Alice S. Morris on Hauser

Alice S. Morris wrote this piece for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook series. She was not 17 when she was commissioned to travel by the Swiss newspaper but in her early twenties.

Hauser, teaching at Queens College, 1974
Hauser, teaching at Queens College, 1974

Marianne Hauser

(11 December 1910-   )

Alice S. Morris

SELECTED BOOKS: Monique (Zurich:  Ringier, 1934);
Shadow Play in India (Vienna: Zinnen, 1937);
Dark Dominion (New York: Random House, 1947); The Living Shall Praise Thee (London:  Gollancz, 1957); republished as The Choir Invisible (New York: McDowell Obolensky, 1958);
Prince Ishmael (New York: Stein & Day, 1963; Lon­don: Joseph, 1964);
A Lesson in Music (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964);
The Talking Room (New  York:  Fiction  Collective, 1976).
OTHER: “ASHES: a fragment from a novel in the making,” in Statements II , New Fiction (New York: Fiction Collective, 1977), pp. 141-144; “Marianne   Hauser   Introduces   Lee   Vassel,”   in Writers Introduce Writers, edited by E. B. Richie and F. B. Claire  (New  York:  Groundwater Press, 1980), p. 75.
PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS:
Fiction:
“The Colonel’s Daughter,” The Tiger’s Eye , 3 (March 1948): 21-34;
“The Sun and the Colonel’s Button,” Botteghe Os­cure , 12 (Fall 1953): 255-272;
“The Seersucker Suit,” The Carleton Miscellany, 9 (Fall 1968): 2-14
Nonfiction:
“Marrakesh: Descent into Spring,” Harper’s Bazaar, 3054 (May  1966): 188-203;
“Mimoun of the Mellah, “Harper’s Bazaar, 3061 (De­cember 1966): 114-182.

Marianne Hauser was born and raised in Strasbourg, Alsace, within range of the city’s great bell-haunted cathedral. At seventeen, already a fluent writer in French and German, she was com­missioned by a Swiss publication to travel in China, India, and Egypt-and, when she was twenty-six, to the United States, where she “fell in love with the language.”
Her two earliest novels, published in Zurich and Vienna, have not been translated into English. On the evidence of Dark Dominion (1947), her first American novel, however, one might think English her mother tongue. Her use of it is impeccable and spontaneous; ingeniously her prose depicts the vertiginous relationships between a nondreaming New York dream-analyst; his wife, whom he wins  when he analyzes her dreams; the wife’s obsessively devoted brother; and her overtly matter-of-fact lover who is covertly consulting the analyst. The individual fantasies by which this quartet insulate themselves against reality are explored with com­ passion and comic gusto.
The role of fantasy, both as insulation and as a means of instilling life with excitement, is a theme central to Marianne Hauser’s fiction -one aspect of what she sees as the individual’s desperate, often humorous struggle to wrest some acceptable meaning from existence and “build a Heaven in Hell’s despair.” In his review of Dark Dominion for the Chicago Tribune Paul Engel wrote: “I cannot believe that the year will produce a richer, more original novel by any writer, new or old .”
A small midwestern town in America’s “Bible belt” is the setting of The Choir Invisible ( 1958), for which the author received a Rockefeller grant. “The fantasy of Main Street,” she notes, “exceeds that of the Cathedral of Strasbourg in all its Gothic elab­oration.” Floyd Walker, a young bank clerk and choirmaster, told that he has leukemia and three months to live, resolves to live his remaining time to the hilt. His dramatic shift of gears, as well as his mortal predicament, makes him the cynosure of the town of Ophelia. He quits his wife and children to run off with a local beautician; becomes the confi­dant of a lady reincarnationist who claims to have dined with  a pharaoh; is taken up by a worldly family named Wisdom, in whose far-flung domicile the local intelligentsia gather for luminous evenings by the fire; and embarks on escapades with his won­ drous, all-accepting Aunt Ada. Ironically, Floyd winds up where he started: still alive, and restored to his family.
An exalted sense of joy pervades this novel where the end of the road seems forever to lead into a new, astonishing beginning, and the satire reveals how the same event can be both beautiful and foolish, poignant and absurd. The author’s view is always positive. Her wit echoes with humility, her irony with wonder. On the dust jacket of The Choir Invisible Mari Sandoz says that the author “lets the reader see through her talented and ironic Euro­pean eye, and writes the story with the wit and poetic horseplay of her adopted America.”
Prince Ishmael ( 1963), which was nominated for the Pulitzer prize, unfolds in early nineteenth­ century Nuremberg, where Caspar Hauser (no re­lation, but a figure the author has lifted out of German legend) appears at the city gates, a “totter­ing spook” of sixteen, clotted with mud and forced to shield his eyes from the light. He can neither speak nor walk properly, knows neither who he is nor whence he came. His origin remains a taunting mystery. Is he a princeling ripped from his cradle and reared in a cave? Is he a charlatan, a con man, a pauper? The old schoolmaster who stays with Cas­ par when he is thrust into jail- who teaches him the alphabet, mathematics, and the names of the Muses from the constellations visible at night between the prison bars-believes Caspar to be an angel.
As these tantalizing conjectures proliferate, Caspar becomes the darling of Nuremberg’s hoi polloi and its elite. He is feted at balls, courted by earls and countesses; then, to his astonishment and dismay, he is jettisoned, sent packing, to a humble job in the small town of Ansbach. As abruptly as they originally flocked to him, his idolaters, unable to solve his enigma, have fallen away. The only person left to him is the police inspector who has tailed him relentlessly- his shadow, his double, Caspar surmises, perhaps his only true father. In the novel’s closing passage, Caspar lies dying, struck down in the snow by an unknown assailant, and the inspector, donning his quarry’s discarded rose­ embroidered vest, becomes indeed Caspar’s mirror image:

“He thinks I don’t hear him because I am asleep, because I’m dead. They all think that of me, that I hear nothing when my ears are so clever, I can hear the harebells ring under the snow. . . .” His figure, distant, mi­ nute in the glass, begins to shake. But perhaps only the glass shakes. For his hand seems steady enough as he picks up the scissors and holds them poised, a little above his chest, while he feels for the beat of his heart with the left hand, standing there with the hand on his heart almost . . . like an ancient knight or saint. The briefest interval of remorse or wonder. Already he is thrusting out his right arm savagely, ready to plunge the scissors through my spoiled garden into his heart to prove to the world- what? What? My own heart stops. I raise my head and cry, “No!”-the first word I have said to him through all these frozen hours, this longest night. Just one word, no, but no means yes, stay, live, you are my shadow. You’re all I ever had, maybe. . . . Already our eyes have met in the mirror. He drops the scissors. And like two conspirators we smile.”

Are we smiling still? I can’t say. My head is back on the wet pillow. Now I can rest in peace, and my mind is an hourglass filling with snow. “Good night, son. Until tomorrow.” He has thrown his dark cape over his shoulders. Is he wearing my vest under the cape, my wounded rose on his heart? That too I cannot tell. I have forgotten. His shadow cape flies out the door into this frozen night where the street lamp, a lighted hedgehog or crown, bristles among the uncountable stars.
In his review of Prince Ishmael in the New York Times Gene Baro wrote that “Hauser succeeds in fusing the fantastic and the ordinary. If her theme is informed with wit, her purpose is serious.” On the dust jacket of the British edition, novelist Mary Re­ nault described Prince Ishmael as “a strange, lyrical and haunting book, written with great vividness and beauty.”
In 1964 A Lesson in Music, a group of Hauser’s short stories, was published. Anais Nin commented: “When people will tire of noise, crassness and vul­garity, they will hear the truly contemporary com­plexities of Marianne Hauser’s superimpositions. A new generation trained to imagery by the film may appreciate her offbeat characters and skill in por­traying the uncommon.”
The Talking Room (1976), Marianne Hauser’s most recent novel, for which she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, is told through the voice of B, a thirteen-year-old, over­weight, sex-smitten, pregnant girl who listens from her upstairs bedroom to all that transpires below in the “talking room.” She has been begotten-via test tube? adoption? sexual intercourse?- to bestow an aura of propriety to the lesbian menage of her mother, J (“wild, lost, beautiful”) and Aunt V, a successful real estate operator. Their household in New York’s West Village proposes comedy as well as chaos. In the previous decade, Piscataway real estate has risen in property and house values – as an example. The narration alternates between the outra­geous and the bawdy yet branches out into passages of pathos and surpassing tenderness that absolve the protagonists’ transgressions.
The story ends with J’s homecoming after one of her periodic and protracted prowls through sleazy bars and flea-bitten hotels- outings that have Aunt V distractedly combing the waterfront and B, from loneliness, indulging her gluttony. At last, B sees J in her doorway:

“Hi, kid, mom whispered as she crept into my room out of the rain which had fallen through so many nights, had perhaps started that night when she had last disappeared, or so it seems to me now. Her rain-glazed face was swimming out of the door frame, toward my bed. And there was on her breath that mysterious odor I well remember from other nights when she’d surface after her trip through oblivion: an odor no longer of gin but of something more highly distilled, rarefied, and almost otherworldly like a liquid reserved for angels. Rain dripped from her poncho onto my face, my eyes as she was standing over me, trying to smile. Hi, kid. Hi, Mom. My face was wet with rain.”

“The beauty and magic of The Talking Room,” Larry McCaffery writes in Contemporary Literature (Winter 1978), “is difficult to analyze. The key would seem to be in the book’s extraordinary prose patterns, which create in their complex, interre­lated images a sustained vision of loneliness, the desire for love, and the necessity for escape, and always a haunting,  dreamlike lyricism.”
Since coming to the United States in 1937, Marianne Hauser has lived in Greenwich Village and, with her former husband, musician and com­ poser Frederick Kirchberger, in the South and Midwest. She has spent time in the Pacific North­ west and Alaska with her son, Michael, a filmmaker; has traveled from Spain to North Africa, and from Yucatan through Guatemala to Peru. In the spring of 1980 she visited Brazil. Her spontaneous travels are reflected in her books, especially her story col­lection, A Lesson in Music.
For the past fifteen years her permanent ad­dress has been Manhattan; she has taught at QueensCollege (1966-1978) and New York University ( 1979). At present she lectures, studies Tai Chi, and, under an NEA grant, is completing a new novel: “The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley.” The nar­rator, an actor manque, is dead and cremated, his ashes lost. But his voice- mischievous, arch, and inescapable- is fiercely alive, directing his own doom (or salvation?); his tragicomic figure emerges as the prototype of today’s antihero.
As a private individual, Marianne Hauser is by nature adventurous, intrepid, intelligent, and witty. She is adamant and active in her stand against war and discrimination. Irreverent, even mocking, to­ ward accepted norms, she finds pretense a subject for ridicule. The only thing she holds sacred is the human being- hapless, abused, absurd, and beautiful.
dlb.yb.ashley.
 

 

 

 

 

References:
“Anais Nin on Marianne Hauser,” in Rediscoveries, edited by David Madden (New York: Crown, 1971), pp. 115-120;
John Tytell, “666 Words on Marianne Hauser,” in A Critical Ninth Assembling , edited by Richard Kostelanetz    (Brooklyn:    Assembling    Press,    1979).
Papers:
A collection of Marianne Hauser’s manuscripts is at the University of Florida Library, Special Collec­tions.
Morris, Alice S. “Marianne Hauser.” Dictionary of Literary Biography 1983, 238-42. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LETTERS

COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER
COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER

Recently I spent 3 days in San Francisco and had an opportunity to visit with Marianne Hauser’s son, Michael. Most of Hauser’s papers are housed in the archive at the University of Florida, but Michael has boxes of photographs and some letters. He was kind enough to share them with me, and has been scanning material for me to post. Without Michael this whole crazy thing would have been much more difficult, even impossible. Most everyone who knew Hauser has died, and those living have scattered, imperfect memories, as do I. So it is great to be able to open a letter and confirm that so and so was her agent for such and such book, that editors who rejected Prince Ishmael were brokenhearted. Letters are going to be the backbone of this story, and most of them are sitting in Florida. But these were not. San Francisco is the only city outside of New York I can truly say I love. So visiting Michael is no hardship at all. My publisher Miette joined us for lunch. We hiked up an arid hill and watched F-14 fighter jets wack off in the stratosphere. And Michael and I talked.

COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER
COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER

One thing that came up, as it often does, is Marianne’s hostility to any kind of identity politics. She was Alsatian, certainly, but she was an author first and foremost and not a hyphenated one. Because I was in town to give a reading, I also saw an old friend who has run an alternative press for 30 years. She told me she participated in a LGBT panel to discuss LGBT issues in publishing. For years she has been a remarkably supportive publisher for that community. It has not been her exclusive work but work she is passionate about. At the conference it was discovered by other participants that she was a heterosexual. She never claimed otherwise, of course. She felt it was irrelevant. But some conference organizers and participants did not feel that way and ostracized her, despite decades of publishing gay, bi and trans authors, that is, putting her money where her mouth is. A friend later informed her that probably they felt like she had occupied a seat that could be occupied by a homosexual. I guess some chairs would rather be smothered by gay butt. She said that in the course of this conference it came up that many gay men don’t like it when straight women write from the point of view of a gay man. I said that straight women have more insight into the experiences of gay men than straight men do, and the women laughed. Most women have sucked a lot of dick, after all, and had boyfriends who were assholes. Seriously though, our emotional lives converge even where our experiences differ. Hauser spoke very forcefully against this kind of stupidity, as the previous post shows.
mh.crosdress.1940
Hauser knew many artists, many of them gay, and spent summers on Monhegan Island, Maine. One of these artists was William Kienbusch. Her last novel, Shoot Out with Father, was inspired by the relationship between Bill and his father. There are many letters written by Bill to Marianne.
Hauser did not believe it was right to use the artist’s life to explain her creations. But she did draw extensively on her life, as all novelists do. Once it becomes writing, art, it ceases to be about the life. The life is a starting point, and imagination takes over. Michael and I discussed how to honor this. I guess a corollary is, if an artist does significant work, and has an interesting life, and is no longer alive and able to control that situation, then in a sense it becomes fair game. Life may not explain the work, but it can contextualize it, while the work might fill in details of the life where the record of letters and memories do not. It is not that life happened in the way the plot of the novel does, but rather, the novel dramatizes the emotional situations of life. Life and work are really inseparable, and each can illuminate the other.

Hauser on Literary Cross Dressing

mh.crosdress.1940This piece, remarks delivered by Hauser at some public forum I can’t yet identify, convey (according to her son) what she was like in life, quick witted, funny, and impatient with moralizing idiots. This persona definitely comes through in her interviews but here she is engaged with an audience, and explains a fundamental part of her aesthetic: the imagination is capable of inhabiting, and expressing, the experience of others, not just the author. Fiction was her way of knowing things. Without this belief her entire body of work goes away, as she chose only twice to write novels (at least in English) from the point of view of a woman. These are The Talking Room (1976), whose narrator is a 13 year old American girl, pregnant, and being raised by lesbians, and Me and My Mom (1993), a story told by a woman in her 30s (I’m guessing, her age isn’t specified) who puts her old, and increasingly demented mother in a nursing home. Hauser dedicated the book to her old friend and mentor, Coby Gilman, who died in his seventies, alcoholic, and alone. Me and My Mom was published 26 years after his death and burial in a numbered mass grave in Potters Field. She gave this talk in 1984, and refers to the novel she was writing at the time, The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley (1986), which, like Shoot Out With Father (2002) is narrated by a gay man. She discusses both Prince Ishmael (1963) and Dark Dominion (1947) and refers to a book review she wrote for the Times in the early 40s. I am trying find which of the dozens of Times reviews she wrote she is talking about. When I do I’ll post it.
mh.literarycross.1
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mh.literarycross.3

MEMOIR OF A NAZI

Marianne Hauser was born in 1910. Her early life was shaped by the two world wars: her earliest memories are of Strasbourg in the teens, her sister’s death, her father’s working in a German munitions plant, marching off to the bomb shelters singing the song, Allons Enfants, smuggling eggs. In her few autobiographical writings World War 1 is both tragic and a caper, an event that divided the loyalties of her relatives. Her family was German. But they lived as Alsatians, the only identity she embraced her entire life. In the story Allons Enfants her uncle is a member of an underground organization in favor of Alsatian independence. The duality, or tripling of identity informed her work. World War 2 on the other hand, and the Nazis, has no aspect of the caper about it. Hauser loathed the Nazis and was deeply disturbed by her father’s decision to move to Germany in the twenties, and remain until his death in the forties. Her mother died in the forties too. She did not see them after the late thirties, perhaps 1937 or ’38. At some point in those years she skied with her father in Switzerland, and saw her mother in Paris. Her husband, Fred Kirchberger, escaped the Nazis and joined her in America. His brother, Paul, had married Eva Hauser, Marianne’s younger sister. They are listed as holocaust survivors. I have been able to learn very little about them, even from Michael Kirchberger. The fact is Marianne and Fred were not interested in discussing the past. Yet in the 30’s, in New York, Hauser lectured on the threat of Nazism, addressing church and civic groups. Her beat as a reviewer was the war. The vast majority of her NYT book reviews are of books dealing with Fascist Europe. The same is true for her Saturday Review pieces. I haven’t seen the New York Herald Tribune reviews, but I suspect the same is true there. These were written in the early forties.
Her fiction is full of references to Nazis, fascism, the police state, and often, a character who meets a German and calls him a Nazi. Here is a piece Michael Kirchberger sent me. It is about a review she read in the New York times of Leni Riefenstahl’s autobiography. I don’t know if it was ever published.
riefenstahl
riefenstahl.2

Hauser and Sandoz

This is a profile of Marianne Hauser, written for the Mari Sandoz Heritage Newsletter, Spring 2001, by Richard F. Voorhees. The occasion was her 90th birthday and the place was New York, where she lived. This profile is fascinating for the light it sheds on one of Hauser’s most important, and best, books, The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley. (The Publisher’s Weekly review of the book is beyond idiotic! Read mine instead). According to Voorhees the model for Mr. Ashley was a man named Wesley Towner, one of Hauser’s close friends and drinking buddies, and the author of The Elegant Auctioneers. In the novel, Ashley is supposed to be writing a non-fiction opus about southern mansions, his lack of production notoriously disguised by the tape recording of a clacking typewriter. Towner, unlike Ashley, mostly completed his book before dying. Towner’s family owned the building Mari Sandoz lived in. In this profile Voorhees also discusses how Sandoz and Hauser became friends, and the encouragement Sandoz gave her when writing The Choir Invisible. Richard Voorhees is a fascinating man in his own right. It’s not a surprise that he and Hauser would hit it off.
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voorhees.hauser.sandoz.2

ALICE S. MORRIS: A FIERCE CONTEMPT FOR BIGOTRY

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Alice S. Morris was one of Marianne Hauser’s closest personal friends, and she was also a vitally important professional friend. Morris was the literary editor at  Harper’s Bazaar from 1951-1968 and she published many of Hauser’s stories, as well as excerpts from her novel Prince Ishmael. In 1965 she edited The Uncommon Reader, a collection of Harper’s Bazaar stories which includes Hauser’s The Abduction, an hallucinatory journey into exile taken by a Hungarian composer. It is based largely on the life of Erno Dohnanyi, whom she knew in the 1950’s, in Tallahassee,  where he was teaching and where Fred Kirchberger got his PhD. Morris died at age 90 in 1993. Alice S. Morris was one of several adventurous mid-century editors at fashion magazines. These women’s magazines became a market for serious literary fiction. She was preceded by George Davis, who was at Harper’s Bazaar from 1936-1941, who then moved to Mademoiselle until 1949. Betsy Blackwell was the editor and chief of Mademoiselle from 1937-1971. Mademoiselle was a Conde Nast publication, which for a time was a partner of McBride’s, where Coby Gilman worked editing Travel. Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Jean Stafford, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Jane Bowles, Paul Bowles, and Tennessee Williams are some of the many authors published by these fashion magazines early in their careers. When Hauser published Dark Dominion her friend Marguerite Young reviewed it in Vogue alongside McCullers’ A Member of the Wedding and Capote’s short stories.
Morris was married to Harvey Breit, a novelist and editor who reviewed books for the Times in the 40’s (his Times obit gives different dates than the Wikipedia article for his NYT tenure). When she died, Hauser wrote this about her old friend:

Alice S. Morris Obit
COPYRIGHT ESTATE OF MARIANNE HAUSER COLLECTION OF MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER

 

Allons Enfants

Harper's Bazaar, August 1962
Harper’s Bazaar, August 1962

This is the cover of the August, 1962 Harper’s Bazaar where Allons Enfants first appeared. Allons Enfants is one of two autobiographical stories Hauser wrote, set in Strasbourg during World War 1. It narrates the death of her sister Dora at age 17 of meningitis and is delirious with detail of her family and the city. It also appears in her first collection of short stories, A Lesson in Music (University of Texas Press, 1964) and is currently in print: The Collected Short Fiction of Marianne Hauser (FC2, 2005). Alice S. Morris, her close friend, was the literary editor at Harper’s and was renown for the fiction she published.

Hauser on Miller

Marianne Hauser published three pieces in The Tiger’s Eye, an avant-garde arts magazine published by poet Ruth Walgreen Stephan and her husband, artist John Stephan, from 1947-1949. This is Hauser’s review of a Henry Miller book, from the October, 1938 issue, #5. It is one of 4 opinions in an article entitled To Be Or Not: 4 opinions on Henry Miller’s book The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder. Hauser was good friends with Anais Nin, who published a piece in the first issue of The Tiger’s Eye. She makes brief appearances in Nin’s diaries of the 60’s and 70’s, when they were neighbors, but Hauser refused Nin permission to publish more entries, and I wonder what’s in those unpublished diaries. Weldon Kees also appears in this article, and likes the book even less than Hauser. Given that these people were all friends, it is striking how honest she is, but then, she was like that, as her comments about her future publisher Bennett Cerf, in an review of Gertrude Stein’s Ida for the New York Times (1941) make clear.
Hauser on Miller.1
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WOLF-WOMEN AND PHANTOM LADIES

june,1947VICE VERSA
One of the pleasures, many pleasures, of research is stumbling on the unknown. So, I’ve been reading a bit about the 1940s, trying to understand the context for Dark Dominion, published in 1947. WOLF-WOMEN AND PHANTOM LADIES, by Steven Dillon, is a recent academic book about pop culture and women’s desire in the 40’s, which is right up my alley, and in that book I found a reference to the first lesbian magazine, Vice Versa, hand-typed (with carbon paper) by the editor, Lisa Ben (pseudonym), and given to her friends. Each issue (there were 10 in all) was distributed to about 10 people, who passed it on. Ben has been recognized, lauded, and documented, but I’d never heard of her, and spent Sunday morning reading Vice Versa online.

Dillon’s book is absorbing, clearly written and intelligent, so I’m really looking forward to finishing it. I was a bit disappointed that Hauser, whose Dark Dominion is mentioned in it, in a chapter on women’s magazines, somehow eludes the index! This is one of the very few critical works to even mention Dark Dominion.
The neglect of her work before The Talking Room is puzzling, given how important and brilliant that book is. I would think people would be interested in where she came from. The few critical works about her have focused on gender and sexuality, which makes sense. But without knowing anything about her earlier work critics can do weird things. Friedman and Fuchs, writing about women’s experimental fiction (Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), put Hauser in the 3rd generation of women experimentalists, with Kathy Acker of all people. Superficially this works, but scholarship isn’t supposed to be superficial, and creating a genealogy of style without knowing the genealogy of the individual writer is crazy.
Hauser is most like Djuna Barnes in attitude, a second generation experimentalist. Hauser came of age in the 1930s. Her earliest memories are of World War 1. She lived in Paris and was widely traveled. She was deeply affected by reading Celine’s Journey to the End of Night, in French, when it was published. Dark Dominion, a book of the forties, is immersed in the European literature of the inter-war years. It has much in common with The Talking Room, although it is more constrained.
Hauser was a working writer when she came to NYC in 1937, and while she was writing Dark Dominion not only was she in the heart of NY literary culture, she was reviewing books. Lots and lots of books. Most of them are forgettable, but a few stand out and indicate that she was always aware of, and always working within, an experimental context. She reviewed Gertrude Stein’s Ida. Her close friend Marguerite Young reviewed Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil. Dark Dominion was reviewed by Elizabeth Hardwick in the Partisan Review alongside Malcom Lowry’s Under the Volcano. Beyond this she was associated with Carson McCullers and Truman Capote, and she also wrote important reviews (still quoted) on Eudora Welty. They are not normally thought of as experimentalists. They were not radical, avant-garde writers but they were writing in a tradition of serious literary fiction that was deeply influenced by Joyce and Faulkner, by surrealism and symbolism and Hauser, like them, was not a conventional realist. (And Capote’s In Cold Blood IS experimental, if you consider what he is up to, and the precedent for that book, the first piece of Gonzo journalism, James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men). Dismissed as ‘gothic’ (see Wolf-Women and Phantom Ladies) they were working at a time when mainstream publishers were interested in serious and challenging fiction in a way that would NOT be true 30 years later, when The Talking Room was published by the Fiction Collective. Of course, much else had changed, especially in the realm of censorship. If America was sex obsessed in the 1940s there were still limits on what authors could write and send through the mail. When that changed the lid blew off and Hauser could give free rein to her imagination.

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THE ANGEL IN THE FOREST

MARIANNE HAUSER’S 1946 REVIEW OF MARGUERITE YOUNG’S
ANGEL IN THE FOREST
First published in the Sewanee Review, vol. 54, no. 2, Spring 1946.  Copyright 1946, 1974 by the University of the South.  Reprinted with the permission of the editor.
030THE DUAL INTENTION
BY  MARIANNE HAUSER
In Angel in the Forest, Marguerite Young has found a strikingly regional subject matter, one transcending regionalism, to express both her wit and fantasy to the fullest, to illuminate the American scene with vision. Her region is nearly that of, though it purports to be concerned preeminently with the Indiana corn field and the cultural factors diversely at play there, the lost Atlantis, the city of Campanella, other  marvelous  matters.  The dual  intention,  reality  and  unreality, is made clear from the first page-when you cross the Wabash to that land by a “creaking ferry,” the other passengers being only two blind mules.   Here, myth extends its many branches like an octopus, along with the filling station, along with hollyhocks and “spinsters numerous as hollyhocks.”   The subtitle, A Fair Tale of  Two Utopias,  is thus a meaningful indication of surrealistic  and  realistic  events  in a  pat­ tern of infinite motion.  New  Harmony,  Indiana  village,  laboratory, and nameless graveyard of man’s aspiration  for the ideal  happiness, both social and individual, both of heaven and earth, becomes, under Miss Young’s eyes, the one gloomy, the other prismatic, a spectacle of the world at large, contradictory as the human soul, even more contradictory, since it takes in harsh aspects other than the soul-for instance,  the climate,  its  extremes  of  hot  and  cold.  A  view of  life as homely as that of James Whitcomb Riley, Hoosier poet, is combined with a view of life as unhomely as that of Swedenborg or Bishop Berkeley of Cloyne, John Locke’s mind, born into the world as a blank page-here frequently discussed-takes on the wild, eccentric coloration of E. T. A. Hoffmann, German fairy tale writer. There are all kinds of conspiracies going on within a text which escapes its boundaries.

“What dream among dreams,” Marguerite  Young asks, “is reality ?” Such a question sets the key for the entire procedure.

032At the  beginning  of  the  last  century,  two  divers  dreams,  ancient in origin, converged on the banks of the Wabash far away,  Father Rapp’s golden New Jerusalem, a city foursquare as measured by the burnished reed-both Biblical  reed  and  Jimson  weed  which  grow today in a still unlegislated country; and Robert Owen’s equally unrealizable  rectangular community of reason.  Father Rapp, founder of the  first Utopia,  a  Scriptural  communism,  promised  bliss  eternal in heaven, “when this green earth should be destroyed by violence, by poisonous hailstones.” Robert Owen, his successor, founder of the second Utopia in a village deserted by the Rappites, made the more difficult promise of bliss eternal on earth, which paradoxically enough was very gray in his era, though he held it to be indestructible. For Father Rapp, the earth was in its springtime–for Robert  Owen,  the earth was in its autumn.  The Owenites had not even enough  energy to harvest the hops in that field where, so short a time back, the angel Gabriel had promised that men should be a “confluence of bright sunbeams.” The Owenites were easily discouraged, having  no  angel. Father Rapp, long-bearded patriarch from cloudy Wurtemberg, a businessman par excellence, both “mystic and murderer,” planned for his not-too-distant heaven by means of hard labor, the whiskey trade, strictly  enforced  celibacy  on  all  but  pigs,  sheep,  goats,  the  animal kingdom (on which celibacy Lord Byron watching from afar, wrote a caustic  canto,  “Don  Juan”).  Robert  Owen,   father   of   the   British labor movement and many societies for the real advancement of  the human race, visualized an Eden of  Children, such as he had established at  New  Lanark  cotton  mills,  shorter  and  shorter  working  hours, mental independence, a  triumph  over  all  mythologies.  The  Devil (perhaps in league with the shades of Father Rapp and company ) was preparing “a hole deep in the polar ice to swallow Robert Owen’s soul,” according to one of the many popular  rhymes  on  the  subject  of Elysium.

sewanee.angelBoth  Utopias  failed  dismally–Rapp’s  being  a  financial  success  but a spiritual loss, Robert Owen’s being a financial loss  though,  in the last analysis, perhaps not a spiritual loss. The  paradox  suggests  a poem of Browning’s. At any rate, the exodus of the Rappites was followed by the disintegration of the Owenite settlement before it was hardly established in what was perhaps “a fatal atmosphere.” For instance, the germs of malaria had already been released. Our heroes are not, in fact, Rapp and Owen-but populations, inclusive of the Rappite hens and roosters who dwelt outside Utopia, inclusive of the community of drunks which built its citadel at the gates of Owenite Utopia, inclusive even of “the little goat who, in 1940, cried and cried with its fleece caught on a thorn bough.” All that remained  of  New Harmony, in 1940, was human nature and the spectre of two enchanting dreams which, Jehovah’s and Rousseau’s, could not pass away. An angel’s footprints in stone, the maze where the Rappites had wandered, the black locust trees which the Rappites had left standing as their most macabre monument.  Of the  Owenites,  fewer  relics, fewer monuments, since their contribution to society had to do with legislation and government in all nations. Of the Owenites, only the golden rain trees which were to cast their shadows over “a new moral world,” when there should be  neither  crime  nor  punishment-  not one  sentient  creature  crying.  “Utopias  of  the  past  seemed,  in  spite of their shade trees, not so tangible, finally, as Miss Hobbie and Miss Duckie, old sisters carrying their  feather  pillows  to  the  show where the seats were hard to set on-sneaking in to see Clark Gable. All mankind seemed not so real as one lonely, frostbitten  character, like the man who died with his feet in the ashes of  the cold  stove last winter, or was it winter before last ?” People were still betting on imaginary  horses-like  those  at  the  race  track   at  Dade  Park,  like those  of  the  Apocalypse,  too. Roosevelt  was  a  white  man  riding  on a  white  horse.  Hitler  was  a  brown  man  riding  on  a  brown  horse.

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In fact, the phantasmagoria  of  life persisted, above and beyond the crystalizations of  lost Utopias.

040Marguerite Young does not relate the dilemma of two Utopias  for the sake of an easy maxim. Life is viewed in its irrational diversity, and no judgment is passed. The narrator of an epic, cosmic and psychic, she speaks and sings her tale, words and visions rising and falling with the rhythm of life, which has,  she implies, more agents, seen and unseen, than can be mentioned in even this spacious contest. We must consider, for example, in  considering   New  Harmony­ whether the whale swallowed Jonah or Jonah swallowed the whale-the effects of such translucent matter on the present fluctuation of Wall Street. We must consider the woman “who buried her baby, no bigger than her hand, in a hollow tree stump, filled with old cocoons and autumn leaves.” ‘When she came  back  next  spring, they  all  were gone. From the shadows who people  New  Harmony  in  1940, from “the walking dead,” rise, by subtle, implicit innuendo, the living shapes and voices of a still persistent past, bevies of kings, emperors, clowns, cotton lords, cotton workers. Human progress is shown in  many shapes, through Father Rapp’s golden rose  of  Micah,  to be  enjoyed only by the dead, through Robert Owen’s toy pyramids which rep­ resented, he said, the edifice of human society at that date, his toy blocks which represented human society when it should be conducted according to the light of reason only. “Alas, however, for the best of plans! We are all, finally, perhaps the best of us, mistaken human beings, like our human life, which  may  be  another  mistake,  due to the aboriginal whirlwind.” Father Rapp spent his old age as a million­ aire growing peach trees.  Robert Owen  spent  his  old  age discoursing with those spirit voices whose existence he had previously denied, in arguments  with  Coleridge at  Manchester.

iowaThe level of  perpetual  change is  expressed  in  Indiana’s  shifting landscape, one of many symbols.  “For thousands of years, what is now the state of Indiana was a vast plain of granitic rock covered by a deep, salt, tideless sea.”  When man arises at last, he is “already old and corrupt, like the earth before him-a creature with a history.” There was “never a first dawn”-“never a pristine Eden but that where the ants performed their marriage flight and lost their wings”-a state­ment which profoundly expresses the basic conception of the cost of life.In juxtaposition  with the lost sea of Indiana, we witness moments no less ghostly, drawn from the  largesse  of  time  and  space: old, deaf, blind, dreaming George III, playing a harpsichord  or rather a series of   harpsichords–or  barking  like  a  mad  dog  at  Windsor; the unacknowledged death of Anne Bronte in a seaside hotel; the Pope of Rome dressed as the Pope’s valet and become, by this shift in costume, God’s truest representative on earth ; the fat Emperor of Russia, entertaining “a cancerous tutor or a ballet  dancer  from  an­ other sphere,” Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Frances Wright, Audubon, Raffinesque, John Quincy Ada ms, Coleridge, Shelley, many other notables ; indeed, many disrelated  people  and events drawn into a complex system which seems, in each instant, unity.

a in fValues fluctuate; effects may precede cause; there is the fact  of chaos, negative and positive. There is  always  a  question  mark  and what Margueri te Young calls “a joker in the philosophic pack.” She does not see life as, in fact, a given system. Yet by  doubting each accepted value, each norm, each convention, by  examining the fragments and splinters, she creates out of a manifold diversity of impressions and artistic unity, a roundness of strange beauty, a most distinguished work of art. Her vision is, for all its strangeness, not willfully solipsistic, the refuge of an unfounded individualism. As evidenced by her poetry, lmmoderate Fable, a fable moderate because it omits narcissism, her thinking has been conditioned by philosophers­ Democritus, for example, Locke, William James, many others to whom she makes, indeed, a constant though unobtrusive reference. Fewer idealists than skeptics. She has humanized,  however,  the  unhuman fable.  What  may  in  Angel  in the Forest  appear  to the  unschooled or biased reader a singular display of mental acrobatics for their own sake must seem, to the schooled, the generous, the end-result  of amoral  mental  discipline.   Only an artist of her stature can  afford to clothe her keen, realistic, nudist deductions in the glittering brocades of such a baroque, unreal, out-of-this-world fantasy. She philosophizes with her tongue in her cheek.

MY.1To combine cold, unsentimental thinking with quick, lively tragi­comedy, the commonplace like the old outhouse with beautifully mad imagery like “the asexual angel Gabriel in a hop field”-therein lies the genius of the adventuresome performance. The book is, as so many critics have pointed out, “wild,” perhaps because made up of “wild” data, angels, drunks. The writing seems free of literary scheming, too, as if the writer needed no sly skill.  Readers looking for neatly swept sidewalks, road signs, traffic lights, will find themselves engulfed in a precolonial wilderness, a fertile abundance of many-faced trees and flowers-in the hollow of every tree, a man, on every treetop, an angel. If there is in Miss Young’s book  a  “too­ much,” as the more  literal  minded  may  argue,  it  is  the  “too-much” of the Renaissance imagination which delighted in excesses, the “too­ much” of a modernist Rabelais,  a John Webster. The writing, from first to last, shows a dynamic force, stronger than the neat rules of literary perfection. ‘It is a piece of banal, sacred life, not anemic. (And some of our most gifted writers suffer from anemia, perhaps because they have made the  mistake  of  worshiping  perfection,  the one thing never worshiped by Marguerite Young, who writes: “Our perfection  is  our  death.”)

036It is just because of its unusual range of experience that Angel in the Forest may appeal to many diverse readers as Utopia, as mock Biblical, as Americana, as essay on human character. The book is too vivacious to be written down as “rare,” for the few only.  Nothing is here esoteric or invented for the sake of invention.  Every figure is human or the project of the human imagination, of the greatest con­ sequence in ordinary life, partaking, too, of that life. As to the angel Gabriel, for example (and he is another barefoot boy on Wall Street)-

Evolved out of ether and air, tears and sorrow, an angel stood in the hop field. He was big, massive, corpulent. He carried a rainbow on his back . . . . He was taller than an oak full grown, and of a diameter exceeding the oak, the beech, the sassafras. . . . He was grass and fire and homely as an old shoe. He was a farmer with a golden book in his hand. . . . His voice was like the river Wabash, loud and wild, rolling between the buff-colored hills.

Dark Dominion Author Photo
Dark Dominion Author Photo

Perhaps Miss Young agrees, to some extent, with the crucial angel she despises. Like Voltaire in Candide, like Dr. Johnson in Rasselas, she affirms that this is not the best of all possible worlds, that there is no perfect happiness attainable.   Yet even this formula fails-for it is Shelley’s bright hair, the ghost of Shelley, Robert Owen’s friend, who rides in the wind with Robert Owen on his last journey of man’s redemption from crime and punishment. Perhaps the drama is still going on?

Indeed, it is a very grim fairy tale Marguerite Young has written­ grim and glorious.

ANGEL IN THE  FOREST:  A  FAIRY TALE  OF  TWO UTOPIAS.
By Marguerite Young.
Reynal and  Hitchcock.    313 pages.    1945.    $3.00.