THE DREAM OF THE GOLDEN MOUNTAINS: Remembering the 1930s by Malcolm Cowley


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The mountains in the title stand for the idealized socialist future for which Cowley and many other writers struggled in the early 1930s when America was in the grip of the Great Depression. So this is a literary memoir with a difference--about a later generation than Cowley wrote about in Exile's Return, and events colored by economic and political realities. During this chaotic period, Cowley was literary editor of The New Republic, a subsidized weekly with no need to cut salaries or reduce staff. Although he did not join the Communist Party, he cooperated with it as a fellow traveler, and he attempts to answer the question: ""Why did so many Americans of more than average intelligence accept a body of doctrine that predicted (rather than preached) the violent overthrow of American institutions and looked forward to a dictatorship of the proletariat?"" The appeal of Communism, he has come to believe, was essentially religious, offering the comradeship and moral standards that were missing in contemporary society. Interspersed with the bonus and hunger marches, the New Deal and the deadly battles of the coal miners, are sections on Cowley's rather comfortable personal life. We learn about his ex-wife and her relationship with Hart Crane just before the poet killed himself, and we accompany Cowley on visits to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at their melancholy Baltimore retreat, and to Allen and Caroline Tate in the Tennessee tobacco country. The memoir ends in 1936 when Cowley and his new wife settle in Sherman, Connecticut, leaving behind a New York full of German, Austrian, and Spanish refugees. Less vivid or acute than Exile's Return, written shortly after the fact, this is instead a reticent, rather melancholy remembrance of a time when illusions kept despair from the door.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Viking