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Author Reveals Experiment in Mass Emotion

Three Plays. Prisoners of War. 1918; The Dutch Merchant. Lion Feuchtwanger. $2.75. Viking Press

“1918,” the second of the three plays included in the collection of Feuchtwanger’s plays written from 1917 to 1919, marks, in the prefactory words of the author, what he terms “a futile attempt to immerse himself in mass emotion.”

This attempt at sharing sentiments that would lead to belief in some sort of anarcho-communist program, was foredoomed to failure; there was finally a “return to the confession of individualism which had been his intellectual starting-point.” For Feuchtwanger values highly an artocracy of intellect and feeling. The spiritual plebes, he would seem to believe, almost inevitably reduce the high aims of a leader to immediate satisfactions. And this reduction, Feuchtwanger has it appear in his sometimes portentously allegorical play, fatally allows the old powers to climb back.

The first play, “Prisoners of War,” was published in Germany—evidently more tolerant than most of the Allied countries of a sympathetic literary treatment of prisoners—during the war. “The author was impelled,” Feuchtwanger states in his preface, “to give expression to his disgust at the mental attitude towards the War.” He chose to express his disgust through the tragic love of Mechtild, who introduced as “blond, tall and slim,” straightaway engages our interest.

In the play the author beats, not inexpertly (but all the time, of course, hampered by the censorship) what for some is the dead dog of nationalism. Those for whom the dog still writhes may find the spectacle cheering.

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