In response to:
Mr. Updike's Planet from the December 4, 1986 issue
To the Editors:
As one of those critics, indeed “English professors,” whom Frederick Crews takes to task for admiring John Updike’s work [NYR, December 4, 1986], I found Mr. Crews’s evisceration of that work too whole-scale to be true. It is accomplished by paying no attention, let alone respect, to Updike as a writer who has produced dozens of splendid short stories, also novels as strong as The Centaur, Of the Farm, and the Rabbit books. What Mr. Crews does instead is to rip out illiberal, unright-thinking utterances from a number of novels, in order to convict Updike of “classbased misanthropy.” His latest one, Roger’s Version, is described by Crews as “not just the author’s Scarlet Letter but his Heart of Darkness as well.”
To be compared to Hawthorne and Conrad, how ignominious! I should think that now Mr. Crews is certainly in a position to perform similarly reductive operations on the work of those two novelists, and perhaps on Henry James as well. All it takes is a rigid suppression of any pleasure in narrative, scene, or sentence, in favor of a sternly moral disapprobation of the writer’s “ideas.” Given the range of bad ideas various novelists have entertained, the possibilities for eviscerating them are endless.
William H. Pritchard
February 12, 1987