By Love Possessed: Too many pages, too many semicolons

By Love Possessed covers 49 hours in the life of Arthur Winner, a respected lawyer in a small, rural New England town in the early 1940s.

James Gould Cozzens puts readers inside Arthur’s head. They see the story unfold through his eyes. They also hear what Arthur thinks and feels about what’s happening.

Since there’s no narrator to provide context, readers have to figure out who is who  and what’s going on. That’s not easy.

At times, By Love Possessed reads more like By Semicolons Obsessed. This is dense prose, folks.

If you dig long enough, the plot that emerges is this: Ralph, the brother of one of the secretaries in Arthur’s office, is accused of rape. Arthur jumps in with all lawyerly speed. While working on Ralph’s problem, Arthur learns he’s got a few problems of his own. Meanwhile,  unhappy with lawyerly speed, folks take things into their own hands, bringing the plot to a climax while Arthur fritters.

This novel could have been a lot better if it had been 200 pages shorter. Cozzens got so wrapped up in producing a literary work, he forgot about telling a story.

Too bad.

With ruthless editing, this could have been a great novel.

By Love Possessed
By James Gould Cozzens
Harcourt, Brace, 1957
570 pages
#1 bestselling novel for 1957
My grade: C
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Published by

Linda Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. My program for turning teens and adults into competent writers is just eight sentences, 34 words.

One thought on “By Love Possessed: Too many pages, too many semicolons”

  1. I think you are wrongabout By Love Possessed. Though it is not as good as Cozzens’ two masterpieces, The Just And The Unjust (Which Dean Zechariah Chafee oF Harvard Law School and others called the best book about lawyers and the law ever written) and the Pulitzer Prize winning Guard Of Honor ( Hands down, the finest American novel about World War Two;Such light weights as George F..Will, Edmund Morris, George Stiener, Bernard De Voto, and John P.Marquand called it a work of genius, while the distinguished sociologist Robert Nesbit said that, together with Lolita, it was indispenable for understanding modern America), it is , infact a remarkable portrait of the decline and fall of the old White Anglo Saxon Protestant establishment. The protagonist, Arthur Winner, is portrayed as a man who loses far more often than he wins,and who is not a hero like King Arthur. Arthur, but a man runnig out of time in a world that may be running out of time as well. Note what Cozzens himself said about the book: ( My subject is) the underlying,everlasting opposition of thinking and feeling,with life’s simple disaster of reason and passion, self division’s cause.” ( Gee, no semi-colons!) Why do great American authors-and, contrary to fashionable opinion- he was one of thegreatest, no matter what”c have to fall victim to well meaning, buut-frankly- rather shallow readers.


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