Books: The Hermit of Lambertville

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Dunned by his creditors, on probation for cutting classes, living beyond his mother's means (his father had died in 1920), Cozzens got a leave of absence at the end of his sophomore year, and never went back to Harvard's vine leaves. The school rewarded its prodigal son with an honorary Litt. D. degree in 1952 (Cozzens says he accepted it only to please his mother, who died a few months later). Nowadays, on rare trips to New York, he likes to lunch at the Harvard Club, "where everybody acts morose and nobody looks at anybody."

Bernice the Breadwinner. After Harvard, Cozzens hibernated in Canada for a while on a publisher's handout of $15 a week, finished a mawkish Elizabethan historical romance (Michael Scarlett), taught some American sugar planters' children English and math in Cuba, junketed around Europe as tutor to a 14-year-old polio victim. Later, he drew on his Cuban impressions to write two more apprentice novels, Cockpit and The Son of Perdition, unlikely tales of tropic adventure. In Ask Me Tomorrow, Cozzens used his European experiences for a crisply satiric self-portrait, complete with a characteristic blast at the American expatriates.

Emotionally, Cozzens drifted until he was himself possessed by love. He first met Sylvia Bernice Baumgarten in mid-1926 on business, when she was a fledgling literary agent for Brandt & Kirkpatrick (now Brandt & Brandt). Of his feelings at the time, he says laconically: "I suppose sex entered into it. After all, what's a woman for?" But in dedicating Son of Perdition, Cozzens was more gallant. The flyleaf is inscribed to her with these lines from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida: "Outliving her beauty's outward, with a mind/ That doth renew swifter than blood decays." Cozzens recalls: "Mother almost died when I married a Jew, but later when she saw I was being decently cared for, she realized that it was the best thing that could have happened to me."

Bernice Cozzens is a slight, trim woman with azure blue eyes, brown hair drawn taut in a bun, and a little-girl air of gravity. A passionately liberal Democrat, she is known as one of the shrewdest, scrappiest literary agents (annual income: about $30,000) in Manhattan, handling a stable of topflight authors, including rock-solid Republican James Gould Cozzens. Their childless marriage has been a remarkable success. While he stuck to his writing and made little money from it, she was the real breadwinner. Says Cozzens: "It could have been a humiliating situation, but I guess I had a certain native conceit and felt that her time was well spent."

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