And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair . . .
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
-T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), Anglo-American poet, critic. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Up to the Parlor
Sep. 29, 1941
ELLEN ROGERS—James T. Farrell—Vanguard ($2.50).
With this novel, James T. Farrell, tireless author of the Studs Lonigan trilogy and its sequels, moves from the noisy and redolent cellars of shanty Irish up into the parlor.
His heroine, Ellen Rogers, belonged to Chicago's Catholic bourgeoisie. It was 1925, and Ellen was bored. She was too lazy to keep up her horseback riding or her piano lessons. She could not make up her mind whether to go to college or not. She did not get around to reading much. But she did get some fun out of tormenting mediocre boys. She was clearly a setup for a ruthless and clever man whose egoism would outweigh hers.
Ed ("Hellfire") Lanson's mountainous egoism crushed hers like a mouse. A good-looking, powerful, self-educated fellow—Swinburne was his favorite poet; Nietzsche was his god—Ed's flood of talk was mostly a lurid rehash of his reading. Ellen was too ignorant even to understand much of it, but it fascinated her. Ed was a good salesman, but he hated to kowtow to people, tossed up one job after another. He liked to stay away from home, living in hotels and boardinghouses.
Before long Ellen was reduced to a soft, whining, pleading, quivering mass of lust and fear—fear of losing Ed. Naturally he tired of this and left her, with studied brutality. Ellen made frantic, shameless, almost somnambulistic efforts to get him back, finally saw no escape from her agony but the night-black waters of Lake Michigan.
Like Dreiser, James T. Farrell writes with his thumbs. His words are blunt tools that he must wield with force and repetition. Some of his dialogues, about nothing in particular, seem interminable. The significance of Ellen Rogers is not in its writing but in the fact that here for the first time Farrell has contracted his view from social to individual conflicts, against the backdrop of a higher social milieu. He has succeeded after a fashion, like a strong but clumsy pugilist who beats down his opponent with 15 rounds of body blows.