Books: The Hermit of Lambertville

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To heighten the impact of these revelations, Cozzens feeds the reader key episodes from Arthur Winner's past with flashbacks so deft as to be intravenous. There is Lawyer Arthur Winner Sr., a dispassionate Victorian man of reason, his son's model and hero. An agnostic, he has been cut down in the fullness of life by cancer, and young Arthur learns his first sobering lesson—"How dies the wise man ... as the fool." With life's occasional flair for overemphasis, the lesson is repeated when Arthur's first wife, Hope, dies from the aftereffects of childbirth. Something else has died first—the youthful illusion that they had fallen in love with each other, when they had only fallen in love with love. In name Hope was a wife, in reality she was a permanently affronted virgin. Reflecting on the ignorance of his early years, Arthur Winner learns another lesson: "Youth's a kind of infirmity."

Calm v. Passion. Arthur Winner marries again. Clarissa is tall, athletic and thirtyish, an avid latecomer to the art of love. The hour of that art which the couple share in Cozzens' pages has not been paralleled for clinical candor in U.S. fiction since Edmund Wilson singed the censors with Memoirs of Hecate County. Yet Lawyer Winner has a more demanding love—the law. The law is his passion precisely because it rules out passion. He is comforted by its seductive repose, "that majestic calm of reason designed to curb all passions or enthusiasms of emotion."

A squalid case of uncurbed passion soon claims Arthur Winner's professional attention as he undertakes the defense of an alleged rapist, the weak-willed brother of a self-abnegating girl named Helen Detweiler who—this is her form of love —has sacrificed her youth to the brother's upbringing.

Love and the law: those are the story's opposed forces, and much of their contention centers around Brocton's old courthouse, its pillared cupola flanked by great trees, its tolling tower bell pacing life in the town. In the gallery of lawyers serving beneath the bell, the outstanding figure is Noah Tuttle, Winner's senior partner, a doughty old lion of the law in his white-maned 80s, crotchety, plainspoken, a portable archive of torts, statutes and the cumulative wisdom of old age.

If Noah is the man whom everyone trusts, Winner's other partner, Julius Penrose, is the man who mistrusts everyone. His is the scalded mind of the archskeptic who has supped so full of human follies that the race of man almost makes him retch. Crippled by polio, he has become a corrosive, nonstop monologuist with a tongue like a poisoned dart. Some of his more sardonic thrusts are directed at the Roman Catholic faith, which his wife Marjorie, a guilt-ridden sensualist of masochistic tendencies, is about to embrace. The bitterness of his remarks, including his view of his wife's imminent conversion as a "peace-at-any-price panic," will doubtless help make By Love Possessed a "controversial" novel.

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