Autumn 1951 • Vol. XIII No. 4 Book ReviewsOctober 1, 1951 |

Sense and Sensibility

The Morning Watch by James Agee. Houghton Mifflin. $2.75. James Agee's novelette is an ambitious one. It makes large demands on the short fictional form and on language. It achieves some brilliant successes and flirts with some lamentable failures, as nearly every fiction must which proceeds on Mr. Agee's principle. This is the principle of tour de force or, as Melville said, "violent escalade." (I think of Melville because The Morning Watch, though more professional than anything Melville wrote, makes certain demands on metaphor and myth which are almost as fierce and as impossible as those in Pierre.) Since Mr. Agee is a very good writer, the virtue of his story generates the vice, and conversely. We discover striking poetic synthese; we are excited by a fast-paced shifting from experience to experience; we perceive a schematic assertion of "meaning." But, on the other hand, there is a great surplus of poetical consciousness as compared with what the persons and situations of

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Richard Chase (1914-1962) was a literary critic and a Professor of English at Columbia University. He is known for his work The American Novel and Its Tradition.

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