restricted access Contemporary Literature: Is Modern. Realism Frankness or Filth? To the Editor of The Forum
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582 ] Contemporary Literature: Is Modern Realism Frankness or Filth?1 To the Editor of The Forum The Forum, 81 (Feb 1929) xlvi-xlvii To the Editor: I have read with interest Mr. Granville Hicks’ article in your December number, and believe that I am in the main in agreement with him.2 There are one or two excellent points made by him which I think would bear a little heavier stress. In any discussion of the frankness and realism, as it is called on the one hand, or the “filthiness,” as it is called on the other, of contemporary literature , I think that the whole point is lost if the discussion is restricted to the question of propriety and decency. So far as my own work goes, I happen not to have a taste for such methods as those of Mr. Joyce or Mr. Lawrence, but I consider that merely a question of method, so that it is hardly more than a trifling accident that Joyce and Lawrence are censored and I am not.3 A certain number of books (not by Joyce or Lawrence) are produced which I deplore; but it is for the greater good that they should be allowed to circulate and sink by their own weight. Where I cordially support Mr. Hicks is in his alliance of the problem of decency in writing to a more general and more important problem. He remarks: The demise of the theory of progress, the skepticism about democracy, the decadence of liberalism – all these are evidence of the extent to which the old articles of faith are being questioned, even as were the articles they superseded. [803] This is the real point. The people whose work Mr. Hicks discusses are fighting – even when, like Mr. Huxley, they are doing so unconsciously and in spite of themselves – the battle which Arnold, in Culture and Anarchy, tells us that Newman was fighting against nineteenth-century liberalism.4 I shall not expect the Roman hierarchy of Massachusetts, which, like the rest of Ireland, north and south, seems to be thoroughly Puritanized, to be able to understand this statement.5 But to my mind the phenomena that [ 583 Contemporary Literature Mr. Hicksdiscussesareevidencesofatransition,arevoltagainstthepaganism of progress of the nineteenth century, toward a rediscovery of orthodox Christianity. Even “Freudianism,” crude and half-baked as it is, is a blundering step toward the Catholic conception of the human soul.6 The religious faith which Mr. Hicks suggests has been destroyed by “science” was a faith much better destroyed. Perhaps the most interesting example, from the point of view from which we are looking at the matter, is the spectacle of the grandson of Thomas Huxley discovering that human nature is fundamentally corrupt.7 This seems to me a very healthy sign. Mr. Huxley is on the way toward orthodoxy. Certainly, a healthy movement like this will carry along a great deal of rubbish with it, like the negligible work of Mr. Cabell; but oblivion will soontakecareofthat.8 AndtoparaphraseMr.Hicks’words,onewhothinks is only now justified in any surrender to church or to state, as the terminus of a voyage directed by “the courageous venturing of one’s own spirit.”9 London, England T. S. Eliot Notes 1. This title, given by the editors of Forum, stands over both TSE’s letter and that of another correspondent writing in response to the same article. 2. Granville Hicks (1901-1982), American author, critic, lecturer, and Marxist. In “The Gutter – And Then What?” Forum, 80 (Dec 1928), 801-811, Hicks discusses the “devotion” of modern literature “to whatever is stark, brutal, disgusting” (802), arguing that contemporary writers “want to get at something that is fundamental and true” (804). 3. Hicks writes, “The future may regard Huxley, Lawrence, Eliot, O’Neill, and Joyce as pioneers, or it may look on their works as experiments that led nowhere; but it cannot ignore their forthright honesty, their restless ingenuity, and their purely literary skill” (807). 4.AcquaintedwithAldousHuxleysince1917,TSEwroteabouthispoetryin“VersePleasant and Unpleasant” (1918): “It is difficult to tell what he is really like” (1.681) and expressed reservations about Huxley to his mother (L1 475). In “The Contemporary Novel” (1927), TSE described Huxley as “the sort of writer who must produce thirty bad novels before he arrives at the good one,” with “a certain natural, if undeveloped talent for seriousness” (3.92). In Chapter 1 of Culture and Anarchy (Smith, Elder, 1869), “Sweetness and Light,” Arnold writes, “what was it, this liberalism, as Dr...