10 DECEMBER 1937, Page 40



IF we are to regard fiction as an art, none of these novels provides muchfood for discussion. Mr. Mason alone is thinking

primarily of his story, and though The Drum is a very pleasant

little tale, it is. also a very simple one. < Miss Campion and Mr. Bruce Mai-shall are-thinking of pacifism ; Mr. Rodocanachi

is thinking of the Origins of the Greek genius,.. of the ethno- logical deductions to be drawn from the exploits of his modem Ulysses. At the same time, both Mr. Rodocanachi and Mr. Marshall have accepted the traditional novel form, while Miss Campion has rejected it as far as she possibly can. In Thirty Million

Gas Masks she presents a group of -clever people at Cambridge, she endows them with life and individuality, but solely for

the purpose that they may talk about pacifism. The aim of her novel really is didactic and speculative as that of a Platonic dialogue, and, as in several of Plato's earlier dialogues, though the question under review is threshed out exhaustively, no definite conclusion is reached, we are no nearer to a solution at the end of the discussion than we were at the beginning. Moreover, we are less hopeful, because now it looks as if there were no solution. The book terminates on this far from cheerful note : "Must we fight war with war ? Can we, by resisting with non-resistance, convince any one that pacifism is practical ? Can we make the slightest impression, with our negative pacifism, on our own age, our own generation ?

"And finally, the final question : Is there no other way out but this, that we must either kill or be killed ?

"As we now are, none."

Well, that is that. Only must we remain as we now are, and, if not, what is going to change us ? An elderly Spaniard in Mr. Bruce Marshall's Luckypenny advocates a return to Christianity. It will have to be a new species of Christianity, for the old kind never prevented war, and frequently encoinaged and created it. The characters in Thirty Million Gas Masks, like the invisible stranger in Mr. Wells's The Camford Visitation, put more trust in education. Let us glance at some of their suggestions. To deprive children of toy-soldiers, of airiUns and popguns, to suppress patriotic history in schools, national anthems, maps of the world with the British Empire picked out in pink. It is true that nationalism, emotional nationalism, sooner or later inevitably leads to war, yet these Measures to discourage it seem pitifully feeble. Education is valuable; I am sufficiently optimistic to claim that it has had a visible effect on our treatment of animals ; but its influence works slowly, and meanwhile science, working very rapidly, has changed the whole aspect of war, stripping it of the list rags of romanticism, making of it a thing in comparison with which the campaigns of Napoleon appear like harmless military pageants.

These questions occupy the first half of Miss Campion's book. . _ ,

They are interrupted by an air raid which wipes Cambridge out, and in the second part her intellectuals irre ghosts, but still lingering on in the desolate gas-poisoned region where they died. Here Miss Campion has done little to create an illusion. The atmOsriliere is not ghostly, the ghosts aré. not ghdstly : though invisible, they remain in other respects as_ material as before, and they still argue about pacifism. They build up their pacifist State, and the irony is that when this State is threatened by the intrusion of living men and women, they determine to fight for it. I must confess that, in spite of all I had been reading, I found myself looking forward rather eagerly to this fight. It promised to be exciting ; I wondered how it could be done. Miss Campion did not gratify my curiosity. In this austerity probably she was right. The fight, at all events, is left to imagination, and the novel ends with the ghost army. marching to battle.

Mr. Bruce Marshall approaches his theme from a different angle. His hero, Luckypenny, is a clerk in the armament firm of Cornelius Lamsden (occasionally _ Rimsden, because Mr. Marshall has read his proofs a little carelessly). An Italian company owes Lamsden five million lire, but it is impossible to get the money out of the country, so Luckypenny is sent to

see what he can do about it. It is the first upward step in his rise to wealth and power, and the first downward step in a

moral tragedy. Luckypenny becomes, with Lamsden, co- director of the firm, and becomes equally ruthless. Their policy is to exploit war for the purpose of building up their private fortune, but there is no loyalty between them, and,

though they are united by more than business ties, each tries to get the better of the other. Lamsden, Who is- a widower,

marries Luckypenny's daughter, and she leaves hini for _another

man : Luckypenny's son falls in love with Lainsden4S daughter, and shoots himself when he discovers that she -has been leading a promiscuous life. These. minor episodes spring directly from the main theme. Evil propagates evil, and the innocent are destroyed with the guilty.

. The novel is more a satire than a realistic study, but the several elements in it have not been blended into a uniform texture. A note of levity intrudes, and the incidents are often improbable. Mr. Marshall does not seem to have quite decided what kind of book he wished to write. He is certain of his moral, and for the rest we get Luckypenny's adventures on the continent—half burlesque and half sensational—the suburban satire, and the love scenes.

Mr. Rodocanachi works more consistently. No Innocent Abroad is not a very good novel (technically it is a bad novel), but it does throw a light on the mind of the modern Greek, and that for me was its chief attraction. Whether, had I been less attracted by the mind of the ancient Greek, I should have found it so interesting is another matter. Possibly not ; for these digressions, in which Mr. Rodocanachi traces the survival of the old spirit in a modern world, constitute the very technical faults I have alluded to. And I don't know why he should call Hermes Mercury, Zeus Jupiter, and Odysseus Ulysses. Ulysses is his hero, whom we -meet first as a little guttersnipe in the island of Cephalonia, and whose adventures we follow until he becoines a mighty force in European politics and finance, manipulating the strings of world war and world peace. He is first a shoeblack, then he trades in hashish, then he helps Kitchener to conquer the• Sudan, then he becomes representative of "the greatest armament firm in the world." Hi inherits much of the astute- ness, wisdom and courage of his famous namesake. He, too, is a wanderer, though there is no Calypso, no Circe, no Pene- lope in his life. His success, indeed, is largely due to his indifference to women, which leaves him always free to profit by the opportunities that fate throws in his way. He is a great man, even if his greatness is not of the kind one most admires. He is a plotter and a schemer, but he is not ignoble, not like Lamsden and Luckypenny ; unconsciously there is the tradition of race behind him, and though he is uneducated he is a gentleman.

Mr. Mason's The Drum is much shorter and slighter than the foregoing books : it is also, I dare say, more conventional. Miss Campion would detest it, because it breathes the very spirit of nationalism—the great glorious British Empire—I, on the other hand, enjoyed it, though not for that reason. The scene is India, the protagonists are a young English officer and his wife, a little Indian prince, and a drummer-boy. From this you will divine the sort of thing to expect. And your surmise will be right. But Mr. Mason can tell a story, and the kind of story he likes to tell implies a confidence in and a sympathy with humanity. He is eminently a writer whom Plato would not have banished frcm his Republic. I like that kind of story too, yet it does not blind me to the weak point in Mr. Mason's tale, which is his drummer-boy. Bill Holder is too much drawn to a pattern, too like Kipling's drummer-boys, and Mr. Mason, thinking only of boyishness in general, has somehow got him mixed up-in time. He is modem enough to use contemporary slang, yet at other moments he belongs to the last century. No modern boy is deeply versed in the lore of Mohicans and Cherokees, but "what Bill Holder didn't know of Fenimore Cooper wasn't worth knowing." Bill Holder, actually, would never have heard of Fenimore Cooper. - As a boy's - author - Cooper had been superseded even in my own boyhood. Mr. Mason, of course, is only spinning a yarn, but even in a yarn it is better to get

these things rigkt. . _ _ _