RING LARDNER AND THE PORTRAIT OF FOLLY by Maxwell Geismar

RING LARDNER AND THE PORTRAIT OF FOLLY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Maxwell Geismar begins with good advice: ""you should come to Lardner relaxed and ready to enjoy yourself""; but, regrettably, he has followed his own advice too well, allowing uncontrolled and often indefensible generalizations to nearly overwhelm his subject. What is the reader to make of statements such as: ""Though the American South was still in the throes of the Reconstruction Period, there were no black ghettos anywhere in the nation, no racial warfare"" or ""Before Lardner's period serious writers never used simple sentences or plain language"" or ""this is almost the end of what is surely a classic little work in its genre -- a genre, however, that is almost purely Lardner's own, and not touched by any other writer I know of except Mark Twain."" The entertainments Lardner wrote for the Lambs' Club were ""Surrealistic or Dada, it hardly matters which term we use to describe them since they are unique creations"" (several pages explaining those terms follow) though; as quoted, they read more like parodies than examples of either. Lardner's misogyny is attributed to his idealism and anti-materialism, but only one reference (to Sinclair Lewis' dislike of ""the talking woman"") suggests that this stance was also quite fashionable. In discussing Lardner's nonsense humor, Geismar admits that ""as soon as you try to explain it, it stops being funny""; however, this does not deter him from inflating his introduction to Lardner's work into a painful example of what you can get away with in literary criticism.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1972
Publisher: T. Y. Crowell