Virginia Spencer Carr, R.I.P.

by John J. Miller

The biographer of John Dos Passos has died, and news of her death sent me reaching for Dos Passos: A Life and flipping to the sections that cover the great novelist’s association with National Review:

Many schools that invited Dos Passos to discuss his views, influences, narrative techniques, and work as a chronicler of his times billed him as “The Radical of the Twenties Who Turned Conservative.”

William F. Buckley, Jr., was at Yale University as an alumnus to hear Dos Passos address a group of undergraduates at an honors convocation assembly in 1964. Buckley had been Yale’s most prominent radical as a student in the early 1950s, but was now a standard-bearer of conservatism. Dos Passos had been writing for Buckley’s magazine, the National Review, almost since its inception in 1955. “I think it the most amusing of the weeklies at present, although I don’t always agree with it,” he told Myra McPherson, a reporter for the New Haven Star

Dos Passos was one of the best-known novelists of his day, though he is almost forgotten now. I have a theory about him, based on little more than intuition: His political turn from Left to Right, which began in the 1940s and perhaps culminated in his support for Barry Goldwater in 1964, resulted in his failure to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and, perhaps more importantly, compelled liberal professors to remove him from reading lists and course syllabi. Carr’s biography does not address this subject–in fact, it seems unaware of the possibility–but I’m halfway convinced. A couple of years ago, we put his book Midcentury on our list of ten great conservative novels.

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