To the Editor:
If Miss Magid rates Tennessee Williams as our “only American playwright since O’Neill” [“The Innocence of Tennessee Williams,” January], her comments on the others must be unprintable. Since she writes of Williams with only occasionally mitigated contempt and since the others are presumably even worse, theater-going must bring Miss Magid masochistic suffering fit even for a Tennessee Williams heroine. Apparently, only the anticipation of taking revenge in print carries her through.
. . . Surely a critic should approach with humility and gratitude any body of serious and even partially successful artistic work. Trenchant analysis does not require vituperation. . . . Williams, Miss Magid tells us, has a virginal heart. Miss Magid suffers from a malady equally debilitating, namely, undergraduate ferocity. . . .
The central vision of Tennessee Williams is obviously the basic duality of sex and of life itself. It is a common enough concept, however strange the situation and people through which Williams expresses this. Most of his characters find sex and life both compelling and frightening. The sexual relationship is the most intimate and the most promising of all human relationships and, therefore, often the most degrading and most disillusioning. Sometimes Williams shows sex as miraculously healing. Val in Orpheus Descending almost succeeds in bringing Lady back from hell through sex and love. But usually Williams shows more interest and compassion for those who fail in sex and life. Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire tries desperately and is destroyed; Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has once tried, but has finally retreated from life; and Laura in The Glass Menagerie has never had even the strength to begin. Williams endows his defeated ones with a strange beauty, but he also shows us that their surrender is a kind of death. To Miss Magid this is “a child’s refusal to accept the fact of sex, that, yes, grownups really do it.” Williams knows that grownups do it; but unlike Miss Magid, he also knows that they often do it badly and turn sex and life into a nightmare. Like all artistic visions, this represents only a part of reality; but this incompleteness does not make it contemptible nor does it justify Miss Magid’s gamesmanship. . . .
Binghamton, New York
To the Editor:
While Marion Magid has addressed herself to the by now tedious subject, the vanishing of American virility, in “The Innocence of Tennessee Williams,” she has done so with refreshing wit and insight. She has the kind of outrageously impertinent mind which might even upstage Mary McCarthy. Let’s hear more from her.
New York City