bought an estate there.) Not a singlenwitness attests that she ever had tonwork at Macy’s — the very idea isnlaughable.nHellman did know someone whonsuffered for his beliefs during the 50’sn—namely, her longtime friend, lover,nand political mentor, Dashiell Hammett.nHammett went to jail in 1951nrather than testify before a grand juryninvestigating the Communist Party.nHe was a party member, and onensenses that he went to jail (for sixnmonths) almost with relish: There isnsomething Orwell-like in Hammett’snobsession with integrity, machismo,nand masochism. In some ways, in fact,nHammett is the hero of Wright’s book.nIt’s clear why Hellman was attracted tonhim, why for 30 years he was hernclosest companion (though they bothnhad numerous lovers on the side).nCertainly she stuck by him in his lastnyears, especially when he became increasinglynsick and difficult to livenwith. It makes a pretty picture (spoilednThe Poet of FearnTwo worlds there are. One younthink You know; the Other is thenWell.”n—Fred ChappellnBone-numbing descents; white,noverflowing beards sprouting sharks,nwhite whales, and Indian maidens;nbutchered hogs smiling at the worldnwith baby-blue eyes; yellow-hairednstrangers in the field confrontingnlittle boys with intimations of deathn—Fred Chappell’s planet, sometimesncalled the South, writhes likena pleat of snakes, copperheads onenand all.nThe Fred Chappell Reader (NewnYork: St. Marhn’s Press; $22.95)nhas been put together by scholarsn(which may explain the inclusion ofnthe complete text of Dagon asnChappell’s “best” novel), but FrednChappell is too good a writer to benhurt by such an error. “Suffering isnthe most expensive of human feelings,”nwrites Chappell, “and sufferingnis simply one means of carvingna design upon an area of time, ofnby Wright’s subsequent revelation thatnHellman cheated Hammett’s childrennout of their literary rights under hisnwill, by this means eventually earningnherself some $250,000). In any case,nperhaps Hellman’s deep admirationnfor Hammett led her to wish that shenhad really done and suffered more innthe 50’s. The result was the distortionsnin Scoundrel Time.nHammett was an open and ferventnCommunist, and the biggest influencenon Hellman’s life. What, then, werenher politics? Here we arrive at one ofnthe deepest Hellman mysteries.nThough Wright displays a great dealnof sympathy for Hellman, he suggestsn(with due hesitation) that she was ansecret member of the CommunistnParty until the day she died. That ideanhas serious consequences. It wouldnmean that while Hellman pretended tonbe a firmly unaligned and fiercelynindependent figure of the left, in realitynwhen she spoke on national issuesnher positions were dictated to her bynREVISIONSncharging with human meaningneach separate moment.” The youngnNorth Carolinian who wrote thatnknew things beyond his years, andnpossibly his experience. This wasnnot lost on the Academic Frangaisenthat awarded Chappell the Best ForeignnNovel Prize for Dagon. Chappell,nthe American connoisseur andnadmirer of Rimbaud was laudednand feted—one of the worst thingsnthat can happen to a young writern(that is how “men of letters” arencreated).nIn The Storytellers, from his recentnbook I Am One of You Forever,nChappell writes, “It occurred to menthat my father was preoccupiednwith the problem of Homer’s blindness.nHomer had lived in historynand told his stories about real soldiersnand described in grisly detailnbattles he could not have seen. But,nlike Uncle Zeno, Homer had leftnno trace in the world. Patient scholarsnwere forced to debate whethernthe poet had ever actually lived.n. . . What if Uncle Zeno’s storiesnso thoroughly absorbed the charactersnhe spoke of that they took leavennnthe party apparat. In other words, shenwas used by the party as a sort ofn”Judas goat,” leading naive and trustingnpeople to the intellectual slaughterhouse.nAnd so useful was this tacticnthat the party decided her membershipnmust never be revealed.nThis is positively sinister. It is alsonnot very likely.nHellman was certainly no mere liberal,nand she was certainly no civilnlibertarian (despite her self-portrait innScoundrel Time). As Wright says, hernanxiety was mainly for the civil libertiesnof Communists. Moreover, Hellmannoften did follow the current partynline, no matter how nonsensical itnwas. Hence we find her in 1939-40nfiercely arguing to her friends thatnmighty, aggressive Finland had attackednthe weak and peaceable SovietnUnion. A nice touch this, from thenperson who later claimed to be unablento cut her conscience to fit this year’snfashions! Obviously, it depended onnwho was asking her to do the custom-nof everyday world and just went offnto inhabit one of his narratives?nEverything connected with themnwould disappear, they would leavenno more sign among us than anhawk’s shadow leaves in the snownhe flies above. The only place youncould find Achilles these days wasnin the Illiad. Had he ever existednotherwise?”nFred Chappell is a poet, and, likenRimbaud, he sings of the world henhas yet to see with Homer’s blindnaccuracy. Yet, poets are often anyoung breed (Homer must havenbeen young even with white hair),nand Chappell’s world is caught innthe amber of childhood—gossamer,nwondrous, and fearfully immediate.nSmiling, stroking a black cat,nFred Chappell looks at us from thendust jacket of his Reader. We justnmay hope that he lives long andndoes not suffer overmuch in hisnlatter years. We need the delight ofnhis worlds brought gleaming upnfrom descents and depths, by thenjeweled, miraculous web of hisnwords. (MS)nSEPTEMBER 1987137n