Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, December 1934

The Proud and the Meek (Men of Good Will, vol. Ill). By Jules Romains. Knopf. $2.50.

Jules Romains is advancing, with great effect, on a wide literary front. There is a kind of aesthetic relentlessness in the man. He has taken for himself one of the great jobs of our time; and no bookkeeper could beat him as to thoroughness or faithfulness: yet Romains' matter is the coalesced emotion of an old and swarming city. He is giving up proportionate poetry; he has beautifully measured metropolitan buzz.

A little boy's father loses his job and the little boy grieves and wonders; he wonders while in another part of Paris a sensitive, high lady tries, confusedly, to annul the effects of an adultery. A Parisian brothel, of a gorgeous kind, is described and, while a scene takes place there, a likable and naïve priest meditates on worldly and celestial love. Marie Champcenais at last succumbs to Sammécaud, elegant oil man, member of a massive French Trust; Havercamp, the accurately and grandly dreaming man of real-estate, at last is actively engaged in a scheme worthy of his magnificent ponderings; and the little boy delivers flowers and coffee in order to help his unemployed father.

Romains sees emotions as making a pattern, the way lines and colors do. It isn't just their simultaneity in a world-city that he's after. He sees the emotions as making an Emotion-Form that is greater in meaning than their simple aggregate.

In the present volume, the rhythm between the Proud and Meek is the essence. There is that rhythm — of arrogance and humility — both as to the people of a city and the various aspects or parts of ourselves. Findings of sociologists and latter-day psychologists and psychiatrists are presented by Romains in terms of invention, action, color. Romains is indubitably one of the most informed men on today's earth. In this book are chemical analyses, popular songs, real-estate documents, theological meditations, political utterances, life in the streets — including a brothel and an abortionist's establishment. However, what is more important to me is the tenderness of Romains here and there: once, when two lovers suddenly know more; another time, when a small boy and his mother reach a deep place in themselves; and a third, when the sincere priest gets, really, a little nearer to the God of his innumerable breedings.

The Proud and the Meek is slower than the other volumes; there is in it less turmoil, less sharp and speedy contact. Yet it adds to both tenderness and pitiless knowledge. Romains is a poet of slow and sad twilight who knows his cruel daylight. He has industriously and successfully sought the spacious and mysterious.

Eli Siegel.


Reviews by Eli Siegel from Scribner's Magazines 1931-1934. Copyright 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyrights renewed. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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