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On Second Thought

On Second Thought

JAMES GRAY
Copyright Date: 1946
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv2w5
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    On Second Thought
    Book Description:

    On Second Thought was first published in 1946. NOW book editor of the Chicago Daily News, James Gray has during the past two decades interpreted the literary scene for Midwest readers in entertaining daily columns for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch. ON SECOND THOUGHT rescues much of his best work from the oblivion of newsprint. It combines the opinions thrown off at white heat to meet five o’clock deadlines and those born of quiet contemplation and reflection over the years. The result is a book in which the critic emerges as a creative artist and the journalist as a discerning historian of literature. James Gray’s writing is good reading and no matter how seriously and energetically he may be tracing the course of a writer’s universality and talent, he cannot resist the delight of an apt, sparkling, or sagacious phrase. Nor can the reader resist a chuckle of appreciation and pleasure in the author’s own poised prose. The reader gets a sense of immediacy from James Gray’s compact style, but also feels that here is a critic we can trust - one who probes keenly and wisely, one who lucidly traces the unobserved currents connecting headline to headline. ON SECOND THOUGHT is an extraordinarily complete and vivid panorama of contemporary literature and of the writers who have created it. Over 50 modern authors are here reviewed, from our American Nobel prize winners, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, and Pearl Buck, and the “garrulous” English uncles, Arnold Bennett, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and John Galsworthy, to the “half-gods on the threshold,” Feike Feikema, Ann Chidester, Carson McCullers, and Wallace Stegner. Author in his own right of both fiction and nonfiction, Gray has also written many short plays for little-theater groups and has served as consultant for Warner Brothers. His published titles include the novels Shoulder the Sky, Wake and Remember, Wings of Great Desire, and Vagabond Path. He has contributed The Illinois to the “Rivers of America,” and Pine, Stream, and Prairie to “The American Scene.” ON SECOND THOUGHT is his first volume of literary criticism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3643-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-2)
  3. Did I Say That?
    (pp. 3-9)

    That suave and silken ironist, Somerset Maugham, made the suggestion inCakesandAlethat to become august, in British eyes, a man has only to survive for more than the ordinary number of years. To the uncritical majority of humankind, longevity and venerability are, Mr. Maugham suspects, synonymous.

    This is one of those unobtrusive and mouselike bits of cynicism that scurries busily through the mind, gnawing at the basic structure of one’s faith in the dignity of the human spirit and in the significance of any effort. But perhaps the philosophers of negation serve a useful purpose in dissuading...

  4. Gods by Adoption
    (pp. 10-35)
    Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill and Pearl Buck

    Those talent scouts for posterity, the directors of the Nobel Fund, had not, before the year 1930, found an American writer worthy of consideration as a candidate for the prize in the field of literature. The tremendous prestige of the award, which makes of the ordinary earnest, worried scrivener a god by adoption of the Swedish Academy, had shone into various obscure corners of Europe but had left the continent of North America still in outer darkness.

    The official attitude of the European world of letters was still that expressed, with sweeping dismissiveness, by Sydney Smith in a review of...

  5. Four Rich Uncles
    (pp. 36-58)
    Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw

    In one of her engaging essays, characterized, as so much of her work has been, by a combination of impudence and insight, Rebecca West referred to “the four uncles” of contemporary English letters: Bennett, Galsworthy, Wells, and Shaw. Upon everyone of the generation that came to maturity at the close of the First World War these conspicuous representatives of the culture of our time exercised a kind of familial influence. Whether or not one greatly admired them, they were ubiquitously present in the consciousness of all who took the art of letters seriously. One’s mother and one’s aunt spoke of...

  6. Tenderly Tolls the Bell for Three Soldiers
    (pp. 59-82)
    Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway

    They were products of the midwestern tradition, these three soldiers; one of them lived his youth in St. Paul, the others theirs in the environs of Chicago. In their late teens or early twenties they closed their schoolbooks with a mixture of relief, impatience, resentment, and curiosity to go away to war. They did not like what they encountered in the midst of the military experience. They were, however, attracted by the freedom from parochialism they found in the European world.

    Each in his different way was a glittering example of the psychology of the “sad young men” about whom...

  7. “Very Important Personages”
    (pp. 83-97)
    Edith Wharton, John P. Marquand and Struthers Burt

    One of the dramatic accelerations achieved by our American culture is that of the social cycle, as it whirls dizzily through its several traditional phases. In many American cities there are families that have managed to pass from pioneering exuberance to decadence in three generations. In the cities of the East, where people of the same family tradition have held leadership as arbiters of the elegances for two centuries or more, a patina of sophistication heavily encrusts the social code, giving it a look of antiquity far beyond its years. In the pageant of the ages our culture is still...

  8. Forever Panting and Forever Young
    (pp. 98-115)
    Thomas Wolfe and William Saroyan

    When a way of life is new, the writers who rise up to describe its character and celebrate its excellences tend to dramatize in their own temperaments the youth of the society they love. Today this is most noticeable in the Russian men of letters, whose passion for the USSR is expressed often with the egocentric earnestness of adolescence.

    In his novelDays and NightsKonstantine Simonov has given full and exuberant utterance to this self-love. He writes as though there were no one in all Russia who is older than twenty-nine, at the very most. Though the background of...

  9. A Local Habitation
    (pp. 116-140)
    Erskine Caldwell, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and John Steinbeck

    If a critic of American writing were required, at the point of a gun, to say what manifestation of the creative impulse has seemed to him the most significant of the past two decades, he would answer, just a little sulkily, that it was probably the development of the school of literary interpretation called regionalism.

    His reluctance to commit himself even to that extent would be due to a fear that he might be suspected of joining a cult. A school of writing, if it becomes too closely organized and self-conscious, is likely to gather unto itself some of the...

  10. Aunts from Virginia
    (pp. 141-153)
    Willa Cather and Ellen Glasgow

    Virginia, once the all but unassailable stronghold of the South’s lavender-and-old-lace tradition, has in our time made honorable amends for its fatuity of the past by producing two writers of distinction whose intelligences were shrewd and sharp and who took no nonsense from the code of the cavaliers. Willa Cather and Ellen Glasgow were American literature’s aristocratic, but at least partially emancipated, aunts from Virginia.

    One writes of them in the past tense because Ellen Glasgow has lately died and Willa Cather seems to have said farewell to her writing career. But their contributions to the tradition of our time...

  11. The Catastrophe of Competence
    (pp. 154-164)
    Edna Ferber and Louis Bromfield

    The bland satisfaction taken by nonartists in the thought of the sufferings of artists is one of the constant features of the tension between two worlds. Writers themselves do not share the enthusiasm, which has been expressed not infrequently by critical observers, for starvation as the diet best designed to nourish poetic imagination and dramatic intuition. The unheated attic room which has so great a romantic appeal for the sensitive and suggestible soul who does not have to live in it; the long period of apprenticeship which seems so obviously rewarding to the man who has never had to wait...

  12. Obituary for the Human Race
    (pp. 165-183)
    Aldous Huxley and Somerset Maugham

    A curious intellectual fatality has hung over talents of two of England’s most skillful men of letters, putting a bleak and oppressive shadow upon the undeniable brilliance of their gifts. Though they share little else as artists, as men of ideas, or as interpreters of the contemporary social scene, Aldous Huxley and W. Somerset Maugham have in common a tragic weakness which devitalizes the philosophy of each, making it seem whimsical and negative. Neither of them is able to feel any hope for the future of mankind. Both have spent the past two decades writing, bit by bit, obituaries for...

  13. Dream of Unfair Women
    (pp. 184-200)
    Nancy Hale, Clare Boothe Luce and Dorothy Parker

    One of the favorite themes of fiction always has been the battle of the sexes. At least from the time of Aristophanes and his Lysistrata, there has been a useful, if neither edifying nor illuminating, formula for the comic presentation of the idea that men and women must forever strive each to defeat both the lower cravings and the higher yearnings of the other. In our own time James Thurber has used the pages of the New Yorker in an effort to reduce this hackneyed notion to so ragged and threadbare an absurdity that no one can ever entertain it...

  14. Hypatia at the Helm
    (pp. 201-221)
    Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, Phyllis Bentley and Storm Jameson

    Nothing, with the possible exception of headgear for women, goes so completely out of date as satire. Loyal Savoyards still like to remind themselves of the verbal ingenuity of W. S. Gilbert’s song in The Mikado about the “little list” of folk who “never would be missed.” Among them he mentioned prominently “the lady novelist.” Today we cannot dismiss her so lightly. Indeed, in England the chances now seem to be far greater that the gentleman novelist will offer something vague, innocuous, and, in any exacting sense, meaningless than that the lady novelist will turn up with such a book....

  15. We Walk in Anguish
    (pp. 222-245)
    Thomas Mann, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, André Malraux, Jules Remains, Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Koestler, Mark Aldanov and Georges Duhamel

    There is a cycle to the development of a society as there is to the development of an individual. A young culture, like a young man, is eager, curious, vigorous, and naive. A middle-aged culture is meditative, and, whether the balance of its philosophic attitudes inclines toward the skeptical view of life or the sanguine, its attention is fixed upon intellectual values. A senile culture is devitalized and, in a half-bored, half-fearful restlessness, is chiefly concerned, often on a low level of superstition, with other-worldly matters. When the cycle has been completed, if the culture itself does not disappear completely,...

  16. Half-Gods on the Threshold
    (pp. 246-258)

    An observer of the literary scene is never in greater danger of seeming to assume the role of Sir Oracle than when he undertakes to anticipate the judgment of posterity by suggesting which ones of the new writers are most likely to achieve permanent place on the library shelf. It is even difficult to define at all accurately the state or condition of being a “new” writer.

    A young man or woman who has produced a single book feels exuberantly and exultantly creative. But the cautious critic waits for him to come a cropper with his second book and then...

  17. Index to Authors and Titles
    (pp. 259-264)