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This theory of limits is part of the Christian residue in Cozzens' thought, i.e., that man is flawed and imperfectible. But since Cozzens holds with Arthur Winner and with the Nietzsche of his prep-school daysthat the universe is a "dreadful eyeless face" indifferent and unmindful of man, he cannot resolve the problem of evil he has raised. He can only try to outface it. "I am a man alone," says Arthur Winner, seemingly at the end of his tether but actually buckling on his armor of stoic pride. "I can endure more miseries and greater far, than my weak-hearted enemies dare offer!" Says Colonel Ross in Guard of Honor: "If mind failed you seeing no pattern and heart failed you seeing no point, the stout stubborn will must be up and doing ... A man must stand up and do the best he can with what there is." A Cozzens hero always gets up off the mat for the next roundor goes back into court to file another brief.
A Handful Only. If the philosophical tension of a Cozzens novel is always high, the emotional voltage is often low. To Cozzens, passion is always mess, never force. His heroes seem to suffer from what E. M. Forster calls "the underdeveloped heart"not cold, just underdeveloped.
It is perhaps a small price to pay for Author Cozzens' other gifts. Cozzens has never been decoyed from the novelist's, chief taskto hold a mirror up to nature. He has never used the novel as a tract-basket for a cause or a tear duct for an autobiographical cry. He has created recognizable people with recognizable problems in a recognizable world. He resembles no one now writing, but his genre is that of George Eliot and Joseph Conrad the novel of moral choice resolved by force of character. An unstinting professional, he has never written a shoddy line or truckled to popular fancies or cliquish fads. With each book he has grown in craft, in insight, in authority.
Under the aspect of posterity, time may well second the judgment of the late Bernard DeVoto, who once wrote of Cozzens: "He is not a literary man, he is a writer. There are a handful like him in every age. Later on it turns out that they were the ones who wrote that age's literature."