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Memories and Reflections

ISSUE:  Spring 1943

/ Came Out of the Eighteenth Century. By John Andrew Rice. Harper and Brothers. $3.00. Memories of Happy Days. By Julian Green. Harper and Brothers. $3.00.

The present literary fashion of making copy of one’s family is followed in the first part of John Andrew Rice’s “I Came Out of the Eighteenth Century.” This son of a South Carolina Methodist minister comments with Swiftlike irony (he calls himself elsewhere a “recognized authority” on Swift) on society, education, religion, and politics in the belated South. One uncle was a bishop and another is a United States senator, both of whom he satirizes. After the childhood years on a plantation and a brief stay in the “female” college at Columbia of which his father was president, he sought education at a famous Tennessee boys’ school, at Tulane University, and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford; later on he taught at a mid-western university, a Florida college, and finally at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, of which he was a founder. It was a progress in mental and spiritual emancipation, disillusion, and in professional failure (he remained only a few years in any one institution) which ended in a friend’s house in New Jersey where he began writing. He looked backward and inward and found grist for his mill, out of which came a book of retrospections and introspections that recently won a Harper prize. This new volume on the way of all flesh, or rather on the southern and mid-western brand, is a pungent indictment of certain hypocrisies, evasions, and injustices in education and society as seen and felt by a man of quixotic temper whose crusading resulted in a defeatist attitude. Mr, Rice has an unusual gift for personal satire and brilliantly exposes the foibles of his victims. In reading such a book, however, one inevitably wishes that the pilloried objects of his mordant humor might have their say in defense of that terrible eighteenth century which was more critical than creative. But what would this emancipated Carolinian have? At the end of his book of strictures on men and institutions he declares that if he might be born again, he would wish to have that event happen in South Carolina, preferably in Charleston, and “for father I should want again a man of God.”

A very different sort of work is Julian Green’s “Memories of Happy Days,” which also won a Harper prize. It is the first book written in English by this distinguished novelist, born in Paris and now living in this country. And an altogether delightful volume it is. Incidents and impressions of a happy childhood in Paris, his schooldays there, his months in the American Field Service during the first World War, his three years at the University of Virginia, his return to his beloved France and the successful beginnings of a literary career, all these varied experiences are related with a simplicity, good taste, and delicate humor that give a pervasive charm both to the style and the matter of his reminiscences. Admiration for his handsome Virginia father and his very American mother from Savannah, both of whom understood and encouraged the shy, sensitive, intellectual boy, shines through the pages of this intimate autobiography. Only once does he seem to have provoked his even-tempered father to active righteous indignation: one Sunday in church the boy awkwardly sat down on that gentleman’s precious high hat. Julian, who spoke French as his native tongue, was quietly amused on one occasion at his vivacious mother’s “daring fluency” in the use of that language in a Paris courtroom which was convulsed with laughter at her reckless Gallic syntax. It was, indeed, a happy family which, though long used to foreign scenes, never lost its allegiance to America, particularly to the South, which no doubt accounts for the senior Green’s choice of a university for his son. His first year at the University of Virginia was a lonely one and he kept reverting to his dear Paris, but the romantic associations of the place and its architectural beauty grew on him:

“Had any one had the idea of looking for me between the hours of two and six in the afternoon, I might invariably have been found in one of the alcoves of the Rotunda, sitting at one of the heavy oak tables with books on every side. It pleased my vanity to think that I was sitting where, perhaps, Edgar Allan Poe had sat before me, and that what I saw, as I looked out of the window, he had also seen and dreamed over, the long row of white pillars bordering the lawn, the terraces, and the neo-classic facades of the professors’ houses.”

He was, he says, living in a world of his own, and he “was at an age when one enjoys being serious and taking life in dead earnest.” Perhaps it was during this academic residence that Julian Green began to think more deeply on matters which would later have a literary flowering. One recalls that the scene of his first novel was laid at a kinswoman’s house in Fauquier County, Virginia. Soon after returning to Paris he began that series of novels and short stories which soon caused him to be acclaimed as one of the foremost younger writers of France. This last volume, written in his ancestral country, is the beginning, let us hope, of more fruitful years of authorship. For American literature needs the contribution of this man who declared, in commenting adversely on a popular French writer’s drab diction: “I believed that the aim of literature was to create an impression of beauty even in describing what was not beautiful, and that a book written in order to demonstrate solely the author’s cleverness might just as well not have been written.” Certainly Julian Green’s latest book creates an impression of beauty.


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