The Spyglass, Views and Reviews, 1924-1930: Selected and Edited by John Tyree Fain

By Donald Davidson | Go to book overview

Farewell--and Hail! Critic's Almanac February 16, 1930

Odious and unjust as comparisons may be, one must perforce reflect now and then on the singular conjunction of events. It so happens that James Branch Cabell says farewell to the novel at the time when Thomas Wolfe makes his first appearance as a novelist. And although The Way of Ecben and Look Homeward, Angel are not of a like order, it is not stretching the truth to say that they come from the same condition of mind. It is not exactly a lamentable condition, for the by-products and incidental features are such as give delight to many persons; but it gives no firm assurance to those who may look for the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

Mr. Cabell, already a veteran of a distinction that we must all respect, tells one of his old stories over again, or a variation of his perpetual theme that "the dream is better," that beauty is elusive and not to be held for more than a moment, and that nevertheless, men do well to prefer to spend their lives seeking it rashly, in spite of the certainty of defeat. What happens to Alfgar, in this brief tale, is hardly more than a rewriting of what has happened to all Mr. Cabell's heroes; and Ettarre and Horvendile and other shadowy creatures of the Cabellian mythology make their ironic appearance as before, with cues, entrances and exits intoned in Mr. Cabell's beautiful and deprecatory prose manner.

When this is done, there is still about a fourth of the book to read, which is called the "Colophon." Here Mr. Cabell delivers his personal confidence about his generation, his own writing, and his firm determination to bring the biography of Manuel and associated projects to an end with this book. Some of his statements have already had great

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