THE LAST ROMANTIC: A Life of Max Eastman by William O'Neill

THE LAST ROMANTIC: A Life of Max Eastman

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Walter Lippmann welcomed Enjoyment of Poetry (1912) as ""the revelation of a very vivid and lovable human being."" Edmund Wilson spoke of Eastman the apostate as ""the winter log that floats in the swimming pool and prevents the concrete from cracking by itself taking the pressure of the ice."" A large spirit, a great life; but a graceless, lint-picking biography. Ascendant in pre-WW I Greenwith Village, Max Eastman transformed the Masses into a dual celebration of art and revolution and edited it for five buoyant years until it was banned from the mails; went to Russia (1922) a hopeful Leninist, left a despairing anti-Stalinist to write Since Lenin Died (1925), the first exposÉ of Russia's turn toward repression; maintained a lonely anti-Soviet, pro-revolutionary position until 1940, when he repudiated socialism; supported McCarthy, contributed to the Reader's Digest and National Review, mellowed into a more discriminating anti-communism; produced, in Enjoyment of Living (1948), a startlingly frank memoir of his painful early life; and, right along, wrote poetry, sought and fled women, resisted certainties. O'Neill takes it all in but his account has no moving center, no personal perspective, and, most surprisingly (since he edited the Masses anthology, Echoes of Revolt), no political buttressing. Identifying himself as a historian rather than a biographer, he dwells nonetheless on Eastman's sexual difficulties and fails, for instance, to explain the difference between right and left socialism. Eastman is constantly weighed--by O'Neill, by others--and often found wanting. Regretting Eastman's aversion to journalism, O'Neill observes astoundingly that he practiced it ""as required, so his life was not a failure."" (There is also, inexplicably, no list of Eastman's works.) But O'Neill has ferreted out so many strong, divergent opinions that readers will have some sense, perhaps, of what the fuss was about.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press