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This controversy may be heightened by Cozzens' feudally patronizing portrayal of the Negroes who serve Brocton's first families and are treated by them as near equals precisely because they make no unseemly claims to equality, e.g., in Arthur Winner's church, the Negro sexton deferentially takes communion last. Racially barbed is Cozzens' depiction of Eliot Woolf, a razor-sharp New York lawyer and a Jew-turned-Episcopalian whose "astute smelling-out of every little advantage . . . outside due process" makes Arthur Winner slightly queasy.
Perfume of Sanctity. Least flattering of all is the portrait Cozzens draws of Marjorie Penrose's proselytizing Roman Catholic friend, Mrs. Pratt. Mrs. Pratt has a sweet tooth for vicarious sins, and she loves the gooey drippings of intimate confidences from flesh-bedeviled souls like Marjorie. About her person she dabs the odor of sanctity as if it were the latest Parisian perfume. But as she prattles of sin and piety in the quiet of Arthur Winner's garden, her innuendoes loose the first of the novel's rockslides of revelation. On the very day of his first wife's death, this pillar of respectability, this devotee of reason, Arthur Winner, had embarked on an adulterous affair with Marjorie Penrose, wife of his crippled friend. In flashback ignominy, Winner relives their mute animal couplings, the gross infidelity of "two cheap sneaks." With this recollection the ordeal of Arthur Winner has begun.
Overwrought by her brother's case,
Helen Detweiler commits suicide, possibly for lack of some assurance, which Winner could have given her, that her brother would escape prison. As Lawyer Winner digs up her will from the office vault, his eye falls on some of Noah's papers. Tuttle, the rock of probity, turns out to be an embezzler who has been juggling his accounts for years. Confiding his numbing discovery to Julius Penrose, Arthur Winner is jolted yet againPenrose has known and kept silent not only about Tuttle's secret, but about Winner's as well. Faced with the ineluctable ironies and tragedies of the human condition, Arthur Winner resolves to pick up the pieces and carry on, in the almost existentialist conviction that life may have no meaning but must be lived.
The Clouded Glass. Novelist Cozzens has a mind like a lamp, and every character and event in By Love Possessed is bathed in the glow of a reflective intelligence. Every motivation rings true; each episode is part of a seamless whole; the taste of reality is unmistakable. The audacious scope of the novel is nothing less than the anatomy of lovefrom filial to fraternal, from spiritual to concupiscent, from self-regarding to self-sacrificing. Its disenchantment is equally totalthe possessors are methodically dispossessed, love conquers nothing, the lovers lose all.