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The Crimson Bookshelf

MAINLAND, by Gilbert Seldes. New York. Charles Scribner's Sons. $3.00. 1936.


By this time, the Frederick Jackson Turner thesis of the influence of the frontier in American history has been sufficiently overworked to be regarded as no longer novel; Mr. Seldes, in a charmingly written, yet somewhat prolix production naively presents an emasculated re-examination as the key to America's way out. Again we stand at the Cumberland Gap to hear the pounding of the buffalo feet, the tread of the Indian, the tone of the oxcart--and in many more pages than Turner's memorable paragraph. Because of the frontier America need become neither Fascist nor Communist. Just what it will become, Seldes veils in a murky optimism.

The elements of vitality adventure and individuality which caused the turbulence of the Trans-appalachian west have left a residue in American culture and psychology forbidding the growth of the totalitarian state. Mr. Seldes as much as admits that this is wishful thinking: as a liberal he needs something to fight for and seeks it in a middle ground. For a politician, particularly a reforming politician, to be on the fence, weakens his position. Seldes therefore dresses his appeal in dramatic phrase which fortunately fail completely to conceal a fairly perceptive mind.

If Mr. Seldes is boring in his regurgitation and melodrama, he is delightful and cutting in his examination of whether America possesses a culture. This hundred page introduction is thoroughly worth the price of admission. Seizing upon quotation after quotation from the writings of expatriated aesthetes, intellectual dilettantes, and sycophantic snobs, Mr. Seldes revels in defending American culture. With a deft touch, which reveals Selders'' abilities as a social critic if not as an economic theorist, he hurls the vaporings of the effects back into their very teeth. American culture, like American political psychology, is boisterous, unashamed, and preeminently honest even about its faults. In this section of his book, Mr. Seldes proceeds with a confidence unfortunately lacking when he resurrects the shades of Harvard's own Turner.

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