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REVIEW - LOST FICTION NOTES ON SOME RECENTLY FOUND LOST AMERICAN FICTION / Louis Gallo Frances Newman, The Hard-Boiled Virgin (Boni & Liveright; 1926, University of Georgia Press, 1980), 285 pp. Kathleen Morehouse, Rain on the Just (L. Furman, 1936; Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), 329 pp. Caroline Gordon, Aleck Maury, Sportsman (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934; Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), 300 pp. WE ARE ALL aware of fiction "within the canon" of American literature that is lost all but in name. Today, who reads anything by, say, Melville, other than "Bartelby and Scrivener," "Benito Cereño," "Billy Budd," and Moby Dick? Graduate seninars and Melville scholars aside, works like Omoo, Redburn and White Jacket are just as good as lost, despite their continued appearance in the "Classics" sections of large bookstores. Most of us familiarize ourselves with such titles and are glad to wait for someone else to give them further attention. But another kind of lost fiction, three recently "found" specimens of which will occupy us here, remains for the most part unexhumed by doctoral candidates and exacting specialists alike. Why someone chose to resurrect a book like Frances Newman's Hard-Boiled Virgin is hard to discern. Anna Firor Scott, who provides a preface to the new edition, points out that historical rather than literary concerns influence the editor's decision. It may be true that, like The Awakening (another previously lost novel), the book deserves a place in the pioneering fiction of feminism; but, unlike Kate Chopin's novel, that place belongs to the old Dewey Decimal section of any large library, where it can abide in relative privacy. Merleau-Ponty maintained that good writing always disappears as one reads it—an interesting way of saying that good prose is limpid, a clear window through which meaning may be seen. Frances Newman's prose, on the other hand, is a bewildering jungle which may frustrate even the most linguistically agile reader: When Cadet Pringle Rhett occupied the pause between two dances with the formality of his request that she would allow him to make out her hop-card for the first Saturday in May, she provided for her victory in the eyes of Isabel Ambler and Margaret Cameron by telling him that she would not be able to believe he really wanted her unless he The Missouri Review · 91 wrote to her to come back, and she was comforted by the realization that they could not possibly guess how much lighter his eyes were than the face which framed them as dull oak ledges framed the pale hot water of the primeval bathtubs in which she had passed so much of her earlier youth. One may puzzle over why such prose was published in 1926. Why it resurfaced in 1980 is yet more mysterious. Ifit is true, as Newman claimed elsewhere, that her novel marked the first time a woman ever told the truth about herself and women in general, that "truth" is approximately as palpable as Arthur Jensens' race/intelligence correlations. Virgin's heroine, Katherine Faraday, makes a dreadful ado about the fact that she does not possess great or even passable beauty. Katherine takes it for granted that her lack of golden curls and watery blue eyes dooms her as inescapably as the Delphic oracle doomed Oedipus. A fashionable Atlanta debutante simply cannot do without. And that is exactly the status to which Katherine aspires—the eternal debutante—both in her innocent youth and long after her superb intelligence has punctured the myth of Southern maidenhood. Although she never quite puts it this way, Katherine had she the choice, would have opted for curls and eyes over intellect and wit, which she does possess in fearsome abundance. Why? Because Katherine is obsessed with men—as a young girl, she is obsessed with tall blond military cadets, and later, as she matures, she is obsessed with famous writers. She realizes that men will make fools of themselves over the curls and eyes, whereas they will reject wit and brains. Therefore, plain, desperate Katherine despises men precisely because she loves them to excess, and the entire novel chronicles a series of embarrassing failures to enchant the men...


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