(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell Charles Lee - Essay

Charles Lee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What will America be like in 1970? Miss Caldwell's [apocalyptic "The Devil's Advocate"] makes Spengler seem cheerful by comparison. In this novel of fierce prophecy she sees a Communist conspiracy in control in Washington. The courts and the Constitution have been outlawed; family life is directed by the Government; the fifth world war is about to erupt (this one against South America, the rest of the world being subject and in ruins). Tipping her political hand, she offers as her trump of horrors the fact that the Republican party has been banned as of 1958….

[The story] that follows is full of nightmare complexities and melodramatic suspense. Unfortunately, it is also full of repetitions, distortions, contradictions, and downright offenses to common sense. For example, we are told that in the monstrous third and fourth world wars only the United States used atomic weapons—and was itself untouched by a single bomb.

Worse still, however, is the author's hysterical antipathy for the New Deal. Instead of the great depression, we are offered America of 1932 as a country that lived by a code of honor, freedom, individualism, dignity, and self-responsibility. Then "the misguided people elected a man to the Presidency whose twisted mind stands out against the black background of history like a conflagration." Arguments can assuredly be mounted against Welfareism, and Miss Caldwell's legerdemain as queen of the lending library is well-known. But this time she has simply outpunched herself. The fury of her interpretations of history vitiates whatever merit certain of her criticisms may contain—and gives to the shrill story illustrating them all the weight of a comic-strip.

Charles Lee, "Minute Men of 1970," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1952 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 4, 1952, p. 24.