Thomas Williams R. V. Cassill - Essay

R. V. Cassill

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In periods of social equilibrium it may suffice the artist to be the "antenna of the race," as Pound called those who register the substance and force of realities ignored by the complacent sensibility. Now, in the fissioning of legal, political, moral, academic and semantic anarchy the artist—specifically the novelist—becomes by default also the conservator of the self-destructing community in which he finds himself. This is Williams's implied theme. It is the principle on which he has constructed a credible hero—the last truly responsible man.

Aaron Benham the novelist sits, in the beginning, among his own written contributions to the blithering universe exploding away from his study. Even in his own room the "one firm label in this area seems to be 'miscellaneous.'" Responsibility begins with the recognition that his finished books and stories have become fragments of the general chaos on the instant of their completion. The order, meaning and celebration to which he is committed as a writer lie in the work to be done, in fictionalizing the dreams and circumstances of his middle age….

Benham is also a fully married man. His novel in hand is a commitment to reconciling his present marriage with the pathos of the college love affair he is writing about. So he must fictionalize the sacrifice of "Mary Tolliver" to balance his moral and emotional accounts with the living mother of his children. And since Mary is...

(The entire section is 511 words.)