Meet Me in the Green Glen
by Robert Penn Warren
Random House, 259 pp., $7.95
The Condor Passes
by Shirley Ann Grau
Knopf, 421 pp., $7.95
by Karl Shapiro
Bernard Geis Associates, 308 pp., $6.95
Several years ago, Robert Penn Warren offered a recollection of his short story “Blackberry Winter,” describing how he wrote it and what he had hoped to do. It was, among his stories, almost a work of pure imagination, certainly not a transcription of fact. Of his characters in the story Mr. Warren said, “I never knew these particular people, only that world and people like them.” But he remarked of his novels that they started “from some objective situation or episode, observed or read about, something that caught my eye and imagination so that feeling and interpretation began to flow in.” He did not say anything further about the relation between episode and feeling.
I suppose the writer to act upon a hunch in choosing his episodes, and to trust to his nature in governing the flow of feeling. In another place Mr. Warren quotes Coleridge on the imagination, that when “the imagination is conceived as recognising the inherent interdependence of subject and object (or complementary aspects of a single reality), its dignity is immeasurably raised.”
The question of the relation between subject and object, feeling and episode, seems to me one of the grand questions, and in Mr. Warren’s fiction the crucial matter. “Blackberry Winter” exemplifies a natural law, true to Coleridge’s sense of imagination and reality, interdependent. The reality proffered by the story gives an impression of being single, that is to say, single-minded, and I take this to be a proof of its validity. But often in Mr. Warren’s longer fictions and especially in his big novels I find the relation between episode and feeling insecure, and generally the feeling is exorbitant. Feeling and interpretation flow in, but their abundance is often gross, if we think of what occasioned them.
Meet Me in the Green Glen deals with the trial of Angelo Passetto for the murder of Sunder Spottwood. Like Mr. Warren’s World Enough and Time, it is a story of sin and expiation, and it is concerned more with the motive than the deed. Mr. Warren starts well back from the crime, and he comes to the fifth act of his drama only when he is good and ready. The theme is what Jeremiah called it in World Enough and Time, “the crime of self, the crime of life.” Making subject and object interdependent once and for all, Jeremiah says, “The crime is I.”
I have a feeling that Angelo Passetto would say the same thing if he could. But this is the trouble with the new novel. Mr. Warren’s narrator said of Jeremiah that “out of his emptiness, which he could not satisfy with any fullness of the world, he had to bring forth whatever fullness might be his.” Such an effort justifies the high rhetorical mode of the book. But Jeremiah was capable, at least he could make the effort, and the style of the book registers the stress of feeling and perception. Poor Angelo can’t even make …