Morand on Dos Passos

I just finished Paul Morand’s book of recollections and observations, Venices (published by Pushkin Press), which I shall post about later today or tomorrow.

Venices includes Morand’s reflections on a number of celebrated people he knew over the years (he’s a terrible, perhaps more accurately an accomplished, namedropper). Among them was John Dos Passos.

Dos Passos died while Morand was writing Venices, prompting Morand to add the following footnote in reference to him. I repeat it here in its entirety, be warned, it’s a touch depressing:

October 1970. Sheltering from an autumn storm in the Cafe de la Fenice, I perused the newspapers; I learned of the death of Dos Passos: : “My ambition is to sing the Internationale”, Dos Passos used to say, as a young man; he was then the equal of Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Faulkner; Sartre considered him the best novelist of the time. From 1930 on Dos Passos opposed the “New Deal”; he considered the Second World War to be a catastrophe. “We can only regret that such an accomplished literary technician should have adopted such a narrow viewpoint and that the brilliant constellation of 1920 now shines so dimly …” (Herald Tribune, 29 September 1970). “In 1929, Dos Passos unleashed a virulent critique of capitalist society; his work had a considerable impact. The Second World War was to bring about a true conversion in the writer…. At the same time as he altered his political views, Dos Passos seemed to lose his creative powers.” (Le Figaro, 30 September 1970). Yesterday evening, on France-Inter, I listened to Le Masque et la Plume: “How can Ionesco still go on telling us about his death? He’s been dead for ten years.” I’m not very lucky with my friends who have advanced opinions.

Fascinating, that a writer’s talent could be so intertwined with his politics. Perhaps Dos Passos needed the anger given him by socialism in order to be a great writer, perhaps with the loss of one he lost the other, or perhaps his later books were simply less fashionable. Not having read them, I can’t entirely comment, but if anyone reads this and has read his later works I’d be interested in any thoughts they might have.

1 Comment

Filed under Dos Passos, John, French, Modernist fiction, Morand, Paul

One response to “Morand on Dos Passos

  1. I have read about this aspect of Dos Passos, but have only read his U.S.A. Trilogy at this point. My understanding is that his apex was U.S.A., with some fine works before, and little of merit after. Of course, it is always possible that this is due to intentional/unintentional discounting of art from a conservative, but seems someone, by now, would have “re-discovered” his great conservative works.

    I want to read Manhattan Transfer before I even think about moving on to his less regarded, late works.

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