In My Opinion: An Inquiry into the Contemporary Novel

By Orville Prescott | Go to book overview

XV
FOUR GREAT NOVELS

"For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor."

-- Psalms, 8:5

Up until this point in our discussion of some representative modern novelists, the nature of their achievement and the ideas which they champion, we have encountered a wide variety of good, bad and indifferent books, but no great ones. Several of the novelists, Conrad Richter, A. B. Guthrie, Jr., John P. Marquand, Joyce Cary, James Gould Cozzens, Rumer Godden, Anne Goodwin Winslow and Dan Wickenden, are the objects of my enthusiastic admiration. I have derived intense pleasure from their books and for years have done my best in print, on the lecture platform and in private conversation to spread the good news, to persuade others that the art of fiction is flourishing still and that truly fine novels await their attention. But I have not claimed that any of the books written by these excellent novelists are "great."

A critic soon learns to treat that dangerous word with gingerly caution. If he doesn't it will bite him. Because he is so accustomed to reading mediocre books he is exposed to the occupational hazard of overgenerosity to good ones. If in his first flush of enthusiasm for a good book he calls it great he may be terribly

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