willing to fight when they could afford the time, but wanted to spend most of the year raising crops, attending to business, taking care of their families.

But as I see it there is a lot to be said for these Summer soldiers. The idealist, the intellectuals, haven't done any too well by the world. [Van Gelder, "James Gould Cozzens at Work"]

The attitude so clearly present in the short stories as early as 1930 is reaffirmed in this interview of 1940, and has remained an important factor in all Cozzens's later novels. The ethical attitude developed from the vague sentimentality of his earliest works through the various negations of what he calls "romanticism," "sentimentalism," and "idealism" to a firm position Cozzens calls simply "realism," and to which I have added the qualifying adjective, moral, to prevent any confusion of this ethical attitude with the literary or esthetic doctrine of realism. It was the development of this ethical attitude that enabled James Gould Cozzens to produce the works we now recognize as major.

Colin S. Cass (essay date Fall 1981)

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SOURCE: "Cozzens's Debt to Thomas Dekker in Ask Me Tomorrow," in Markham Review, Vol. 11, Fall, 1981, pp. 11-16.

[In the essay below, Cass compares the characters and themes of Cozzens's Ask Me Tomorrow with Thomas Dekker's play, The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus (1599), contending that the play provided the basis for Cozzens's story.]

When James Gould Cozzens finished his ninth novel, he wanted to call it "Young Fortunatus," but Alfred Harcourt dissuaded him "on the reasonable grounds that since he had never [sic] heard of Old Fortunatus most other readers wouldn't have, and might wonder, irked, what the hell I meant. The book didn't sell at all so it could have made no difference and I wish now I had used it." [Cozzens in a letter to James B. Merriwether, 27 March 1962]. The first edition was published in 1940 as Ask Me Tomorrow. Later it was republished in the Uniform Edition as Ask Me Tomorrow or The Pleasant Comedy of Young Fortunatus. During Cozzens's lifetime it received very little attention, a fact that evidently disappointed him. A year before his death he wrote to me and spoke as if he regarded it as his most underrated book:

That promised account of the Spring Quarter course was wonderfully amusing (hell of a word; so I see sufferings of others as funny, huh?). Also it makes me wonder if for your projected purpose Ask Me Tomorrow (Uniform Edition text) might not be worth your looking at. Though not lacking 'literary milage' [sic] demands, it's fairly short, a virtue cardinal enough to excuse, perhaps, absence of Relevance ('Modren'), King Cong, sharks & (old aaf term) Nooky. Or do I really mean it happens to be the one book of mine that, finished, left me fairly content—no doubt because, not having tried to do too much, I wasn't forced to see chagrinned how short I came of all I aimed at to start. However: does anybody know a writer not dumb about his own work, so you judge. [Cozzens in a letter to Colin S. Cass, 15 July 1977]

The book now has a new opportunity to find an appreciative audience; it has been included in Just Representations: A James Gould Cozzens Reader. Reexamination should begin with the rejected title, which survived as a subtitle and has never been explained. Cozzens wanted to name his novel after the play by Thomas Dekker called The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus, and it's time we understood why.

Since students of Cozzens are apparently unfamiliar with Old Fortunatus, a synopsis may be helpful. The play concerns an unsuccessful old Cypriot named Fortunatus who, lost in a forest, meets the goddess Fortune. Calling him Fortune's minion, she offers him wisdom, strength, health, beauty, long life, or riches. When he prefers riches, she decries his foolish refusal of wisdom. Nevertheless, she bestows a purse that will be inexhaustible while Fortunatus and his two sons live. As Fortune leaves, she says contemptuously, "now goe dwell with cares and quickly die" (I.i.), but Fortunatus thinks, "If I die to morrow, ile be merrie to day …" (I.i.). So he returns, provides lavishly for his sons, Ampedo and Andelocia, and sets out to travel. Visiting Babylon, Fortunatus steals a hat that lets the wearer go instantly wherever he wants. Meanwhile, Andelocia squanders money and pious Ampedo spends none. Their father returns with the hat, but during a prideful speech he is interrupted by Fortune, who has reappeared to say that Fortunatus is "no sonne of Fortune, but her slaue" (II.ii.), whose fate is "to die when th'art most fortunate" (II.ii). Too late he regrets that he chose riches, but the goddess refuses to give his sons wisdom instead, and Andelocia gladly takes the purse as soon as Fortunatus dies.

The next scene is King Athelstane's court in England, where suitors woo the king's daughter, Agripyne. Andelocia arrives with the same intention. His wealth attracts great interest, but it also provokes royal resentments and intrigues. Athelstane's daughter, wheedling Andelocia's secret, lulls him to sleep and steals his purse, as he learns when Shaddow, his servant, needing money, wakes him up. After the discovery Shaddow still needs to know, "Shal I buy these spices to day or to morrow?"

      To morrow? I, to morrow thou shalt buy them,
      To morrow tell the Princesse I wil loue her,
      To morrow tell the king, ile banquet him,
      To morrow, Shaddow, will I giue thee glad,
      To morrow pride goes bare and lust acold.
      To morrow will the rich man feede the poore,
      And vice to morrow vertue will adore.
      To morrow beggers shall be crowned kings,
      This No-time, morrowes-time, no sweetnes sings:
      I pray thee hence: beare that to Agripyne (III.i.).

Andelocia skulks back to Cyprus, steals his brother's wishing hat, and revisits England disguised as a jewel merchant. Seizing Agripyne, he abducts both princess and purse to a wilderness, where Vertue and Vice have earlier been seen planting trees. While Andelocia climbs in the tree of Vice, Agripyne escapes. Getting down, Andelocia also finds he has sprouted horns. He sleeps. The deities return, Fortune to prolong his life, Vice to scoff, Vertue to accept his repentance, remove his horns, and teach him to recover his purse and hat.

Agripyne, safe in England, has just been promised to the Prince of Cyprus when Andelocia and Shaddow enter disguised as Irish costermongers. They peddle apples of Vice to Agripyne and two courtiers, Montrosse and Longauille. When next seen, these three have horns, and Cyprus moans, "To morrow should haue beene our marriage morne, / But now my bride is shame, thy bridegrome scorne" (V.i.). Newly disguised as a French physician, Andelocia cures Montrosse and Longauille. He abducts Agripyne a second time, but having recovered his purse and hat, he releases her and cures her horn, then returns the hat to his brother. But Longauille and Montrosse are eager for revenge. Capturing the brothers, they shackle them both in stocks, where Ampedo dies of misery. Before the courtiers strangle Andelocia, he, like Old Fortunatus, regrets that he loved riches above wisdom and that he forgot his vows to Vertue. He dies. Athelstane arrives, Fortune and Vice appearing simultaneously. Vice overrules Athelstane's harsh sentence upon the murderers. Fortune rebukes Athelstane, but then gives him the purse with the admonition, "England shall ne're be poore, if England striue, / Rather by vertue, then by wealth to thriue" (V.ii.). At last enters Vertue, now resplendent, and asserts her dominance over Fortune and Vice. For proof, she enjoins, "… Looke but on Fortunatus and his sonnes: / Of all the welth those gallants did possesse, / … / Their glorye's faded and their golden pride" (V. ii.).

Dekker himself is indebted for this tale to still earlier sources, though the exact line of transmission has been debated. Henslowe's diary records the "First Part of Old Fortunatus" as performed in 1596 [see Mary Leland Hunt, Thomas Dekker: A Study, 1911]. We do not know whether Dekker wrote it, nor whether there was a second part; in November, 1599, however, Dekker was paid for "the hole history of Fortunatus," which he then immediately revised for court performance, 27 December 1599, as "A commedie called Old Fortunatus in his newe lyuerie" [see Fredson Bowers' "Introduction" to The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, 1970]. These English dramatic renditions derive in turn from one or more of the editions of the German Volksbuch, the earliest having been published at Augsburg in 1509. But even they are not the true origin of the Fortunatus story, which "is an aggregate of very heterogeneous elements…. Scarcely any class of mediaeval fiction has failed to contribute to the medley …" [Charles H. Herford, Studies in the Literary Relations of England and Germany in the Sixteenth Century, 1886].

For the present purpose we need go no further than Dekker. Cozzens's titles, "Ask Me Tomorrow" and "The Pleasant Comedy of Young Fortunatus," place Dekker's influence beyond dispute, and nothing suggests that Cozzens was familiar with the Volksbuch. The nature of Dekker's influence, however, is less obvious. Juxtaposition of novel and play shows that Cozzens agrees with his source in some ways, yet values it especially for the contrasts it brings to mind and the corrections it invites.

Since Dekker divides his attention about equally between two protagonists, Fortunatus and Andelocia, with Ampedo an important secondary character, one might ask, to whom is Francis Ellery, the protagonist of Ask Me Tomorrow, being compared if he's called Young Fortunatus? The answer is, there is no exact parallel between Francis and any one character in the play. Fortunatus seems an obvious choice, but he is old. (He is younger in the first ten chapters of the Volksbuch, but there is no important correspondence between events there and in Ask Me Tomorrow.) True, his sons are young enough to be comparable with Francis, who is twenty-three. Moreover, Andelocia has the long speech about tomorrows and is engrossed in a love quest, as Francis is too, but as Fortunatus is not. As for Ampedo, he resembles Francis in other ways, being habitually censorious, unpleasant, and falsely virtuous. But neither brother is ever called "Young Fortunatus."

Not precisely analogous to any one character, Francis can be usefully compared to all three. Dekker's intentions are chiefly moral, and although Cozzens does not press his own conclusions, the playwright's topics also interest the novelist. Dekker, however, distributes his reflections among three characters. This creates disunity, for in Act II he dispenses with one protagonist and begins over with another. It also causes redundancy, Andelocia's story being substantially the same as his father's with the addition of the courtship. Had Andelocia been the character originally favored by Fortune, then sent to Babylon for the hat before going to England, the Fortunatus subplot could have been eliminated entirely, though popular familiarity with the folk tale probably militated against such a revision. In any case, Cozzens, whose books are tightly constructed, consolidates in one character what Dekker and his predecessors dispersed among three.

About pride, for example, Dekker makes the same conventional observations in both subplots. Before Fortune lifts him up, Fortunatus is "sorrowes heire, and eldest sonne to shame" (I.i.). But since "Riches make all men proude" (II.Prol.), the old man's fate is interpreted in terms of pride: "Thy Sunne like glorie hath aduanc'd her selfe / Into the top of prides Meridian, / And downe amaine it comes" (II.ii.). His dying words are, "behold in me / The rotten strength of proud mortalitie" (II.ii.). Much the same is shown of Andelocia. King Athelstane resolves that "His pride weele somewhat tame …" (III.i.). Shaddow observes "what a horne plague followes coueteousnesse and pride" (V.ii.). The murderers say the brothers' "pride should cost their liues" (V.ii.). And Fortune, explaining their demise, tells us "their ryots made them poore, / And set these markes of miserable death, / On all their pride …" (V.ii.). Plainly, Dekker means to say something about pride, yet the theme is grafted onto the action rather than evolving from it: "Since even in his maturest work Dekker showed little skill in structure, it is not surprising to find that 'Old Fortunatus' sins more than ordinarily; a part of the confusion no doubt arose from the successive recastings that the play suffered, especially the introduction of Vice and Virtue with their befogging relations to Fortune, and perhaps the relegation of Andelocia's serious wrong-doings to the chorus, for there is nothing in the action that deserves the punishment of death" [Mary Leland Hunt, Thomas Dekker: A Study, 1911].

Cozzens examines pride in Francis Ellery, who begins like Fortunatus as "sorrowes heire, and eldest sonne to shame." We meet Francis saying good-bye to his mother, who has nothing but sorrows to bequeath. On the contrary, to support her he must stoop to tutoring. But the novel diverges sharply here from its model. The story of Fortunatus doesn't really develop until the goddess makes him rich. But Cozzens studies pride in a character who never escapes the poverty he starts with. A realistic modern novel cannot be compared too closely, of course, to an allegorical Elizabethan play, yet this departure is instructive. The action is naturally more plausible than in the play, since Cozzens dispenses with the deus ex machina—goddesses with their magical purses, hats, apples, and the rest. He also substitutes Francis for the highly unrepresentative Cypriots. Not a hero, a villain, nor a minion of Fortune, Francis Ellery, wishing for a fortune he never gets, is one of us.

In him, pride is genuinely interesting to contemplate, since it is so persistent, troublesome, and familiar, yet so insecurely founded. Not the Cardinal Sin of the homilist, Ellery's pride is the unpleasant habit of the everyday egotist. He finds that "The virtue of the vice of pride was the impossibility of self-pity; and Francis's mind … to please him was obliged to show him always fortunate…." Yet he chafes against "This damned business of being poorl," knowing that money always makes "its customary prompt appearance as the thing that mattered…." Old Fortunatus suffers, especially for modern readers, because we sympathize too readily with the proud. When Fortunatus, accepting his good fortune, resolves that "If I die to morrow, ile be merrie to day," or when he provides handsomely for his hungry sons, or when he cheats the sultan who was hoping to cheat him, our condemnations are likely to be half-hearted. Cozzens mostly shares Dekker's disapproval of pride, yet in Ask Me Tomorrow pride is convincingly contemptible, as when Francis "was ashamed to think that far from admiring as he should the patience she [his mother] must show …, he detested her patience as a humiliation in itself, a wound to pride reaching through her to him." Recognizing a subject still worth reflecting upon, Cozzens disembalms it, considers it in believable characters, and offers some ironic observations about it.

One such observation is embodied in the epigraph from Troilus and Cressida:

Ajax, Why should a man be proud? How doth pride grow? I know not what pride is.

Agamemnon, Your mind is the clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the fairer….

This epigraph is intelligible only in its Shakespearean context. Agamemnon, Ulysses, and Nestor are shrewdly flattering Ajax, the vain, doltish bruiser whom they mean to use against Hector while Achilles keeps to his tent:

AJAX: Is he [Achilles] so much? Do you not think he thinks himself a better man than I am?

AGAMEMNON: No question.

AJAX: Will you subscribe his thought, and say he is?

AGAMEMNON: No, noble Ajax; you are as strong, as valiant, as wise, no less noble, much more gentle, and altogether more tractable.

AJAX: Why should a man be proud? How doth pride grow? I know not what it is.

AGAMEMNON: Your mind is the clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the fairer. He that is proud eats up himself….

AJAX: I do hate a proud man, as I hate the engendering of toads.

NESTOR: [aside] Yet he loves himself. Is't not strange? [William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, II.iii.]

By itself, Cozzens's epigraph seems to deny that Ajax is proud, and we might expect that Ellery, lacking the fortune that makes Fortunatus proud, should likewise be without pride. Reconsidered in context, however, Ajax is evidently as proud as Achilles, yet too foolish to realize it. Similarly, pride is Ellery's most persistent motive, no matter how unwarranted it might seem. Ajax's fatuity is exploited by others, moreover, who recognize pride as his secret weakness and turn it to their own advantage. Quite the same can be said of Ellery, who requires some managing, but who is no match for Mrs. Cunningham. The novel closes as the waiter proclaims, "Madame est serviel!," thereby reminding us that despite his proud reluctance to do so, Ellery keeps serving her, much as Ajax serves Agamemnon.

Old Fortunatus is also about riches, though Dekker's thoughts are difficult to untangle. He probably intends conventional deprecations of worldly wealth, as when Fortune tells the old man, "Farewel, vaine couetous foole, thou wilt repent, / That for the loue of drosse thou hast despised / Wisedomes diuine embrace…." But Fortunatus and Andelocia are guilty of various offenses: covetousness at first, then foolish preference for riches over wisdom, then pride over their wealth, and still later, abuse of the gift of riches. Stirred together this way, the Cypriots' misdeeds make muddy moralizing, particularly when Ampedo is punished for the opposite crime of despising his wealth, and when Athelstane is finally rewarded despite a greed which far exceeds that of the Cypriots.

In Ask Me Tomorrow Cozzens divides the complex question of riches. Like Dekker, he dislikes covetousness. Just as Ellery is proud without Fortunatus's fortune, so he is covetous without getting what he covets. In the first scene, Fortunatus says, "… I am very poore and verie patient, Patience is a vertue: would I were not vertuous, thats to say, not poore, but full of vice, (thats to say, ful of chinckes)" (I.i.). It is a poor man's idle wish, and Fortune's timely gift keeps it from seeming any worse. In the novel's first chapter, Ellery has a similar speech: "'God!' said Francis, 'I wish I had a hundred thousand dollars'." Besides recalling Fortunatus's wish, this passage echoes Cozzens's earlier remark about Italian adventurers (the passage occurs on p. 4 of the first edition, in the two-page prologue that Cozzens deleted from the Uniform Edition): "… Italian officers came in (perhaps with the wistful idea that they were going to meet and then easily marry a girl with a hundred thousand dollars) and sat and husbanded their drinks." Francis, who will not be handed any magical purse, may resent the imputation, but he exactly resembles these Italian adventurers. In this regard he is a realist's correction of Andelocia—not a suitor looking unsuccessfully for a bride to share his boundless fortune, but a penniless opportunist hunting a bride willing to share her fortune. Because he arrives empty-handed and plays on Lorna Higham's affection, Francis makes covetousness look more reprehensible than it seems in the Cypriots. He knows that "Authors were two for a nickel …" and that "two could and would live at least as cheaply and meanly as one." When proposing that Lorna nevertheless elope with him, he confesses—as if candor will change it—that "Of course I am trying to take advantage of you. Of course it isn't prudent, and so you are afraid." The prudent view is probably Gwen's:

Gwen kept her eye on the main point. As well as a girl who had a right to something called romance …, Lorna was a valuable investment … the finished product of invested money,… of invested time,… to fit her with special skills and accomplishments to keep house and raise children, not any old way, but in the style to which the sort of man she was meant to meet and marry would be accustomed. This fortunate man had conditions to fulfill; and one of them … was to lay on the line the cash to take up this investment. Then it would be time enough for him and Lorna to begin worrying about whether it was the nightingale and not the lark.

Seen this way ("The thought was sobering, one of those thoughts he tried to put aside….") Ellery's proposal means that with Lorna he would either live "as cheaply and meanly as one," or accept financial rescue from the family whose prize investment he had coveted and stolen. Thus Cozzens, in a more believable tale than Dekker's, also renders covetousness more convincingly distasteful.

Dekker's Cypriots also prefer riches over wisdom—quite a different matter from coveting the wealth of others. Fortunatus explains his preference:

Therefore dread sacred Empresse make me rich, My choice is store of gold; the rich are wise. He that vpon his backe rich garments weares, Is wise, though on his head grow Midas eares. Gold is the strength, the sinnewes of the world, The Health, the soule, the beautie most diuine, A maske of Gold hides all deformities; Gold is heauens phisicke, lifes restoratiue, Oh therefore make me rich … (I.i.).

Since Fortune tells him he'll be sorry, and the events prove her right, Dekker presumably agrees with her and means the old man's speech as a sample of folly.

But about the desirability of wealth Cozzens disagrees with Dekker, finding that Fortunatus's words are truer than Dekker knows. Wealth is examined most fully in the Cunninghams. Thanks to her late husband, Mrs. Cunningham needs no magic hat or bottomless purse, as her family's travels reveal. For Francis, indeed, she is his hat and purse. Such wealth ruins Fortunatus, but Mrs. Cunningham is another matter. Marrying her, Mr. Cunningham "considered himself the luckiest man in the world—without, Francis guessed, finding subsequently that he was very much in the wrong, either." Now a widow with two children, she is "as much a credit to her children as they were to her." There is even some conscious deification in the metaphors about her, as if to strengthen her resemblance to Dekker's goddesses, not his sinners: "Though personally she moved without a trace of ostentation, Walter, Francis, and Maggie, making in effect a train or suite, turned her entrance … into something of an event." Compare the stage direction in Old Fortunatus: "Enter Vertue, crownd: Nymphes and Kings attending on her …" (V. ii. 260). And again, "there was a bustle of people coming and going—proof enough that Mrs. Cunningham had arrived … Thousands at her bidding speed, Francis thought in the dazed levity of uncollected wits, and post o'er land and ocean without rest—." Francis's irony keeps this from being fulsome, but the allusion is to Milton's Sonnet XIX, where thousands at God's bidding speed.

Of course, Fortunatus goes too far in lauding riches. He says, "A maske of Gold hides all deformities" (I.i. 291), but all Mrs. Cunningham's money cannot mask her son's lameness. Ask Me Tomorrow is to some extent autobiographical, Cozzens having "… spent some months tutoring a nice kid who suffered from infantile paralysis while I also tried to act the published author…." But even if the "nice kid" is the model for Walter Cunningham, Cozzens could not miss the coincidence that Dekker repeatedly mentions "deformity" in Old Fortunatus. There, physical deformity always implies depravity, as in the horns that sprout on characters given to Vice: "my body hornes must beare, / Because my soule deformitie doth weare" (IV.i.). Walter, on the contrary, is one of literature's most delightful children, his deformity only heightening the comeliness of his character: "Walter's patience in his affliction, good temper, and politeness cost him, being expressions of a disposition, no special effort, and so perhaps deserved no special credit from the moral standpoint; but they were none the less ornaments to character." In fact, although Francis Ellery is "good-looking," spiritual deformities are more readily seen in him: "As for his character, he had what might as well be called a marked taste for wine and women, he was self-seeking and self-centered…."

Fortunatus overestimates wealth again when he calls it "heauens phisicke, lifes restoratiue," as Cozzens concedes when Walter nearly dies of asthma.

Preposterously,… there was notwithstanding no law, human or divine, against Walter, in an hour or less, being dead…. For years Walter's mother, and Maggie, and innumerable doctors had watched over him…. But, of course, it all could, maybe it all always did, go for nothing….

Certainly, as Dekker says, gold will be no help against death. Yet the example of the Cunninghams suggests that wealth is far more compatible with a pleasing and virtuous life than Dekker allows.

For Dekker the choice is between riches and wisdom. But Cozzens observes that a Mrs. Cunningham can be both rich and wise, and that a Francis Ellery can be both poor and foolish. Cozzens even predicts some correspondence between wealth and wisdom, for "People who are poor, while they may be estimable and virtuous, confess in the fact of poverty an incapacity for mastering their environment…." Fortunatus, categorically affirming that "the rich are wise," goes beyond Cozzens, yet rich Mrs. Cunningham never wears Midas ears, and poor Ellery does: "Given his choice, he would perhaps have preferred Mrs. Cunningham to mistake him for a sinister and dangerous schemer, weaving, resourceful and unprincipled, his subtle web; and that was good for a laugh, because she never could have made that mistake. There was only one fool there, and Francis was it." Ironies abound. Francis the tutor surely represents wisdom sooner than riches. But then he resents his job, and no riches are offered to him, though he covets them. Thus, there is no virtue in his lack of wealth. And although Mrs. Cunningham praises his learning, she is far wiser than he, and he is often downright foolish. Young Fortunatus thus lacks riches and wisdom as surely as Mrs. Cunningham has them.

It is not necessary to enumerate every correspondence between novel and play, but this study should not disregard the title Cozzens settled on: Ask Me Tomorrow. The exact phrase does not appear in Old Fortunatus, yet tomorrows are discussed at length, always to the same purpose: that a man like Fortunatus or Andelocia, who indulges in pleasant vices today, will regret them tomorrow. Just ask him.

Dekker calls his play The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus, yet it is pleasant and comical only in the technical sense of ending in a triumph for Vertue and a celebration of sorts. But the unhappy consequences of the characters' choices are unmistakable. All three characters are severely judged, their faults explicitly cause their grief, and all three die. In short, Dekker shows with melodramatic thoroughness that they reap what they sow. Whether people really do reap what they sow always interests Cozzens. Francis, worried because he is receiving no mail from Lorna, wonders whether his effort to seduce Faith Robertson is the reason:

What about that detestable misbehavior of his in Milan? Rationally or irrationally, the inexpungeable suspicion of the anxious heart is that the gods may be just; that you reap what you sow; that the nature of things operates by an awful law, a sort of lex talionis, which, whether you revere or deride any given moral code, will take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and complaining will not help you.

The allusion is to Galatians 6:7—"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap"—and Cozzens returns to the other half of it when Francis recalls that in school his grades "had been Ellery, 50, or 45, often enough (Be not deceived, God is not mocked—at least, not every time)…."

The possibility of such patterns is also mentioned in another connection: "as one thing follows another in life, patterns, often repeated, are formed…. Francis stood apprehensive,… wondering if … the pattern of a joke everybody knows might not be emerging. It begins with a man wishing; and then the man gets his wish and then (you could die laughing) he wishes he hadn't got it." This recalls Old Fortunatus, who wishes for gold, gets it, and then is sorry. But in exploiting such patterns, Cozzens avoids the simplistic thinking that mars Dekker's play. Francis gets no mail because he's been writing to the wrong address, not because he's reaping what he sowed. As for whether he will regret having gotten his wish to be in Cap d'Ail, the immediate answer is no. In other words, Cozzens lets it remain possible that the gloomy notion of a lex talionis "was most effective when half felt…. Put in words it sank to more or less imposing rodomontade." The beauty of Cozzens's plot, however, is that it is open ended where Dekker's is too snugly closed. Having introduced the idea of reaping and sowing, Cozzens gives most attention to what Francis sows. And we see just enough reaping to realize that Lex talionis, though not an invariable law and sometimes accepting an eye for a tooth, is nevertheless more than rodomontade.

About this you need only ask Francis tomorrow, for his misdeeds are constantly catching up to him. For example, he decides to drink too much in Milan:

"I'll have some brandy."

He sat silent and defiant while the waiter was out.

Tomorrow morning, when this triumph over the plaints of his better judgment would sicken him with exasperation, was somehow receding. Tonight, though diminishing hour by hour, magically expanded…. Tomorrow, on the other side of it, could take care of itself.

Tomorrow comes early, for nausea soon forces his undignified retreat, and weeks later the memory of this night still causes him fresh worry and disgust. The pattern repeats itself many times as Francis succumbs to temptations, only to regret them later. This behavior betrays a persistent childishness—ever interesting to Cozzens—in Francis and many adults. Francis knows that as a schoolboy what he needed "was a damned good licking, and never mind who was proud of what."

But of course that was now, when a few long-ago beatings would seem well exchanged for … habits of discipline and application…. Offered the choice ten years ago he doubted if he would have … cared to insure the future at the immediate expense of his backside.

Yet as the Milan episode shows, he continues to let tomorrow take care of itself, and it continues to disoblige him.

From Francis's viewpoint the novel ends like a more pleasant comedy for Young Fortunatus than for Old. Though still without the girl or the fortune, Francis has scraped through two predicaments. Walter has survived the asthmatic attack that occurred partly because of Francis's dereliction, and ironically, Francis is even being mistaken for "the hero of the occasion." Thus, he has not lost his job. And he is leaving Cap d'Ail before Faith Robertson arrives, so Lorna still doesn't know about Milan.

A peculiarity, however, is that the title line is not spoken by Francis, but by Lorna. This does not mean that it is inapplicable to him. Francis, like Fortunatus and Andelocia, will see his good fortune differently in time, even though on the last page he is still saying of himself, "How fortunate! How fortunate he always was!" In addition, by giving the title line to Lorna, Cozzens recalls the other half of Dekker's thought—not only that the apparently fortunate man will judge his case differently tomorrow, but that it will also be judged by others. Lorna refuses to elope at once. But as to whether she'll marry him at all, she says, "It's rather a rotten trick, and I know it; but this has been a hell of a day. I can't think. I just don't know. Ask me tomorrow—I mean, if you still want to." What Lorna would respond tomorrow cannot positively be known, since Faith Robertson probably wouldn't "say anything about my making a pass at her." Nevertheless, we do know that Francis's pride will not let him ask the question tomorrow, since the idea of seeing Faith again is awkward. "In fact, I can't do it. Not with Lorna around." So the result is the same as if Lorna, knowing all, were to make some final denunciation. The open-ended plot, however, dispensing with such climactic confrontations, represents an obvious gain for realism.

There is a comparable gain in the treatment of Mrs. Cunningham. She, at the end, plays Vertue's part, but Cozzens adroitly conveys her judgment of Young Fortunatus without a hyperdramatic scene and without spoiling the irony that Francis continues serving her. Mrs. Cunningham has begun to judge Francis earlier, when after many provocations she has felt she must criticize his "whole attitude," thus joining his many other judges: "Through the years, how many people had found themselves … less and less pleased with Francis, and so, sooner or later, had felt … that they must speak to him about his whole attitude!" The first time, Mrs. Cunningham relents, thinking she must have misjudged him. She does for him what Fortune does for Fortunatus (II.Prol.) and what Vertue does for Andelocia (IV.i.)—gives him a second chance he really has not merited.

Predictably, her second judgment, like Vertue's, will be less lenient. Tomorrow or another day she will disapprove of Francis just as Lorna will, and then Francis, reaping what he has sown, will not seem so fortunate. Very tidily, in fact, Lorna's and Mrs. Cunningham's views of Francis converge two pages from the end as he imagines explaining his plight to Mrs. Cunningham:

"… I happened to try to seduce a girl I didn't like very much at Milan. I was feeling depressed, and we'd had a couple of drinks, and she was there, and you know how it is—" A painful nervous laughter shook him. "… somehow I find the idea of seeing her again a little awkward. In fact, I can't do it. Not with Lorna around. What would you do, if you were I?"

What, indeed? What advice from Mrs. Cunningham to the lovelorn? You could not easily imagine telling Mrs. Cunningham such a story; but you could imagine easily enough what she, what any woman, would say to the problem presented: It serves you right! My advice is; it serves you right.

Irving Malin (essay date Winter 1981)

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SOURCE: "The Education of Francis Ellery," in John O'Hara Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter, 1981, pp. 32-8.

[Malin is an educator and critic whose books include William Faulkner: An Interpretation (1957) and Isaac Bashevis Singer (1972). In the following essay, he examines the character development of Francis Ellery in Ask Me Tomorrow.]

In Just Representations, a James Gould Cozzens reader, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, there is only one novel reprinted. This novel is Ask Me Tomorrow, first published in 1940. Bruccoli notes in his introduction that the novel is "uncharacteristically personal, drawing on Cozzens's experiences as a tutor in Europe." The brief description reverberates with meanings. In 1940 Cozzens was thirty-seven; he was able to be ironic toward his young hero, to have a "double view" of him.

My reading of the novel is not the usual kind for a Cozzens novel; it is intended to provoke criticism from professional Cozzens critics; they will probably see it as a perverse, overly symbolic explication which "deconstructs" the text. I believe that there are various ways of reading Ask Me Tomorrow; the fact that Cozzens himself made a few changes for Bruccoli's edition suggests that the author himself meant to offer variant readings, textual transformations.

I am not claiming great artistic value for Ask Me Tomorrow. It is not a mature work; it is not Cozzens's best novel. But it is a key one because it hints at the various themes the author developed in his later work.

The essay is brief. It suggests that Cozzens (consciously or unconsciously) used a kind of symbolic "shorthand." Surely all writing is "driven," "obsessive"—I am not bothered by Cozzens as "conservative," "moralist." The essay stresses the education of the hero, but it also underlines—in an oddly tentative manner—that "obsession" and "conservatism" are at war; their battle is, indeed, the vital struggle of Ellery's education.

The first edition of Ask Me Tomorrow begins with a lengthy description. We are told that "even at its occasional best, Florence is a forlorn city. It is not sad in any beautiful, comfortable way. It is really sad. It depresses you." This description is deceptive—we feel that the viewer of the scene is putting himself into it; he is the city. Although at this point we do not know the hero—or his special problems and longings—we notice that "depression" dominates his vision. And when we read about the "famous, decrepit churches; the heavy, meanly-placed palaces …," we are strengthened in our belief. The entire description is perhaps, an accurate, "objective" one of Florence, but it also serves symbolic purposes—it compels us to read through the "externals" as it were, and to look closely at such words as "melancholy," "ruins," "no better rate." I suggest that the "lines" blur in the first paragraph; Cozzens wants us to observe the shifting perspectives not only of "Giotto's tower" but of the "newly arrived tourist"—the hero of this wise, brilliantly constructed novel.

Francis Ellery is fascinated by artistic patterns. He tends to observe things, people, designs in an unclear manner (unlike his mature creator). When we first meet him, he is sitting in his sick mother's hotel room in Florence. He is uncomfortable. His first words (after he looks at his watch) are: "I'd better keep moving." Francis is never easy-going; he wants to "keep moving" because he can be happy only when he does not commit himself to anyone—except himself. But he is an "artful dodger"—he tries as best as he can to hide his irritations, anxieties, and compulsions—and he is a charming young man who can easily blind others. The conversation is ambiguous; Francis and his mother hint at subjects, feelings, roles. We do not completely understand why he can't say warm words. Is he afraid of showing his feelings? Or is he a cold creator?

The scene, like the preceding description of Florence, is disturbing but artistically appropriate. The entire novel will deal with "incorrect" visions of the world; the gap between words and feelings and experiences; the intermixture of motives. It is, if you will, a mystery.

After Francis leaves his mother—he remembers that she "had probably been watching him from the window upstairs for him to wave"—he boards a "made-up" train. He is characteristically moving erratically, burdened by his suitcases, deadlines, inner turmoil. He finally discovers himself in the train compartment with Faith Robertson.

Francis is a "ladies man"—or so he thinks—and he treats women of his own age as convenient or dull prey. He jokes at their expense; he looks down at them. Thus when he speaks to Faith he acts a role he has written; he is not natural. It is ironic, of course, that he is quickly discovered by Faith. She says bluntly, "Why can't you be natural?" She continues: "Why do you bother to try to cut a figure?"

Francis is a writer. He is, however, so preoccupied with his roles as artist and lover and son that he cannot be "natural." He cannot do his tasks. He resorts to silly, immature ornamentation; he plays frivolous games. If it weren't for the fact that he understands, if only vaguely, his limitations, he would be merely a despicable clown. But Francis knows that he is self-destructive (even as he loves his games). He shifts ground—we remember his desire to keep "moving" and to make people and cities "move"—and he becomes depressed. He is a creature of lows and highs. Thus he broods about tomorrow: he "would just go on top to the end of his days never knowing where money for his next extravagance was coming from; yet never, probably, being quite destitute enough to have to give up thinking of extravagances." His "private chagrins" trouble and master him.

Francis, however, does not have the courage to move beyond brooding—to take serious action; he simply settles for literary or sexual allusions. (The novel is filled with such allusions. Cozzens counterpoints his hero's condition with others). And when he can't drown his sorrows, he rages against the world. He sits across from Faith; he sees a "disagreeable vision of Miss Robertson, in a state of beefy nature, grimly advancing her art on a bed with some Wop whose amorous taste was catholic enough to include anything he could get …" We should consider carefully such visions; Cozzens compels us to see through his hero by using ironic perspectives. Francis hates "beefy nature" because it offends his own unfulfilled aesthetic longings, but he continually dwells upon it. He, indeed, loves and hates all nature; he finds fault with it because it is always outside. It is ironic that he views Faith as "grimly advancing her art." He cannot advance his novelistic intentions; he muses about possibilities and future times to escape from present tedium. Why does Francis hate "wops"? Is it because Europeans in general are sure of themselves, their real worth? We are not told by Cozzens, but we are left with the unmistakable impression that he refuses to hold all the opinions of his hero. There is a double view here—and throughout the novel—which demonstrates Francis's severe disabilities.

Francis suggests to Faith—an interesting name in context—that they go to bed. Let tonight count; don't care about tomorrow—his words are hard-boiled. At the same time he thinks of Elizabethan love poetry. "The sweetest story ever told" is studded (and studied) with confusing motives. Francis is in love with his seduction, not Faith, and again he learns that his heroine—a character he creates—refuses his advances. Thus as the first chapter ends, he searches for "some concluding phrase" to control the now shaky situation. He can merely shrug and blurt out "good night."

When we begin to read the second chapter, we are put deliberately on edge. We meet Walter Cunningham, a student of Francis, who says: "I didn't get it all." He is physically crippled; he is mentally slow. There is an ironic parallel here. Although Francis plays with Latin lessons, demonstrating correct syntax, to the adolescent Walter, he recognizes dimly that he and the boy are in the same boat. The realization cannot last because it is painful and accurate. But even Walter "fools" him by knowing what accipere means and perhaps, in an expanded way, knowing that life is a series of accidents—of polio, of asthmatic suffocation, of grim misadventure.

Walter's mother is, of course, more knowledgeable, mature, and worldly. She apparently understands her son's and Francis's fears and limitations. Her words are full of meaningful(?) mystery. They threaten the young writer who cannot place her. Maggie, Walter's maid, is also disturbing. Francis goes everywhere with the Cunninghams and Maggie, but he remains "at home"; he is closed in by his dream-states: "Francis's mind took himself desconsolately away, wishing not for any single thing, but for vague new states of things which would comfort and relieve him according to his necessities!"

Cozzens introduces the skiing lessons. Francis teaches Walter how to manipulate his injured legs on snow. So much is made of these lessons—along with the Latin syntax—that we are tempted to view them as more than a plot-factor. They function symbolically. Does Francis want to "catch hold?" Can he move in a straight line?

Francis is in love with Lorna, a girl who inspires letters. He tells himself that he will convince her of his deep needs—again he acts an ill-conceived role. He is so self-centered that his letters to her—like his words to Walter or Mrs. Cunningham or even "beefy" Faith—are vain mirrors. He wants to be Donne or Spenser; he hopes to equal their roles as lovers and artists.

But Francis cannot even later bury Mrs. Cunningham's dog, Rose. He outrages the hotel management; he cannot control the situation. The juxtaposition of love letters and dog burial—he is inadequate in both cases—is admirably comic. Cozzens deflates "romance," showing us that Mrs. Cunningham's love for Rose is ironically warmer than Francis's cliché adorations of distant Lorna.

As Francis and the Cunninghams move to a ski resort, they shift perspectives. The natural scene is again used symbolically. Francis, for example, believes that the new hotel at Grindewald is a gloomy, empty place (like his depressive feelings), but he is surprised by quick changes in daylight. We are told that "those expanses of glass that served last night to let in the dark and to show the blind whirl of snow, let in now a blaze of sunlight." The shifting perspectives suggest that he is mistaken; things are a "blind whirl" while he does not have a sure picture of motives. It is little wonder that Francis is in acute "confused discomfort."

His discomfort increases when Miss Poulter, an employee at the hotel, tries to lure him to bed. (This is another example of Cozzens's use of parallels: she pursues him as he pursued Faith and pursues Lorna. Perhaps the parallel is meant to show the tables turned or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, the story rewritten.) Francis is lost in a novel he hasn't written; he is a constantly passive object. His turmoil continues when Cozzens increases the tempo of events and characters. I do not mean to suggest that the pace—or the style—is manic. It is always "controlled," understated slow—and the fact that it is makes Francis's condition even more interesting.

Perhaps more intense than his fascination with Lorna, who seems, at least to us, a rather slight person, is his devotion to work. Francis sits in solitary confinement, trying to organize his thoughts and words—indeed, his life—and he "becomes" one fictional character after another: "To write, Francis had first to become this person; not as an act of deceit, but like a monologuist clapping on a cocked hat or turning up a collar to suggest an appearance that helped the part." The words, "monologuist" and "appearance," although not underlined, suggest his predicament. And, of course, when he cannot even put the right words on paper—or say the right ones to "real" people—he leans again on the external world—on what Cozzens calls "clumps of trees" or "patches of vegetation."

Francis tries to get closer to Lorna. He hints to Mrs. Cunningham that a change of scene would be beneficial. He exercises his will. The point is, however, that although he moves towards the impossible goal—is it Lorna? is it control over patterns?—he recognizes that "one thing follows another in life." Patterns are "formed" without his choice—occasionally they are appropriate for his ends; often they are not. In a convincing short passage Cozzens (through Francis) notes the comedy: "It begins with a man wishing; and then the man gets his wish; and then (you could die laughing) he wishes he hadn't got it."

The passage should be noted as an introduction to Francis's later thoughts about divine patterns. He remembers his Christian school days (as a youth), and he tells himself that he had been marked for life. Of course his religious views were not "fitting" then—or now!—because they suggest that he has, in the long run, little control over Lorna or himself. He is another character—not only in Mrs. Cunningham's "fiction" but in the Divine Plan. He believes in his immaturity that he is "helpless," especially when it comes to love: "Men who could not stop their longing did crazy things."

The closer Francis gets to Lorna, the "crazier" he becomes. There are several parties. At one he meets some friends of hers; these people are madly in love. Kirkland, the handsome Californian, and his married mistress, Mrs. Hartpence, seem out of control—even to him. But the ironies abound. When Francis borrows the car belonging to Mrs. Hartpence, he finds that it has a flat tire. There are several pages devoted to the confusion and non-movement. Cozzens again takes an ordinary incident and dwells upon its symbolic significance. When we remember Francis's almost-frantic movements and see his current "stasis," we feel that there is little hope for correct, thoughtful movement. I do not want to view Cozzens as a symbolist—he is not Poe!—but I believe that he sees symbols as a kind of attack. Perhaps Cozzens implies that Francis is immature because he confuses the symbol and what it stands for. Lorna is not accepted for what she is; Walter is manipulated—almost every person Francis encounters he views as a symbol, not as a living, thinking individual.

Francis continues to daydream: "He could go back to Florence, and there were reasons why he ought to. He could really work on his book, get it done—maybe in a couple of months." His realistic vision is echoed in Cozzens's ironic view of his hero—and he concludes that Florence is a "hell-hole."

But his realism is not severe enough. I think that Mrs. Cunningham's lengthy comments to him at this point, after all his blunders, are dramatically appropriate. She is a "judge"—he thinks of her remarks as "indictments"—and her punishment, if you will, is handed down from above. She sees through his games with Lorna, Walter, herself, but even she is "seduced"—for her own ends?—by his charm.

Francis keeps his job. He is lucky (although he sees it only in terms of financial reward and convenience.) It enables him to stay away from his artistic endeavors. Cozzens, on the other hand, knows that Francis must work in order to gain self-control and knowledge.

Perhaps the most powerful passages in the novel occur now. Walter begins to have an asthmatic attack after a skiing expedition. (We have expected this attack because of Cozzens's careful plotting.) The boy becomes frightened; his fear infects Francis because it reinforces his deep sense of uselessness and uncontrollable designs. We can say the two are "brothers." There is great irony. Walter, recognizing his own plight, also senses his tutor's disturbance, and begins to assert his "mastery" of the world (while he almost dies).

Cozzens plays with the shadowy effects of the snow. He, in fact, uses the word "shadow" a few times. And the physical shadows serve as an effective reflection of the nature of Walter and Francis at this point: "The pale shifting shadow of the flag lifted and fell away …" The intermixture of motives, roles and designs is surely emphasized.

The closeness of Walter's death serves to underline Francis's rebirth as a mature, responsible man. Without thinking of his self-centered roles, fictions, games, he faces 'genuine,' hard facts of life. Francis may run back and forth, trying to save Walter, but his frantic behavior shows that he cares about him.

Although Francis dislikes the "European" ways of the physician who finally administers the life-saving injection, he has to admit the man's discipline, technique, and dedication—qualities he has lacked throughout the novel. "He thought of the doctor, whose manner with Walter, whose sympathy and intelligence, had been so different from what Francis wildly expected …" He goes on: "Recoiling in disgust from human beings, you had to recoil in another disgust, from your own recoiling …" This is not to imply that Francis is completely saved. (Who is?) He has, after all, merely begun to "grow up" and achieve wisdom. I find it interesting that he learns from a "spiritual father," the physician, and that this character is the first completely responsible male in the novel. Again, I do not want to offer a psychological reading; but I believe that Cozzens, admiring the experience of, say, Mrs. Cunningham, nevertheless affirms that Francis must move beyond the "mother" (his own, Mrs. Cunningham) and learn from the men who control society. There is, of course, a sexist slant here—society is viewed as run by dedicated men—but we should not dislike Francis or the novel for this reason.

Francis puts off for tomorrow—at Lorna's request—his declarations of love. He is secure enough now to accept all accidents, unfulfilled designs of life. He finds wisdom—or at least some kind of commitment—by surrendering falseness of purpose, role-playing, melodramatic art. He becomes a realist; he is aware that his previous experiments were a kind of sham.

Francis's education is far from over—we remember that he is still a young man—but, like many of Cozzens's later, more mature heroes, he recognizes the need for straight thinking, clear vision, ironic perspective. We begin at the end of the novel to admire his own beginnings.

Terry Teachout (review date 28 February 1986)

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SOURCE: A review of Selected Notebooks: 1960–1967, in National Review, Vol. XXXVIII, February 28, 1986, pp. 60-1.

[Teachout is an American musician, editor, and essayist, whose books include Beyond the Boom: New Voices on American Life, Politics, and Culture (1990) and Under Midwestern Eyes: Memories of a Lapsed Missourian (1991). In the review below, he favorably assesses Notebooks as a valuable introduction to Cozzens's reflections on literature.]

Matthew Bruccoli's 1983 biography James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart contained a lengthy appendix of excerpts from a set of notebooks Cozzens began keeping three years after the publication of By Love Possessed. These blunt and unguarded journal entries revealed the real Cozzens—stoic, sardonic, full of unfashionable social and literary prejudices—with exceptional vividness, and it isn't surprising that Bruccoli received numerous requests to edit a more extensive selection from Cozzens's notebooks for publication. Selected Notebooks: 1960–1967, a hundred-page volume containing "most of the entries dealing with the practice of literature," is the result; anyone at all interested in the life and work of this country's most underrated novelist will find it endlessly intriguing. No great surprises, though; after all, it isn't very hard to deduce the Cozzens view of literature, modern and otherwise, from the deeply conservative philosophy that informs his fiction. (Well, there's one surprise, anyway: Cozzens admired Mary McCarthy.) Still, it's a pleasure to hear the acid voice of Julius Penrose—for that is what we hear throughout this slender volume—railing splendidly against Joyce, Proust, & Mann, Inc., advancing the lost critical cause of Somerset Maugham, and skewering distinguished contemporaries like Faulkner and Hemingway with an acuteness made possible by a mature, confident dogmatism. There is no index, an oversight hardly expected from an editor who is normally so omnicompetent as Mr. Bruccoli; one would also like to see at least a few of those unpublished entries "in which Cozzens commented on the news or quarreled with religious activities." But very fine all the same.

Richard A. Posner (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "The Reflection of Law in Literature: 'Legal' Novels by Cozzens, Twain, and Camus," in Law and Literature: A Misunderstood Relation, Harvard University Press, 1988, pp. 79-88.

[Posner is a lawyer and author of several books, including The Economics of Justice (1981) and The Problems of Jurisprudence (1990). In the following excerpt, he contends that The Just and the Unjust is not about the law, rather it is a story about the rite-of-passage of a young man.]

… I begin in low key with a work that after more than forty years seems on its way to being recognized as a minor classic—James Gould Cozzens's novel The Just and the Unjust, a work so pervasively and accurately "about" law that one might think the author an experienced lawyer (he had no legal training). Yet this is an illusion; the book is not about law in any interesting sense.

The setting is a small town in an unimportant rural county, circa 1940. The ostensible subject is a murder trial that begins at the start of the novel and concludes at the end. The protagonist is the county's assistant district attorney, Abner Coates—young, able, but rather priggish—who tries the case for the prosecution along with the district attorney. The D.A. is in charge but Coates takes an active role, making the opening statement to the jury and examining several important witnesses. The trial reveals that the defendants—repulsive hoods named Howell and Basso—had, along with a third man, Bailey, kidnapped a drug dealer named Zollicoffer. After the ransom was paid, Bailey decided it would be unsafe to return Zollicoffer alive. On the way to the spot where the kidnappers were to drop Zollicoffer off, Bailey shot him, and Howell and Basso helped Bailey weight Zollicoffer down with leg irons and dump him into a river. Bailey later died fleeing the police. Although Howell and Basso do not deny having taken an active part in the kidnapping, it never becomes clear whether they authorized, knew about in advance, or participated in the murder. As Coates, the D.A., and the judge all emphasize to the jury in urging a verdict of first-degree murder (which would mean the electric chair), the defendants' lack of participation in the actual murder affects their guilt not a whit. Provided they participated in the kidnapping, as unquestionably they did, they are guilty of first-degree murder because Zollicoffer was killed in the course of a felony in which they participated. However, to the disgust of Coates, the D.A., and the judge (who dresses down the jury afterward), the jury convicts Howell and Basso only of second-degree murder. The author leads us to understand, through one of the wise old codgers who people the novel, that the jury has exercised its prerogative of nullifying a law that it considers unjust—the felony-murder rule, a legal fiction that punishes a felon who is not a murderer as if he were one.

While the trial is wending its way to its surprising conclusion—for the reader is given no clue that the jury might fail to convict the defendants of first-degree murder—Coates is both getting engaged to be married and agreeing to run for D.A. (the incumbent is leaving for another job). It is understood that Coates cannot lose the election; he is a Republican, and Republicans always win in this county. But to agree to run he must overcome his aversion to the local Republican boss, who Coates fears will interfere in the D.A.'s office, though in fact the boss is pretty straight. The suspense in the novel is focused not on the trial, which seems a foregone conclusion but is not, but on whether Coates will overcome what are plainly priggish scruples to marrying his utterly charming childhood sweetheart and accepting the tremendous career opportunity opened up by the D.A.'s impending departure.

From this brief summary it should be plain that The Just and the Unjust is not really about trial strategy, the legal profession, the felony-murder rule, or the power of juries to acquit lawlessly, and thus that critics miss the point when they accuse Cozzens of "belligerent legalistic conservatism" [John P. McWilliams, Jr., "Innocent Crime or Criminal Innocence: The Trial in American Fiction," in Carl S. Smith, John P. McWilliams, Jr., and Max Bloomfield, Law and American Literature: A Collection of Essays, 1983]. This is a rite of passage novel, a Bildungsroman. The hero is a prissy kid at the beginning and a man at the end, having assumed family responsibilities and learned the difference between pure forms (of law, of career advancement) and sordid realities (law may diverge from the lay sense of justice, politics influences promotions), as well as the need to compromise, to moderate demands, to scale down ideals, to trim absolutes, to empathize—with the Republican boss, and above all with his sweetheart, to whose feelings Coates is remarkably insensitive at the beginning of the novel. The work has none of the resonance of Hamlet or the Iliad but is recognizably part of the same broad category of works, in which youthful idealism becomes tempered with realism through a series of crises.

That the law is rather a detail in all this, as revenge is rather a detail (though an essential one) in the other works, can be made clearer by a comparison with another and finer Cozzens novel, Guard of Honor, perhaps the best American novel about World War II. Set in Florida, it recounts a brief period in the administration of an air base by a young major general. He is champing at the bit to be sent overseas to do more fighting (he had held a major command in the North African campaign). But we soon understand that his command of the base, which involves dealing with domestic crises that have no martial dimension (race relations, a training accident), is an important preparation for the major combat command that he is slated to assume next—and that, with nice irony, is the command of fighter cover for the invasion of Japan, which of course never took place. Again it is a rite of passage novel, with the professional setting, in this case military, again incidental. The hero, at first insufficiently worldly-wise to handle senior administrative responsibilities, like Coates matures in the course of the novel by meeting the challenges of everyday life.

If either novel were about the professional challenges of its protagonists—if either one showed lawyers correcting their legal errors or generals correcting their military errors—they would not have much appeal, even to members of these professions. A novelist with neither legal nor military training is unlikely to have significant insights to impart at the level of actual practice, though [there are] some exceptions to this rule….


Cozzens, James Gould (Vol. 4)