Saturday, March 24, 2018

On Dawn POwell

Terry Teachout in the NYTBR:

No such luck. Dawn Powell remains today what she was a half-century ago: a fine and important writer adored by a handful of'lucky readers in the know and ignored by everybody else. Interestingly, Powell has yet to be taken up by the tenure-haunted injustice collectors who live to exhume Unfairly Neglected Women Writers and add them, by force majeure if necessary, to the canon they affect to despise. It says much about the mind-set of the pesto and phallocentrism crowd that the person who may end up being chiefly responsible for bringing about a Powell revival is, of all things, a mere journalist. Tim Page, a music critic lately of New York Newsday and now of The Washington Post, has been collecting Powell first editions (there are no Powell second editions) for years. What started out as a hobby has become an industry Mr. Page is at work on the first biography of Powell; last year he edited “Dawn Powell at Her Best. ” an omnibus volume that attracted wide and favorable critical notice.


It is a remarkable novel, one of the permanent masterpieces of childhood, comparable with “David Copperfield,” “What Maisie Knew” and the early reminiscences of Colette. Reading “My Home Is Far Away,” one inevitably wonders why Powell never found an audience. The most likely reason is that her books are devoid of the dogged earnestness that has always been for most Americans the only sure sign of true art. Like all satirists, Powell was in deadly earnest, but she never saw any reason to be tiresome about it. Her touch was light, her tone whip-smart, a pair of attributes that confused even so shrewd a critic as Diana Trilling, who gave “The Locusts Have No King” a mixed review, to which Powell replied in her diary, “Gist of criticisms (Diana Trilling, etc.) of my novel is if they had my automobile they wouldn’t visit my folks, they’d visit theirs ” Mrs. Trilling is nobody’s fool, but she went to see the wrong family. Dawn Powell was one of America's best. novelists and if there is any justice -a proposition at which she would doubtless have laughed wildly, she will soon receive her due. 

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