Not Mere Sex....

James MacDonald writes that O'Hara describes 'love,' 'not mere sex

Both in his own voice and through Gerald Higgins (Ourselves to Know), JOH confessed to being in love with Fitzgerald's Rosalind Connage.

That made me feel better about being in love with Kate Drummand (Ten North Frederick) and Norma Budd (From the Terrace). They are, admittedly, among O'Hara's most attractive characters, intended to provide their respective counterparts with sentimental education.

They also add weight to my belief that O'Hara, more accurately, writes about love, not mere sex. His sexual passages are almost cursory, The consequences, covering the balance of many a novel and at the heart of most of the stories, constitute a career-long examination of men's and women's commitment to one another.

Yes, of course, O'Hara's work is concerned with manners and morals, the social history of the United States of his time and ken. But relations between men and women, as he acknowledged, is the most compelling theme, and in this respect he bears serious comparison with D.H. Lawrence.

Both writers share an intensity of focus and a detailed analysis of inter-personal commitment. In BUtterfield 8, for example, the relationship given greatest attention is between Eddie Brunner and Gloria Wandrous, not Gloria's numerous affairs, including the fatal one with Weston Liggett.

Kate and Norma (to bring this back) are crucial to their counterparts' development, and the scenes in which they figure are sustained conversations about commitment, not repeatedly detailed descriptions of sexual intercourse. For O'Hara, as for Lawrence, sex is an important component of love. But it is clear that the emphasis is on love, however elusive it may be, finally, in much of his work.

The greatest slur anyone can make against O'Hara is to say that his writing is cheap, sex obsessed. It simply does not stand up, either under detailed critical scrutiny or an attentive perusal of any single work.

(James MacDonald is a member of the John O'Hara Society).

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