Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of 9 American Women by Louis AUCHINCLOSS

By Louis AUCHINCLOSS

Pioneers and Caretakers was once first released in 1965. In a sequence of stimulating and hugely readable essays, Mr. Auchincloss discusses the paintings of 9 American girls novelists in whom he unearths a solidarity of universal culture. because the identify of the e-book implies, Mr. Auchincloss regards those novelists as caretakers of our tradition and, even as, as literary pioneers. The writers he discusses are Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Stafford, Carson McCullers, and Mary McCarthy. In explaining his thesis Mr. Auchincloss writes: ''In the migrations of tribes the ladies have been accountable for the packing and maintenance of the family items. they've got regularly been the real conservatives, the caretakers of the tradition. yet simply because in our state we need to return so few a long time to get to the Indians, the features of the caretaker and of the pioneer became interestingly mixed. to maintain slightly the yankee culture, one has to maintain slightly the frontier. ''A striking factor approximately our girls writers is they have struck a extra affirmative word than the lads. Their darkness isn't really as darkish as that of Dreiser or Lewis or Faulkner or O'Neill, which isn't to claim that they see the US much less basically, yet that they see it extra discriminatingly. they've got a sharper experience in their stake within the nationwide background, and they're continually at paintings to maintain it. They by no means wreck; they by no means wish the fresh sweep. they're conservatives who're constantly attempting to conserve.''

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Here Mrs. Wharton sets herself the difficult task of scaring the reader in a ghost story without the aid of a ghost. The atmosphere has to be made correspondingly more omi- EDITH WHARTON 35 nous; Mary Pask must be whiter and more wraithlike on that foggy night in Brittany than if she were a true spirit, and the New Englanders of "Bewitched" must be gaunter and grimmer than the characters of Ethan Frame to make sufficiently terrible the ending that proves Venny Brand to have been masquerading. The last story of the collection, and its masterpiece, "A Bottle of Perrier," is not really a ghost story at all, but a tale of hatred and murder in the African desert where an eccentric Englishman lives in a lonely castle with his butler and a host of Arab servants.

Obviously, it was not an existence to satisfy indefinitely a mind rendered immune to Rhoda Broughton by the beauties of the Apocalypse, and gradually the young wife started to write, here and there a poem, then a sentimental short story with an uplifting conclusion, then a a serious book on ulterior decoration, then travel pieces, at last a historical novel. In her memoirs she describes her writing as the natural sequence of a childhood habit of "making up" on bits of brown wrapping paper, but Edmund Wilson suggests that she took it up because of the tensions of an incompatible marriage and at the advice of Dr.

Sanctuary (1903) demonstrates, a bit comically, the combined influence of Paul Bourget and James. In the first part of this absurd but charming little tale Kate Peyton marries a cheat and a liar in order to become the mother of the moral defective whom he might otherwise sire upon a woman less capable of raising such offspring — surely almost a parody of a Bourget theme — and hi the second, twenty-five years later, she contrives to keep this offspring from committing an odious fraud by radiating sympathy to him in silent Jamesian waves.

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