by Michael Anderson
A continuing conundrum of American literature is its failure to produce playwrights to equal its best poets, novelists, essayists, and historians. If Eugene O’Neill takes the top spot—he remains the only American dramatist to be awarded a Nobel Prize—it is more by default than merit. The irony is that the plays that secured his primacy were all written after his recognition in Stockholm, when O’Neill refined and intensified the treatment of his characteristic themes to produce his late-career masterpieces.
Such would not be the career arc of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Both enjoyed sensational early success. The Glass Menagerie received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award; A Streetcar Named Desire won the Critics’ Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. All My Sons won the Tony and Critics’ Circle awards (besting The Iceman Cometh). Death of a Salesman became the first play to sweep the critical trifecta, winning the Pulitzer, the Tony, and the Critics’ Circle awards. (It was also the first play to be offered as a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.) Both men enjoyed an even more rapturous public response. The opening-night audience of The Glass Menagerie saluted the cast with two dozen curtain calls. Death of a Salesman was hailed as “a rare event in the theater” by Brooks Atkinson, the mandarin drama critic for The New York Times. Kenneth Tynan opined that it gave audiences an “emo- tional effect unrivaled in postwar drama.”
This sudden profusion of outstanding plays—The Glass Menagerie premiered in 1945, A Streetcar Named Desire and All My Sons in 1947, Death of a Salesman in 1949—seemed to signal the postwar restoration of prestigious American theater. Williams and Miller, both in their mid-30s as the decade ended, were acclaimed as successors to O’Neill. Each, in Eric Bentley’s words, was declared “important before he made himself great.”
Although Williams enjoyed box-office and critical success through the Sixties—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the Pulitzer and a Tony; The Rose Tattoo and Night of the Iguana won Tonys—he abruptly lost both. His last five Broadway productions, from The Seven Descents of Myrtle in 1968 to Clothes for a Summer Hotel in 1980, were flops, with runs of 29 performances, then 12, 24, 6, and 14. Williams’s first two masterpieces remain the basis for his enduring artistic significance.
Much more stark was Miller’s reversal of fortune. After the historic success of Death of a Salesman, none of his new plays, excepting The Price in 1968, ran more than six months, bottoming out with the 12 performances of The American Clock in 1980. His last four plays were not even produced on Broadway. In the decade before his death in 2005, at the age of 84, “Miller’s new plays didn’t stay around nearly as long as the revivals of his old ones,” wrote Richard Corliss, drama critic for Time. “Miller had become one of those national theatrical treasures more honored as nostalgia items than as practicing showmakers.”
Even as it suffered eclipse in his homeland, Miller’s reputation ascended in England. By the 1980s he was acclaimed there as “one of America’s greatest playwrights” and revered by young theater directors; one of them, David Thacker, declared, “If you leave Shakespeare out of the frame he is as great as any writer in the history of play- writing.” (Only Shakespeare has had more works performed by the National Theatre.) A succession of new productions and revivals was “greeted with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for corona- tions and royal weddings,” in the acerbic estimate of Robert Brustein. For example, The Archbishop’s Ceiling, which flopped at the Kennedy Center and never reached Broadway, was a hit in London, where The Sunday Times called it a “gripping, thrilling play.” In 1991, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan had its world premiere in London. It did not reach Broadway for another seven years, and then it closed after 40 performances. Oxford, where Miller served as visiting professor of drama, granted him an honorary degree; the University of East Anglia named its Centre for American Studies after him.
As Brustein quipped, “England and America were two countries divided by a common playwright.” However, the tenor of Miller’s laudation—“In the United States, they didn’t like him very much because he was too outspoken and too critical of the way of life,” Harold Pinter proclaimed—suggests that cultural resentment inspired that favorite English pastime, mépriser les Américains.
A hoary critical cliché calls Williams the poetic playwright, Miller the political one. Miller energetically endorsed his label. He thought plays should be “social documents, not little piddling private conversations,” and though he grudgingly conceded that Williams’ works, like his own, were asking “great questions,” he criticized his rival for indulging in “verbal adornment for its own sake,” and neglecting economic determinism. (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he said, “gets deflected onto a question of personal neurosis,” focusing on “the mendacity of human relations” and evading “the mendacity in social relations.”) Miller himself, he declared, concentrated on the “general condition of men.” His reputation as a playwright engagé was established in 1953 with The Crucible, surely the most celebrated political “intervention” in the history of American theater.
This was the image memorialized at his death (“moral voice of the American stage,” pronounced The New York Times) and at his centenary in 2015: he was “never passive about his belief that drama should have social impact,” the playwright Lynn Nottage writes in her foreword to Penguin’s centennial edition of Miller’s selected plays.
But here’s the unanswered question: if the political nature of his plays is the basis to judge Miller’s artistic achievement, how do politics function in his drama? Did he transform ideology into art?
Like sex, political or social themes can become so intrusive in a work of art that aesthetic and critical judgment is suspended. “Like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, loud and vulgar,” Stendhal writes, “it is not possible to refuse one’s attention.” Too often, even an incidental reference to a hot-button topic earns a work the accolade “political” or “socially conscious,” even when the treatment is incidental. Two recent examples are the motion pictures Carol and Spotlight, both wildly overpraised because of their ostensible subject matter—gay rights and clerical sex abuse, respectively—even though inadequate dramatization renders these subjects peripheral. (How peripheral? Make Carol’s illicit lover male, and change the priestly crime to embezzlement: in each case, the film’s plot would play out unchanged.)
Irving Howe, the epitome of balance between political and aesthetic criticism, proposed that authentic political art so effectively converts “the hard and perhaps insoluble pellets of modern ideology” into “the quality of concrete experience” that they appear to “come to life . . . with the capacity for stirring characters into passionate gestures and sacrifices.” Paradoxically, however, the greater the success in merging ideology with the emotions of the characters, the more the political message is “transformed into something other than the ideas of a political program.” By opposing “the impersonal claims of ideology to the pressures of private emotion,” political art, Howe contended, “must always be in a state of internal warfare.” It is this tension that is the quintessence of aesthetic worth.
In that light, compare Arthur Miller with an irrefutably political playwright, Bertolt Brecht. The two share a remarkable number of biographical similarities. Both were born into affluent families; both had brothers who stayed home in the family business while their siblings pursued the muse. Both embraced Marxism in response to severe social dislocation—Germany’s collapse after World War I in Brecht’s case, the Great Depression in Miller’s—and, though enthusiastic Party functionaries, for both communism functioned more as an emotional salve than an intellectual commitment. Each was attacked by the Right (for attacking capitalism) and the Left (for deficient political correctness). Both produced an extensive corpus of non-theatrical works; each fancied himself a poet (Brecht with considerably more justification). Both were given to windy theoretical pontifications about theater that seemed less about drama in general and more about justifying their own plays. Both had unsuccessful stints in Hollywood. Called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, each dissembled (Brecht masterfully, Miller clumsily) about his political past. And each contracted a second marriage to a celebrated actress.
The difference is in their dramatic strategies. Contrast Galileo and The Crucible, both plays that reckon the price of free conscience confronted by ecclesiastical authority, an authority abhorrent to the contemporary audience. Brecht’s churchmen are presented as highly intelligent, their arguments skillful and compelling; Miller’s are self-righteously canting tyrants. In the dialectical interchange of ideas, Brecht creates drama; in his one-sided hectoring Miller delivers a message, the protest against McCarthyism in John Proctor’s refusal to name names—an act arising from neither the characterization nor the plot.
Between Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Miller wrote an adaptation (some have called it a “Bowdlerization”) of An Enemy of the People. The play is not Ibsen’s most psychologically incisive to begin with; Miller stripped all nuance from it. The result of what Robert S. Warshow called “Mr. Miller’s steadfast, one might almost say selfless, refusal of complexity” was repeated in The Crucible: an impassioned opposition of incontestable virtue against obvious hypocrisy. This empty conflict is presented again and again in Miller’s plays. (For example: in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, the protagonist asserts, “The truth, the truth is holy!”). So, too, is the defense of undisputed integrity—the closest approximation to an idea in his work. Instead of the moral simplification of art, Miller, as he would throughout his career, substituted the moral reductionism of propaganda.
“Stop telling us what we already know,” Gore Vidal once admonished him. However, doing so seems to be the foundation of the esteem in which Miller is held, and particularly that for The Crucible. It was his favorite; it is his most revived work, and one that in published form has sold in excess of seven million copies. It also is risible as an allegory of McCarthyism (“it has the over-simplifications of poster art,” Tynan commented), and despite regarding Salem as a “petri dish” easily converted into “a political metaphor,” historically distorted; had Miller “known more about the history of New England,” the distinguished historian Edmund S. Morgan writes, “it is possible that he might have found what happened at Salem less strange and more awful.” The play’s most interesting subject, the roundelay of marital recrimination, is sacrificed to moral grandstanding. What it continues to provide its audiences is what Warshow called “a generalized tone of affirmation,” a stimulus for complacent self-congratulation. Presenting no “particular insights or any particular truths,” the play instead “can only point significantly at the place where they were last seen and where it is hoped they might still be found to exist”; playgoers are content to be satiated by the “the assurance that insight and truth as qualities, the things in themselves, reside somehow in the various signals by which the artist and the audience have learned to recognize each other.”
“Pleading a case certainly seems to be one of Miller’s major theatrical and literary functions,” Brustein writes. His psychologically meager characterizations, the failure to perform what George Eliot called “the severe effort of trying to make certain ideas incarnate,” means he must resort to assertion without dramatization—the manufacture of meaning, as in John Proctor’s declaration of conscience, or, in All My Sons, Joe Keller’s sudden (and contrived) realization, after his son’s death, that all the casualties resulting from his defective parts were equivalent: “They were all my sons.”
Or consider Miller’s most famous line, “Attention must be paid.” Let’s ask what Death of a Salesman does not: Why? What makes Willy Loman special? If it is the mere fact of his humanity, as Miller seems to imply in his muddled musings on tragedy, this distinction is empty; Willy would be, as Mary McCarthy called him, “a Human Being without being anyone, a sort of suffering Statistic.” The play presents him as a bully, a braggart, a blowhard, an adulterer; when he decides his best gift to his family is leaving it, who can disagree? At times Willy is pitiable, at best, he achieves an anguished pathos (the play is a masterpiece of emotional manipulativeness), but never does he gain depth, let alone stature.
If much of Miller’s political content is overt statement, his social themes too often are jury-rigged onto the play’s real action. The Last Yankee is a serviceable drama of marital miscommunication; its suggestion that its couples reflect the country’s Founders is as jarring as it is irrelevant. Broken Glass is, at times, a ferocious account of a marital duel to the death à la Strindberg; it cannot support its bizarrely disconcerting analogizing to Krisallnacht. Most offensive is Miller’s equation of his own marital troubles with Nazi concentration camps in After the Fall. Even Death of a Salesman is far less about what Miller’s idolaters call “the vacuity of the American Dream” (already accomplished for the ages in Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt) than about parental angst. As Harold Bloom remarks, “Willy Loman moves us because he dies the death of a father, not of a salesman.”
The art and meaning of Miller’s work exist beneath the facade of sociopolitical commentary. Plays, like poems, are forged in Yeats’ “foul rag and bone shop of the heart,” and Miller’s dramas are rooted in his life’s story. (His most flaccid and uninspired work—Playing for Time, a dramatization of Fania Fénelon’s account of performing in the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz—lacks any autobiographical touchstone. It also goes unmentioned in his autobiography.) Again and again, he dramatized three decisive themes of his life: the estrangement from his parents instigated by the Great Depression, his guilt-ridden relationship with his older brother, and his marital frustrations.
Miller’s family was ruined financially by the stock market crash; his father suffered three business bankruptcies, and the family was forced to leave its luxurious apartment near Central Park for a six-room house in Flatbush, whose bucolic charms Miller would limn in Death of a Salesman. The emotional repercussions were much more devastating. The adolescent Miller conflated the collapse of the national economic and social structure with his familial disintegration (The American Clock begins as a panoramic pageant of the country during the Depression but narrows its focus to a formerly affluent Jewish family in forced exile to Brooklyn), in particular, the loss of his father’s authority. The father-son relationship “had a mythical quality to me,” Miller recalled, because the father “incorporated both power and some kind of a moral law.”
His enthusiastic espousal of Marxism as he turned 17 satisfied two deeply felt needs. It provided a comprehensive rationale for the country’s cataclysm, as well as a means of Oedipal rebellion—he once joined a picket line outside his father’s factory. If not a member of the Communist Party (which he almost certainly was), indisputably he functioned for two decades as one of its useful idiots. What Howe once called Miller’s “Stalinoid mentality” obtrudes throughout his career: the equation of capitalist as crook in All My Sons, the puffery of “the common man” in Death of a Salesman and A View From the Bridge, the agitprop of The Crucible, the condemnation of liberalism in Incident at Vichy, the sour disillusion of The Archbishop’s Ceiling. Like many a disgruntled lefty, Miller ended up railing against commercialization. His penultimate play, Resurrection Blues, posits that American advertisers come to a banana republic to exploit the crucifixion of a messianic insurgent leader. Despite the stray mordant witticism (“You care about people? Come down and get crucified!”), the play overall is as jejune as its premise (“Is there a hole in the human anatomy we don’t make a dollar on?”).
Miller’s ideological convictions sporadically meshed with his emotional needs; All My Sons is at once an exposé of capitalist corruption and an Oedipal deconstruction of patriarchal authority. However, its successor, Death of a Salesman, actually makes no political point, “neither a critique of the business world nor an adult vision of something different and better,” as the critic Ben Cardullo writes. “Rather, it’s the story of a man . . . who failed as a salesman and father, and made things worse by refusing to admit those failures, which he knew to be true.”
The figure in the carpet is the psychological subtext. Death of a Salesman complements All My Sons, in which filial disillusionment destroys the father. “I know you’re no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father,” Chris tells Joe (whom the stage directions describe as “A man among men”). Death of a Salesman dramatizes the reconciliation of father and son; the apotheosis of its emotional intensity is Willy’s exclamation, “Biff—he likes me!” (“Always did, Pop,” his other son declares.) Although neither a consistent nor consistently candid commentator on his own work, Miller once acknowledged that “Death of a Salesman, really, is a love story between a man and his son.”
The Price recasts the theme of filial discontent, this time from the viewpoint of the two brothers. It also is Miller’s most extended treatment of a recurring concern, fraternal estrangement. A pair of brothers features in virtually all of his plays, almost invariably with one who leaves home, the other remaining to assume familial obligations; the runaway feels guilty for his success and aggrieved at his own guilt, even though his sibling bears no resentment. This was Miller’s own history. He was able to escape Brooklyn to the University of Michigan because his older brother, Kermit—himself an aspiring poet—dropped out of New York University to assist their father in re-establishing the family business.
Kermit expressed no regrets. “When I think back, I was not ambition-driven,” he recollected. “I felt as though perhaps I could do something.” But Arthur never could rationalize his good fortune with the “sense of some absolute necessity” his stand-in yearns for in After the Fall. “There is no justice in this world,” a character says in his first Broadway production, a clumsy effort that only lasted four performances in 1944, and whose title says it all: The Man Who Had All the Luck.
Around the time in the Thirties that Arthur was discovering communism, Kermit became, as the phrase goes, a card-carrying member of the Party, a fact Arthur was surprised to learn nearly 70 years later. In his plays, the runaway brother is similarly uninformed about his stay- at-home sibling—more than that, incurious. His attention, and that of the play, is on his distress at the mystifications of circumstance. “I look at my life and the whole thing is incomprehensible to me,” one of the brothers says in The Price. “I know all the reasons and all the reasons and all the reasons, and it ends up—nothing.” Unable to justify the serendipity at work, the fortunate son wracks his conscience, affronted that he does so, and resentful of his brother’s lack of resentment.
An ideal situation for satire, or, at least, comedy; neither, alas, was Miller’s forte. (“The cruelest blow life has dealt him is that he hasn’t a grain of humor,” Noël Coward told his diary.) His first attempt, The Creation of the World and Other Business, in 1972, is, as the critic Clive Barnes wrote “a comic-strip version of Genesis,” whose sophomoric attempts at humor (“Gee, you know you look even better with that fig leaf on”) soon take a characteristic theme to its Biblical source, the story of Cain and Abel (“What are you guilty about? Just because your mother loves you best?”).
Nineteen years later, Miller tried comedy again. The Ride Down Mt. Morgan depicts a middle-aged bigamist whose secret is exposed when both of his wives are called to his hospital bed. Although exhibiting little gain in wit (the older wife dismisses her sexier, younger rival with, “She’s exactly the type who forgets to wash out her panties”), it is Miller’s attempt to confront with wit his third recurring theme, marital dysfunction.
Adulterous temptation features prominently in Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View From the Bridge—obtrusively so, in the opinion of some contemporary critics. “One never knows what a Miller play is about: politics or sex,” Bentley quipped. (Miller persisted. The title Resurrection Blues is a double pun: on the messianic rebel’s destiny and on the local dictator’s erectile dysfunction. Geddit?) The theme blared from After the Fall. Since the play opened in 1964, most comment has centered on Maggie, Miller’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe. (Understandably: the play provides the coda to the improbable union between what Norman Mailer enviously termed “‘the Great American Brain” and “the Great American Body.”) Neglected was the other principal female character, Louise. She is depicted as uncompromisingly moralistic, forbiddingly severe, and sexually withholding—the same characterization given Elizabeth Proctor (The Crucible) and Beatrice Carbone (A View From the Bridge) before her, and Theo Felt (The Ride Down Mt. Morgan), Patricia Hamilton (The Last Yankee), and Sylvia Gellburg (Broken Glass) after. All were patterned on the wife Miller abandoned for Monroe.
He met Mary Grace Slattery, an Irish-German Catholic from subur- ban Cleveland, at the University of Michigan; they married three years later, in 1940. They shared an enthusiasm for Marxism and an aversion for their families’ religions and politics. Crucially, they differed in temperament. “People were either right or wrong to her. She saw things pretty black and white,” Miller recollected. “I was not that way. It was rock and water. I was the water; she was the rock.” (Even to the decision to wed: “We never discussed it,” Miller said, “but women are always thinking of getting married.”)
Under the stresses of married life, she came to view his artistic absorption as neglect, while he saw her resolution as callousness. The situation was exacerbated by his Broadway success. In After the Fall, an exchange between the couple’s counterparts, Quentin and Louise, captures their emotional impasse: “You want a woman to provide—an atmosphere, in which there are never any issues, and you’ll fly around in a constant bath of praise—” “Well, I wouldn’t mind a little praise, what’s wrong with praise?” Miller found such appreciation thanks to what he called in his autobiography “the aphrodisiac of celebrity” (“I wanted,” he wrote, “to engorge experience forbidden in a life of disciplined ambition”), leading ultimately to Monroe and the end of his marriage of 16 years.
In Miller’s plays, the wronged wife consistently is portrayed as overweening in her rectitude, onto which the adulterous husband deflects responsibility for his transgressions (“You will not judge me more,” John Proctor intones), as well as onto her emotional and sexual withdrawal (“Maybe I don’t speak because the one time I did tell you my feelings you didn’t get over it for six months,” Quentin says), before deciding that it is they, not their wives, who are the wronged parties (“If I dared admit the whole idiotic truth, the only one who suffered these past nine years—was me!” Lyman Felt declares). Once again, the essential issue is blamelessness.
“I’m a stranger to my life,” laments Quentin, Miller’s most obviously autobiographical character. “And all that remained was an endless argument with myself. . . . Which, of course, is another way of saying despair.” The action of a Miller play is the quest for a clear conscience. His two most heartfelt dramas, Death of a Salesman and After the Fall, are, effectively, monologues of this interior squabble, in which the protagonist recapitulates his moral anxieties.
But how curious are the terms of this fraught effort at self-exculpation. It ignores claims from the external world (“Do you ever ask me anything? Anything personal?” Louise asks Quentin) as much as it rationalizes, even justifies actual wrongdoing (“It’s amazing, the minute you talk about truth you always come out looking better than anybody else!” Lyman Felt is told). Miller’s protagonists indulge in an almost prurient luxuriance in their own moral distress (“The innocent are always better, aren’t they?” Quentin frets. “Then why can’t I be innocent?”), the mere expression of which, they seem to believe, commands forbearance, if not commendation. It was this spirit, apparently, that motivated Miller himself to announce to each of his first two wives that he had rejected sexual invitations from other women, even though he was attracted to them. Expecting admiration for his candor and restraint, he was astounded by Slattery’s and Monroe’s all too predictable reactions.
The prolonged expiration of Miller’s marriage to Slattery inspirited what emerges as Miller’s most fully achieved play, A View from the Bridge. Although it is camouflaged (as usual) by a putatively “political” message (it is patently a riposte to On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s apologia for squealing to HUAC), what it dra- matizes is a feverish, illicit erotic obsession—what Miller felt during his affair with Monroe. (Though dreading “the end of my marriage,” he writes in his autobiography, “the thought of putting Marilyn out of my life was unbearable.”) The play’s cursory characterization of the scorned wife reflects the focus of the playwright’s attention.
The relative inarticulacy of the characters in A View from the Bridge precludes Miller’s typical verbose sophistry; with the marvelous paradox of art, the play’s emotional impact is more powerful for being unstated. (“Too see,” as Howe remarks, “is far more than simply to understand.”) Coincidentally or no, the play also suffers less from Miller’s peculiar habit of dithering at the resolution, when the issues of the drama must be settled. Usually his characters, as Barnes wrote, teeter “painfully, if metaphorically, between a plaintive ‘Ah but!’ and a poignant ‘If only then!’” Concomitant with this irresolution is their stasis: the characters may change but they fail to develop. None of his protagonists, excepting Joe Keller in All My Sons and Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge, achieve insight. (Miller eventually acknowledged this flaw in Willy Loman, which should put paid to the flatulent contention that Death of a Salesman is the American King Lear.) Instead, Miller asserts their “innocence.” The attention he insists should be paid is forced, not earned.
Similarly static was Miller’s thematic development. What he professed at the beginning (All My Sons: “I don’t know why it is, but every time I reach out for something I want, I have to pull it back because other people will suffer”), he repeated at the end (Resurrection Blues: “I have spent a lifetime trying to free myself from the boredom of reality. —Needless to say, I have badly hurt some people dear to me—as those who flee from reality usually do.”).
He was the opposite of O’Neill, another playwright who continually revisited and reconfigured the significant situations of his life. Also like Miller, O’Neill disguised his autobiographical subtexts; instead of the patina of politics, O’Neill employed elaborate (and attention-diverting) aesthetic devices. If, as Miller’s biographer proposes, “guilt was in some way a motor force” of Miller’s art, the same can be said about O’Neill’s. But O’Neill ultimately discarded the barriers of artifice to confront his demons directly, and acknowledged his involvement in his family’s misfortunes. Miller’s work is an endless cycle of evasion and efforts at self-justification. O’Neill‘s art sought absolution. Miller manufactured exoneration.
While studying playwriting at the University of Michigan, Miller was told by Professor Kenneth Thorpe Rowe to study Ibsen; he saw productions of A Doll’s House and Ghosts, and All My Sons shows an obvious influence. But with Death of a Salesman Miller self-consciously turned his back on Ibsen. The disunion was presaged early. Rowe emphasized that Ibsen “made character the heart of his drama. In writing a problem play he subordinated thesis to consistency of character.” Miller, on the other hand, responded to what he considered Ibsen’s “anti-capitalist militancy”—again using politics to camouflage personality. He could not sustain the Norwegian master’s psychological density and penetration, what Francis Fergusson calls “Ibsen’s relentless clarity of vision, the moral courage to accept all consequences.” He lacked the splinter of ice in the heart Graham Greene considered a necessity for a writer.
James Joyce believed the quality of the art depends on the depth of the artist’s life—a debatable notion, to say the least, and one whose best rebuttal might be Joyce himself. However, it is true that a writer who persistently mines his autobiography tends to return to his most harrowing memories, “his own private hell,” as Tennessee Williams writes. In that case, the measure of the art might be how unflinchingly the artist confronts his personal terrors. It is that yardstick that elevates Long Day’s Journey Into Night to the pinnacle of American drama. And by that criterion Arthur Miller falls short: faced with the abyss he not only blinked, he kept his eyes screwed shut—the flaw that causes his work to emit the stench of the second-rate.