Transatlantic Patterns

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Martin Green has written an amazing variety of books including a science fiction novel, The Earth Again Redeemed; a historical chronicle of The Von Richtofen Sisters; and the well-received Children of the Sun, a narration about Decadence in post-World War I England. His wide range of interests is again evident in Transatlantic Patterns, a group of essays which compares England with America in a number of ways to reveal how certain cultural patterns—concepts of marriage, senses of humor, detective heroes, and political and literary values—distinguish British writers and thinkers from their American counterparts. The breadth of Green’s inquiries is great. Yet, his lively, involved style makes certain ideas like the British concept of history as “costumed pageant,” accessible to the general reader by drawing upon his personal experiences as student, teacher, reader, and critic on both sides of the Atlantic. When Green recalls his decision to develop a good sense of “historical cliché” to achieve a “First” on his English Literature Tripos exams at Cambridge in 1948, he does so in order to explain the tendency of Virginia Woolf in Orlando and Between the Acts and other British writers to preserve their strong sense of the past. Green’s personal illustrations enliven this discussion of British and American cultural history and literature and add distinctive flavor to the volume as a whole.

Green prefaces his first lengthy discussion of marriage as portrayed in the fiction of W. D. Howells and D. H. Lawrence with a short chapter labeled “Two Cambridge Epiphanies.” The first revelation concerns a Cambridge, England, observation while the second insight was gained in Cambridge, Massachusetts, twenty years later. These two personal epiphanies yield an analogue concerning the two countries’ representative character that Green uses throughout the book: the “Demetrian” British intellect versus the “Promethian” or “Faustian” American character. Thus, Green perceives marriage in Howells’ A Hazard of New Fortunes as desecrated by a lack of emotion whereas D. H. Lawrence redefines the life-giving relationship between man and woman in his novels. In fact, the entire “erotic” movement in twentieth century writing seeks fulfillment in the famous sensuality of Lawrence’s women characters, but American sensuality appears very fragmented and deflated in Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s world of struggling men. Doris Lessing’s fictional couple reflects completely these two different versions of erotica in union: Anna Wulf clearly derives from Lawrence’s “magna mater,” Ursula Brangwen, while Saul Green parallels the Faustian “phallacists” of Mailer and Bellow: men like Stephen Rojack of An American Dream and Henderson, the “Rain King,” who are identified by a “naked egotism.”

Likewise, English and American senses of humor reveal this same dialectic; Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee,” Hank Morgan, is a technocrat, a colonial imperialist, progressive and democratic, while Evelyn Waugh’s protagonists are decidedly anti-technocratic and anti-progressive, clearly representing an aristocratic dandy humor appealing to a more limited audience. Green’s chapters on Evelyn Waugh’s meaning and his relationship to the commedia dell’arte provide original insight, but they also impede the flow of Green’s narrative. These two previously...

(The entire section is 1420 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Best Sellers. XXXVII, July, 1977, p. 121.

Booklist. LXXIII, July 1, 1977, p. 1621.

New York Review of Books. XXIV, August 4, 1977, p. 23.

New York Times Book Review. August 7, 1977, p. 13.

Village Voice. XXII, July 25, 1977, p. 59.