Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Morning, Noon, and Night was Cozzens’s last published novel, in a sense a literary valedictory and testament. Although he survived the novel’s publication by a full decade, Cozzens produced no more fiction, apparently deeming his statement to be complete. As the author’s only novel to be narrated in the first person, Morning, Noon, and Night also seems, at least on the surface, to be a personal record of sorts, albeit transposed into art: Born too late to serve in World War I, almost too early to be called for World War II, Hank Worthington is Cozzens’s almost exact contemporary, holder of opinions that the author no doubt shared, particularly with regard to the profession of writing. Here as elsewhere, however, it would be erroneous to assume too close an identity of author with narrator; Cozzens was, above all else, an accomplished ironist, quite capable of subtly prepared, “unreliable” narration.

From the 1930’s onward, Cozzens duly received recognition, although limited, as an outstanding social chronicler and “novelist of manners,” worthy of consideration along with Marquand, O’Hara, and eventually Louis Auchincloss. Although all the novelists named were by turns dismissed among liberal critics as “elitist,” their works as “irrelevant,” Cozzens appears to have fared somewhat worse than the others, in part because of his evident interest in literary form and his often expressed disbelief in the validity of social change. Following the unprecedented success of By Love Possessed (1957), accompanied by certain apparent misquotations in a nationally circulated magazine, Cozzens was branded by the critics as a social and literary product of the Eisenhower Administration, dedicated to the status quo. The appearance of Morning, Noon, and Night during the politically turbulent year of 1968 proved to be strategically unfortunate, and the novel attracted little attention and few sales, despite adoption by a major book club. Notwithstanding, Cozzens’s scholarly editor, biographer, and anthologist, Matthew Bruccoli, considers Morning, Noon, and Night among the author’s finest achievements, amply deserving of sustained critical attention.