Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

ARCHIBALD MACLEISH AND THE WORD

MR. ARCHIBALD MACLEISH, in his new role of Librarian of Congress, has suddenly taken a turn which must be astonishing even to those who have followed his previous career.

In a speech before the American Association for Adult Education, which has been prominently reported in the newspapers and printed by the New Republic in its issue of June 10, he has declared that the war novels of such writers as John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway (to name only the Americans mentioned), in their railing against "the statements of conviction, of purpose and of belief on which the war of 1914-18 was fought," have left the younger generation "defenseless against an enemy whose cynicism, whose brutality and whose stated intention to enslave present the issue of the future in moral terms--in terms of conviction and belief." Without, says Mr. MacLeish, attempting to "judge these writers," and confessing that he himself at one time indulged a similar impulse, he sternly insists that Dos Passos, Hemingway and Company"must face the fact that the books they wrote in the years just after the War have done more to disarm democracy in the face of fascism than any other single influence."

Now, in the first place, it is obviously absurd for Mr. MacLeish to cite, as he does, two passages describing the feelings of characters in novels by Dos Passos and Hemingway as evidence of the authors' own lack of convictions or

-3-

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