MARTIN GREEN, literary critic and historian, casts his net wide. This volume, the second of three called The Lust for Power, is an extended treatment of the adventure tale. Green wishes to show how the tale has formed an energizing myth for the Englishman, has created for him a concept of empire. The first volume dealt with Gandhi and Tolstoy; Green's announced purpose here is to apply their teachings to literature. He is singularly engaging and woefully disappointing, simultaneously and alternately.
Although he claimes that all Western societies share in the myth of empire, his analyses tend to persuade us that he is really speaking about Great Britain and particularly England. And of course he is speaking about men, not about men and women. Green, bearing a mighty hatred for the "courtship novel," castigates it and the teaching of it while revisiting manly writers such as Defoe, Scott, Cooper, Tolstoy, Twain, Kipling and Conrad.
In two preliminary chapters on historical background and on literature-as-a-system, he provides complex approaches to the study of literature, working analogously to the contemporary structuralist critics. Green does set out a potentially useful distinction between writers of adventure, typified by Defoe, and writers of romance, like Scott, but does not really give us a full-scale treatment of the artists and their effects on the worlds of experience or of letters.
One of Green's chief purposes is tracking the WASP hero, the figure he sees driving the intellectual energy of the adventure tale. Green prepares for his analysis of fictional heroes by first writing about real life adventures; the brief commentaries on Cortes, Clive of India and Napoleon are sprightly, entertaining and enlightening. But the longer chapters discussing the fictional heroes often run perilously close to plot summaries or to rather mechanical rehearsals of archetypal figures such as "the bloody Quaker" or "the Black Prince." Green finds that Chingachgook of the Leatherstocking tales, for example, is a Black Prince who degenerates into an Indian John.
Green really triumphs, though, when he writes about the auxiliary figures associated with or influenced by the major authors. And his commentaries on an author's reputation or his book sales worldwide read like the best of brief, fascinating classroom lectures. Green's own intellectual energy and fineness of mind emerge most clearly here.
But besides the tiny war he wages against the teaching of the domestic or courtship novel, Green is engaged in a titanic struggle against his former mentor, F. R. Leavis, and Leavis' beliefs in teaching a "Great Tradition" of literature. Green deplores Leavis' adulation of T. S. Eliot as a proponent of modernism because Eliot was also anti-imperialist. Green writes, "what Eliot and [D. H.] Lawrence and Leavis told me was to think about other things - highly specified and deeply interesting things; but to do so meant, in effect, to ignore the empire. It meant to think about the story of the sisters and their marriages. . . . And not to think about the brothers and their adventures."
Precisely here is one of Green's difficulties as a reader and student, possibly also as a professor of literature. Green himself would have been better off to have ignored the strictures of Leavis, Lawrence and Eliot and gone his own way years ago. Surely the instructor triggers questions in the student's mind, suggests paths of inquiry, while making clear the professor's own point of view. But should the professor, whether in Cambridge, England or Cambridge, America, require that students snap to and salute major authors? Surely not. Students clearly do not need to adopt the professor's own point of view or methodology in reading and Professor Green must have much more tractable students than the rest of us if indeed his students are so docile. What worries me about this book is that Green seems to suggest that we replace Leavis, Lawrence, Eliot, Austen, and all the rest with Gandhi, Tolstoy, and all those boring, boring adventure writers in the schools and universities' literature classes.
One of the fundamental problems is that Green is trying to do too much. His lengthy footnotes, many of them containing excellent short essays, reinforce this impression. He is attempting to analyze and redefine modernism. He is trying to account for "serious" readers and "light" readers, but an entirely separate volume is required for this ambitious task. He is however, writing excellent, carefully articulated literary history.
Green's book is ultimately anti-climactic. After following his powerful critical, analytic commentaries, we are quite outraged to find that all this deteriorates into a simple call for reforming the English literature syllabus: teach more adventure, less domesticity, and the students shall know the enemy. Martin Green's net has caught a lot of sprats this time and not enough trout or swordfish. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by John Ryan