Nadine Gordimer | Critical Review by Patrick Cruttwell

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Nadine Gordimer.
This section contains 775 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Patrick Cruttwell

SOURCE: A review of Not for Publication, in The Hudson Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Autumn, 1965, pp. 444-45.

In the following excerpt, Cruttwell contrasts the mood of Gordimer's fiction with Flannery O'Connor's.

… It is mainly in male authors that the posturing seems obligatory (though I'm not so sure of that, now I've written it; I can think of some female ones, but I'd better not name them); and so it may not be coincidence that a quite unfair proportion of the interesting, the distinguished, the literate writing among the fiction I have received is the work of women. Three in particular: two volumes of short stories by Flannery O'Connor and Nadine Gordimer [Everything that Rises Must Converge and Not for Publication], and one novel so short as to be almost a short story, by Elizabeth Spencer. These are what I call literature. They are, that is, works of art, in which very distinctive personalities and clear, strongly held viewpoints on life are presented in such a way that they are absorbed into the imagined world of the fiction: there is no need, no temptation, to look outside that world for explanation or completion. Both the volumes of short stories are set in societies tortured and obsessed by the problems of race and colour: Nadine Gordimer's in South Africa, Flannery O'Connor's in the American South. But they make a remarkable contrast in this with the work of some other writers on race, more heavily publicized: James Baldwin, for instance. In him, the agony is being exploited—used as a screen on which to project a vast magnification of some personal disorder; in these stories, it has its place, neither played down nor softened, but viewed and felt as it has to be by real and ordinary people who must go on living in such a society.

Flannery O'Connor's stories are fiercer, more fanatical than Nadine Gordimer's, and in some of them hysteria is not far away; she is capable of greater intensity, but pays for it by a lack of pure serenity at the centre of tragedy, such as Gordimer achieves superbly in a story called "A Company of Laughing Faces," which describes a young girl on a seaside holiday in which nothing "real" seems to happen to her in spite of her desperate efforts to persuade herself she is enjoying it all—until, right at the end, she has a glimpsed vision of a boy drowned in a pool. That is a moment of pure lyrical poetry; O'Connor's poetry is grotesque and neurotic, but it might be said to hit harder: and if it does, this is because her writing is clearly the work of an authentically religious writer, Catholic but not obtrusively or aggressively so (in which respect I found the introduction by Robert Fitzgerald, which is obtrusively Catholic, unfortunate and misleading). Now and then, the fierce contempt for liberal humanist do-gooders on the one hand and hellfire Biblical sectarians on the other seemed to me to twist and bias her vision—as it does in "The Lame Shall Enter First," a story of enormous power, but power warped and cruel; pity, for once, is lost in anger and scorn. It is certainly a strange world her stories live in: I never cease to wonder (speaking as an alien) at the American South as its writers portray it. Is it "really like that"? I wonder naïvely—or is it as much the invention of untypical geniuses as the wind-tortured moorlands, peopled by demons in human shape, of Wuthering Heights? Something that O'Connor herself said (quoted in Fitzgerald's introduction) seems to suggest that this is the case. "I doubt," she said, "if the texture of Southern life is any more grotesque than that of the rest of the nation, but it does seem evident that the Southern writer is particularly adept at recognizing the grotesque; and to recognize the grotesque you have to have some notion of what is not grotesque, and why."

Gordimer's stories keep much closer to what one had thought the real world was like: she is capable, therefore, of an accurate, undistorted social satire which is not in O'Connor's range—see, for instance, "The Worst Thing of All," the story of the return to South Africa of a woman theatrical genius become world-famous and her impact on the associates of her early obscurity. Gordimer is cooler, less fevered; one might almost have guessed, if one didn't know, that Flannery O'Connor died young of a terrible disease, for there is something in her prose which seemed to me very close to the poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath—the poetry of exposed and tortured nerve-ends….

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This section contains 775 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Patrick Cruttwell
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