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The Dream Of The Golden Mountains: Remembering The 1930s

May 2024
1min read


by Malcolm Cowley Viking Press Photographs, 352 pages, $14.95

Exile’s Return , Malcolm Cowley’s important memoir about the literary expatriates of the 1920’s was first published forty-six years ago. Now, after a long career as critic, essayist, and poet, Cowley picks up where he left off to tell us how he and his generation of writers responded to the bleak, scary early years of the 1930’s.

Writers are not easy joiners, but in a world that seemed to be dying, with no work to be had and people’s precious savings entombed in closed banks, Communism seemed to many of them the only source of hope. Cowley says: “By surrendering their middle-class identities, by joining the workers in an idealized army, writers might help to overthrow ‘the system’ and might go marching… out of injustice and illogic into the golden mountains.”

It is hard now to realize how close we seemed to actual revolution in 1932. An American Federation of Labor official warned a Senate committee that “if something is not done… the doors of revolt… are going to be thrown open.” A banker talked matter-of-factly to a historian about “the coming revolution.” And Lloyd’s of London began selling wealthy Americans insurance against riot and civil commotion. Actually, the only Americans who violently defied the law were “solid Midwestern farmers” bent on thwarting mortgage foreclosure sales.

Although he spoke and marched for Communist-sponsored causes, Cowley—like most of his friends—never actually joined the Party. Nor was the Party dying to have him. All intellectuals were suspect to the Communists, and writers in particular were regarded as a “Bohemian and wholly undependable element.”

In time it became clear that capitalism had been saved by the inventive energy of FDR, Cowley writes, and the dream of the golden mountains slowly faded or was ruptured by disillusion with Communism. The passionate idealism that Cowley recalls seems oddly innocent now, and this honest book is evocative and touching.

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