Thomas Boyd Criticism - Essay

John W. Crawford (review date 1923)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Malicious Panorama,” in The Nation, Vol. 117, No. 3028, 1923, p. 66.

[In the following review, Crawford calls Through the Wheat “a remarkable first novel” despite a disappointing ending.]

War is a panorama of “grim comic imbecility” to the eyes of Mr. Boyd's character Hicks. Toplofty idealism is brought into the picture, only to be shattered by a barrage of deftest malice. A pompous captain, with a Napoleonic vision, or a zealous top sergeant, actuated by a crusading delusion, becomes helplessly ridiculous in the face of a platoon of unimpressed and “kidding” soldiers. The antithesis is given a more sharply ironic twist in the spectacle of men under fire becoming vocal in photographically trivial conversation about mail, food, and cigarettes. The popular sentimentalism of a bitter and personal hatred for the Germans is dismissed with a hilarious gesture:

Possibly for an hour during his whole life he [Hicks] had hated the German army. Now he only disliked them. And for one reason: because they marched in a goose-step. He felt that for any people to march in that manner was embarrassing to the rest of humanity.

The author permits himself a broader view than would be provided through the personality of Hicks. Mr. Boyd takes a dive into the mental processes of a subordinate character to heighten the absurdity of his self-importance and his...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Edmund Wilson (review date 1923)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Anatomy of War,” in The Dial, Vol. 75, July, 1923, pp. 93-5.

[In the following review, Wilson deems Through the Wheat an important war novel.]

Mr Thomas Boyd's Through the Wheat is much less brilliant than Three Soldiers, but I believe that it is nearly as important. Mr Dos Passos rendered one thing admirably: the nightmare oppression of the army, the ruin by war of certain characters which might under normal conditions have proved decent and useful. But Mr Boyd's theme is something different: the adventures of the man who does not break down. His Sergeant Hicks is a hero: he endures, he accepts authority, he fights boldly. But he is a hero tout autrement intéressant than that other hero Sergeant Empey. His endurance is half helpless exhaustion, his obedience is deeply tinctured with bitterness, and his bravery becomes finally an utter numbness beyond horror and beyond pain. This is probably the only candid account on record of what it meant to be a hero in the Marines, and a valuable document on the ordinary human virtues in reaction to the conditions of modern warfare.

Yet in tone Through the Wheat resembles Three Soldiers and most other sincere pictures of modern war. It is a tone which, I should think, if persisted in, should ultimately discourage humanity with war altogether. One finds it first in its characteristic coolness after the Napoleonic wars. Not that there had ever been lacking in European literature a realistic attitude toward war: Homer describes its ignominies as well as its glories; Aristophanes never tired of making fun of it, and Pindar writes, “Gλυκύ aπείροιsι πόλεμοs,” (war is sweet to those who have never tried it); The Roman Empire, to be sure, dignified its conquests with a noble ideal (parcere subjectis et debellare superbos); but by the chaos of the Middle Ages common sense was revolted again and great men from Dante to Kant devoted much thought to European peace: the religious wars provoked the satire of Erasmus and Grotius' foundations of international law, and as comment on the War of the Spanish Succession you had Swift's pamphlet on The Conduct of the Allies and Southey's poem about little Peterkin...

(The entire section is 941 words.)

The Dial (essay date 1925)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Dark Cloud, in The Dial, Vol. 79, July, 1925, p. 77.

[In the following review, the critic finds The Dark Cloud to be an interesting and picturesque “prose panorama.”]

The Dark Cloud, by Thomas Boyd, projects a picture of life with camera sharpness, and yet the outlines of it have been so softened by tones of understanding that the effect is in no sense photographic. Mr Boyd has sought and successfully recaptured the picturesque background of early steamboat days along the Mississippi; he has written a narrative of incident rather than of sustained plot, done in flexible and vigorous prose. It is chiefly interesting as a prose panorama, sweeping from Quebec to Detroit, across to Cincinnati, and down the great waterway as it was in the enthralling fifties of the last century.

Punch (review date 1926)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Samuel Drummond, in Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol 170. June 16, 1926, p. 647-48.

[In the following review, the critic praises Boyd's realism in Samuel Drummond.]

If Mr. Thomas Boyd has already written other books I do not know them. If he should write others in the future I shall certainly read them. For Samuel Drummond is a satisfying book, unexciting, but as nourishing to the mind as the kindly fruits of the earth are to the body. Its scene is Ohio before, during and after the Civil War; its theme the simple annals of a farmer's life. When we first meet Samuel he is a boy working on his father's farm. But soon Marthy Jane, a poor relation of his mother's, golden of hair and blue of eye, comes on the scene, and after a brief rivalry with his brother, who is as gay and voluble as Samuel is solid and tongue-tied, Samuel marries her. He takes a farm of his own, builds a house and later a larger one, clears his land, sells his timber, sows his corn and rears his stock. He drives to market, occasionally drinks a little more than he should, once is nearly drowned in a flood. He loves, and has little differences with, his wife. Four children are born to him—all girls, though he badly wants a boy. The war breaks out and he enlists, late and reluctantly, for he cares little for politics and his father's sympathies are with the South. He returns from the front and goes on with his farming. His parents die and one of his daughters elopes with a German neighbour, but comes home and is forgiven. He grows less prosperous than of old, raises a mortgage and sells his farm to his son-in-law. We leave him driving with Marthy Jane to the little holding he has bought in its stead. That is all, but it is enough for a sane man's pleasure. Thus, one feels, must life have been in the time and place. Mr. Boyd is a realist who makes no fuss about his realism. His character-building is four-square. His story moves with the grave and beautiful deliberation of a horse at the plough, and has a savour of earth which is refreshing to nostrils cloyed with the heady scents of our town romancers.

H. W. Boynton (essay date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In Time of Peace, in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 11, No. 33, March 2, 1935, p. 517.

[In the following review, Boynton admires Boyd's storytelling in In Time of Peace despite sections of moralizing.]

The success of Through the Wheat (was it really a dozen years ago?) did not tempt the late Thomas Boyd to repeat himself. So far as the form of the novel was concerned, he had said his say about the world in wartime. The book established him as a writing man, and he continued to write. But his later novels dealt with a safer and remoter past, to be recalled, if with qualified approval, at least without anguish. In...

(The entire section is 1110 words.)

Ramon Guthrie (review date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Blood of the Pioneers,” in The New Republic, Vol. 82, No. 1062, April 10, 1935, p. 252.

[In the following review, Guthrie admires the documentary nature of both In Time of Peace and Through the Wheat.]

In Time of Peace is a posthumous novel. Thomas Boyd died suddenly a few days before its publication. He was thirty-six years old. His literary output consisted of a dozen books about evenly divided between novels and biographies. His first book and the one for which he is best known is Through the Wheat, a novel which, a dozen years after it appeared, still deserves to be rated as the most authentic picture of the World War as the...

(The entire section is 914 words.)

Granville Hicks (essay date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Last Spree of the Middle Class,” in New York Herald Tribune Books, Sunday, February 24, 1935, p. 6.

[In the following essay, Hicks praises the scope and depth of In Time of Peace.]

Thomas Boyd's last novel, In Time of Peace, continues the story of the hero of his first, Through the Wheat, William Hicks, six months after he got out of the Army, was working a twelve-hour night shift in a Chicago machine shop. He threw up his job to go to another city to visit his girl. The girl, Patsy Hughes, wanted to see him wearing a white collar, and he succeeded in getting work on The Farmer-Labor Beacon.

A wife, a child, and...

(The entire section is 1038 words.)

The Nation (review date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In Time of Peace, Vol. 140, No. 36, May 22, 1935, p. 609.

[In the following review, the critic dismisses In Time of Peace as “plodding” and forgettable.]

It is unusual to find a proletarian novel which is not violent enough for the most sensational taste. Yet it must be confessed that In Time of Peace, Thomas Boyd's last work, is too placid to realize the revolutionary intent. It continues the story of Hicks, the protagonist of the war novel Through the Wheat, carrying him through boom times, through marriage and a successful, moneyed career as a newspaperman, down to the crisis, the depression, and ultimate personal...

(The entire section is 221 words.)

Saturday Review of Literature (essay date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In Time of Peace, in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 11, No. 33, March 2, 1935, p. 517.

[In the following review, the critic finds In Time of Peace unoriginal and didactic.]

This last and posthumously published novel, by the author who scored so brilliant a success with Through the Wheat, charts a straight course through the post-war social history of the United States and elaborates a pattern that has been made thoroughly familiar to us by many novels and short stories, and by a great mass of factual reporting. During the past sixteen years we have heard much of the hero's return, of the difficulty of the soldier's...

(The entire section is 579 words.)

Edith H. Walton (review date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In Time of Peace, in Forum and Century, Vol. 93, No. 4, April, 1935, p. iv.

[In the following review, Walton finds In Time of Peace an unsatisfactory sequel to Boyd's Through the Wheat.]

Written just before his recent death, the title of Mr. Boyd's novel is astringently ironical. Hicks, the hero of that excellent war book, Through the Wheat, finds, after passing through a typical experience of the 'twenties, that peace can be as cruel and murderous as ever the war was and that for the underdog everywhere the fight is not over. A stubborn, honest-minded, rather inarticulate man, Hicks marries during the early postwar depression...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

Paul Fussell (review date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Shrapnel and Solecisms, in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3977, June 23, 1978, p. 694.

[In the following review, Fussell asserts that Through the Wheat has been overvalued as both literature and as a document of war-time experience.]

Thomas Boyd's novel of 1923 about his experiences with the United States Marines in France during the First World War was said by Boyd's friend F. Scott Fitzgerald to be “not only the best combatant story of the great war, but also the best war book since The Red Badge of Courage.” It is neither, nor does it provide, as James Dickey asserts in an afterword, “a vision of war that is as profound as any vision of...

(The entire section is 934 words.)

Frank Wilson (review date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Through the Wheat, in Best Sellers, Vol. 38, No. 5, August, 1978, p. 140.

[In the following review, Wilson laments Boyd's early death, asserting that Through the Wheat is a well-wrought novel.]

There is a certain kind of novel that is simply a straightforward chronicle of events. It is a kind usually written in a manner equally straightforward and precise. Such is Thomas Boyd's Through the Wheat, a novel of World War I first published in 1923—when it was glowingly reviewed by F. Scott Fitzgerald—and now reissued by University of Southern Illinois Press as part of its Lost American Fiction series.

Like his...

(The entire section is 370 words.)

Kliatt (review date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Through the Wheat, in Kliatt, Vol. 13, No. 6, Fall, 1979, p. 5.

[In the following review, the critic recommends Through the Wheat to young readers because of the book's unsentimental presentation of the experience of war.]

[In Through the Wheat] we follow Private William Hicks's days in the trench warfare of World War I, along a slow hard-fought front in which each field, each wood is taken with enormous losses of men. From Hicks's viewpoint, the strategy and the purpose of the war are not visible; the war is made up of exhaustion, monotony, hunger, hot coffee, dirt, interrupted by sudden attacks and deaths. Over everything...

(The entire section is 288 words.)