OPINIONS & VIEWSnDespair & EscapenMatthew J. Bruccoli: Some Sort of EpicnGrandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald;nHarcourt Brace Jovanovich;nNew York.nMillicent Dillon: A Little Original Sin:nThe Life and Works of fane Bowles;nHolt, Rinehart & Winston; New York.nby James J. Thompson, Jr.nWho shall unriddle the puzzle of thenartist nature? Who understands thenmingling of discipline and licence innwhich it stands so deeply rooted?nThomas MannnJ-(Ong after novelists have become asnscarce as wandering bards, biographersnwill continue to ply their trade, servingnup to a ravenous public the morsels ofnfact—scintillating, titillating, edifyingn—that they have picked from the molderingnbones of long-dead writers. Whynthis compelling fascination with the livesnof novelists? What does that knowledgenbring one? Does Hemingway’s suicide illuminenThe Sun Also Rises? Do Faulkner’snbouts with the bottle enhance thensplendor oiAbsalom, Absalom?nThe ancient Greeks revered the poet asnone touched by the gods; perhaps we stillnseek in the novelist’s life a revelation ofnhow the divine afflatus confers upon anfrail mortal the awesome power of words.nGiven the proclivity of novelists for a selfdestructivenessnthat shows itself inndrunkenness, sexual debauchery, pillsnand suicide, the reader of biographiesnmay simply be seeking the thrill of skatingnvicariously around the edge of thenabyss. The starving poet who puts a bulletnin his brain is terribly romantic so longnas that poet is not oneself. Then, too,ntales of la vie boheme enliven what wenoften mistakenly see as the quotidiannDr. Thompson is the former associateneditor of the Cnmnidts.n(tnChronicles of Culturendrabness of our proper and respectablenlives. No, there will never cease to be anmarket for the annual ctop of literarynbiographies.n”All the world’s a stage/And all thenmen and women merely players,” wrotenShakespeare, and even the most unimaginativenof men enriches his existencenby donning masks, changing costumesnand playing Lear one day, Falstaff thennext. This should frighten the chroniclernof even the most mundane of lives, butnhe who would take the measure of a novelist’snlife faces an especially difficultntask, F. Scott Fitzgerald pinpointed thenproblem: “There never was a good biographynof a good novelist. There couldn’tnbe. He is too many people if he’s anyngood.” The novelist transmutes life intonart, but to a greater degree than hisnfellow actors, he faces the temptation tontransform art into life: a novelist’sncreativity does not cease when he laysndown his pen after a day’s labor. Fitzgerald’snwarning to biographers camenfrom self-knowledge, for, as MatthewJ.nBruccoli points out, Fitzgerald castnhimself in a variety of roles. Others havendone the same: William Faulkner struttednthe streets of Oxford, Mississippi as anself-proclaimed war hero, and Hemingway’snefforts to be the man of his imaginationnled him to the brink of habitualnprevarication. Of Jane Bowles, MillicentnDillon writes: “Of course, she knew shennnwas puzzling, and she enjoyed it.”nProfessor Bmccoli recognizes the obstaclesnthat litter the path of the biographer;nhe accepts the challenge boldly,nand even quotes on the flyleaf of his booknFitzgerald’sdenigration of the biographer’sncraft. Bruccoli seeks a solution innempiricism: “My understanding of thenresponsibility of a biographer is that henshould assemble a great many details in anusable way, relying heavily on the subject’snown words.” Facts will dispel thenfanciful accretions of a lifetime, and thentruth will emerge. In A Little OriginalnSin Millicent Dillon piles up informationnand “the subject’s own words” as assiduouslynas does Professor Bruccoli, butnMiss Dillon searches for somethingnmore: by distilling the inner meaning ofnJane Bowles’s existence she hopes to gainninsight into her own life. Biography,nthen, becomes self-revelation.njfxnyone with even a passingnacquaintance with American literarynhistory can recite the familiar facts of thenFitzgerald story: the talented but undisciplinednPrinceton undergraduate;nthe successful young novelist, author ofnThis Side of Paradise and The GreatnGatsby; husband to the beautiful andndestructive Zelda; the Golden Boy of then20’s, cynosure to a generation of youthnlonging for glamor and good times; thenalcoholic and fading novelist of the 30’s;nthe failed Hollywood scriptwriter, deadnat forty-four, leaving behind the unfinishednmanuscript oi The Last Tycoon.nThe stuff of legends lies in those barenfacts, and if Fitzgerald has been victimizednby the legendmongers he has onlynhimself to blame; he created thosenlegends himself.nProfessor Bruccoli sees Fitzgerald as an”hero, with many flaws, but a heio.” Tonassess that judgment one need go no furthernthan BruccoH’s book, for he suppliesnall possible information. One must certainlyngrant that there was “some sort ofnepic grandeur,” as Fitzgerald called it, inn