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The Novel and the People

By Ralph Fox

An American Introduction

Howard Fast

LONG before I read The Novel and the People, I had heard of Ralph Fox. His story came to life for me in bits and unrelated fragments, which, as I pieced them together, made a picture of a man of splendid and brave stature. In time to come, when the anti-fascist of the thirties is recognized as one of the great heroes of all human experience, Ralph Fox will be by no means the least in the ranks. And in a sense, he is typical – a combination of intellect and faith, theory and action: a peculiarly and wonderfully new servant of humanity.

I have heard people say what a wasteful shame it was that such a man as Fox should have died in Spain, fighting fascism at a time when so few people knew the real nature of that enemy – a waste because surely, if he had lived, he would be a valuable and strong leader of the intellectual life of our times; yet I wonder whether anyone can render a judgment on that point: Fox knew what he was doing; he made his choice with a consciousness of the forces, those social and historical forces of life he always took into consideration, and he fought wherever it was most necessary.

For all that he died so young, he left us a treasure of writing; and in his written words there is the same boldness, the same recognition of necessity, and the same understanding of reality which existed in his life. And that you will see clearly enough when you read The Novel and the People, for reading Fox is never a passive experience, but rather the sharing of a bold and exciting intellectual adventure.

In this book Ralph Fox is seeking for causes and effects – an artist trying to analyze the nature of the disease that is destroying his art. Again and again, with knife-like precision Fox hits to the core of the matter. Intellectually, he is bold, completely unafraid of taboo; and thereby, striking out so angrily, he reaches many conclusions that are amazingly valid. And in doing so, he creates the most stimulating and exciting book of literary criticism that I have ever read. He is an adventurer, and he takes you with him into the exciting experience of Marxism and culture.

And his tools are superb; he writes in the old tradition of English letters, and his prose is both graceful and vital.

Withal, the reader should be reminded that this book was written eight years ago, and that the great changes which have occurred since have affected literature as well as everything else. Also, in those eight years, the Russian novel has come to a new maturity – one that would have excited and pleased Ralph Fox, had he lived to see it.

For Americans, too, the book is more of a stimulation to thought than an appraisal of our literature; many of the questions Fox poses have been answered in the tradition of our novel, and his overall picture of the novel would be strengthened by the inclusion of such writers as Clemens, Melville, Sinclair, Anderson, Lewis – to mention only a few. Again, Fox lays too little stress upon the dynamic interplay of reader and writer which is understandable when we consider the time in which he wrote; for example, in America today, we have a new and tremendous book audience in the middle and working class, and there is no doubt that this audience will play an important part in the maturing of the novel.

But as I said before, in Fox's time the world situation was different. In that world, where fascism was a growing, terrible, and comparatively unopposed monster, Fox fought manfully for his art, which is the art of freedom, equality and brotherhood. And his book will remain, for many years to come, the brilliant record of a Marxist writer who believed that only from the people could a great art spring.