Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958

By Laurence G. Avery; Maxwell Anderson | Go to book overview
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emotions to extraordinary actions. And if it is to have the depth and reach of tragedy, it must pass before a setting that has in it something mysterious and titanic. It must rise above the usages of law, custom and religion into an elemental, spacious and timeless world, which we have all glimpsed but will never inhabit.

The people of such a world do not speak in the half-mumbled monosyllables of the average commuter hurrying with his toast in order to make a train. You cannot, of course, lift your dramatis personae off the ground in the first scene and make them playfellows of the gods, not if you draw your materials from the modern world as everybody knows it. But passion itself and the necessity for momentous decisions will lift them, if they have the courage to attempt a reshaping of their destinies without too much compromise with things as they are. Once they have broken the mould of formula that holds us so tightly, they can move free against a background of all that men and women have said and done since Helen burned Troy down.

1.
Broun ( 1888- 1939), columnist and drama critic on the World, for which Anderson wrote editorials. In his review of White Desert (unpublished play; see Catalogue, pp. 80-82), Broun said that the play was powerful but failed of greatness because of its departures from realism, particularly in its language, which "slips too often off the very edge of true talk" ( World, October 19, 1923, p. 15, col. 4). Anderson replied to the criticism of his verse tragedy in the present letter, and Broun printed the letter in his column of October 23, 1923, p. 11, col. 3, introducing it as a reply to his charge that the dialogue deviated from "true talk." The letter as printed begins: "'I meant it to,' writes Mr. Anderson."

18. TO ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT 1

[ New York City]
[ September, 1924]

Dear Mr. Woollcott--

Marry, sir, as for my friends they praise me and make an ass of me; now my foes tell me plainly I am an ass; so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the knowledge of myself, and by my friends I am abused: so that--if your four negatives make your two affirmitives--why then, the worse for my friends and the better for my foes.

Sincerely Maxwell Anderson

-20-

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