THE GENTLE AMERICANS: Biography of a Breed by Helen Howe

THE GENTLE AMERICANS: Biography of a Breed

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You linger over this and its length alone denies the quick judgment. You can hardly find a contemporary biography to compare it to, because they just aren't written like this any more; it's long, warm, affectionate and concentrates on the minor incident rather than the larger scene. It starts from the author's father, Mark de Wolfe Howe, he of the literary biographies, and gathers in his Boston--C.T. Copeland, Lowell of Harvard, and the Jameses. They were, like it or lump it, second level intellectuals, inbred, inverse snobs who spanned the two decades before and after the turn of the century. Was it The Good Life, so dear to the hearts of those who View With Alarm every contemporary thing? No. But, Howe was a good man and this is not a poor book. Some tough editing would have made it a shorter and better book. Nevertheless, you start it and you can only stop for intervals. You go back. There is a sense of total recollection/recreation. If you, as reader, must ramble with an author, then ramble with Helen Howe, who can at least turn a phrase and probe, without arrant judgments, just what it was like to live in the upper echelons of the Never-Never land Cleveland Amory loves and hates. He's never really touched this part of it. It's Harvard and Boston and an Image. The author doesn't genuflect before it, but it compasses what Howe's young friend Marquand tried to capture in fiction more than once. Social history, a daughter's tribute (the author's disarmingly wry about this genre) and rewarding reading in the sense that you can plainly see what is meant by the term The Ordered Life. We could finish by saying, ""A regional market"" and be very right, but this Boston had its effect across the wide Missouri too, so buy it gently, widely.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1965
Publisher: Harper & Row