Books: The Hermit of Lambertville

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Anti-Sentimentalist. Cozzens himself often talks as if he did not give a damn. As an acquaintance puts it: "He is a shy, sweet man who says impermissible things." Cozzens will sneer of a friend: "Oh, he's one of those fellows that want equality for Indians." He will say on the race issue: "I like anybody if he's a nice guy, but I've never met many Negroes who were nice guys." He says what the public-relations-minded would never dare say—not only from self-confessed snobbery or in tribute to the Toryism of his maternal ancestry, but because he wants to remind himself and others that he is not a sentimentalist.

In Cozzens' eyes, the great villain—"the underlying principle that has ruined American fiction"—is sentimentality.

One of the worst of sentimental notions is that "the artist and intellectual is alien in this country. That's nonsense.

I'm considered a man of distinction because I write books. The truth is, we don't deserve it." Cozzens regards most of his fellow writers as softies. Says he: "The Old Man and the Sea could have run in Little Folks magazine. Under the rough exterior of Hemingway, he's just a great big bleeding heart. Sinclair Lewis was a crypto-sentimentalist and a slovenly writer who managed a slight falsification of life in order to move the reader. Faulkner falsified life for dramatic effect. It's sentimentality disguised by the corncob. I can't read ten pages of Steinbeck without throwing up. I couldn't read the proletarian crap that came out in the '30s; again you had sentimentalism—the poor oppressed workers."

Cozzens' favorite writer is Swift. Among moderns, he prefers Maugham, Huxley and the early Waugh—all of which suggests that he is an ironist in default of being a satirist, possibly for lack of humor or savagery. Like any good storyteller, James Gould Cozzens peddles no "message." Says he: "I have no thesis except that people get a very raw deal from life. To me, life is what life is."

The Classical View. The typical Cozzens hero is devoid of heroics, bent not on expressing himself—like the protoplasmic Lennies, the torturedly egocentric Eugene Gants—but on knowing himself. Contrasting "romanticism" and "classicism," the English critic T. E. Hulme once wrote: "To the one party, man's nature is, like a well, to the other like a bucket. The view which regards man as a well, a reservoir full of possibilities, I call the romantic; the one which regards him as a very finite and fixed creature, I call the classical." Cozzens' wise men try never to get too big for their buckets.

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