Cousin Honore. By Storm Jameson. (Cassell. 8s.) September to September. By Jacobine Menzies-Wilson. (Oxford University Press. 8s. 6d.)
Heart of a Child. By Phyllis Bottome. (Faber and Faber. 5s.)
THE other day I read somewhere in a review of Cousin Honore that it has "no love in it." Later, as I read the book, the remark came back, making me smile—for it is very likely what Caroline Burckheim, Honore's wife, would have said of the tough and guile-filled situation in which she was so long a bewildered, in- effectual participant. And if the comment be taken as repre- sentative of English feeling, it makes one wonder if English understanding will ever come to clear terms with the function of the novel—or, more narrowly, whether England deserves to have its present very small handful of good novelists.
But I must not generalise, though had I space there is much that I am prompted to say of the English idea of love, in con- nexion with this book, which denies that idea. The English idea, that love—of God, of wife, of house, or land, or food, or art— is a solvent or even a sedative, is denied in this novel by an Englishwoman about the intractable, logical, hard-feeling, warm- feeling French. The English idea is that love comes from with- out, to console and justify, and that if it does not seem specifically to do these things, it can be coaxed to, by compromise, and even by appeal to the sense of humour. Since none of us can be didactic about love, this conception may not be set aside; but it lays more traps for falseness and for waste than do some other apprehensions. Witness the degradation of feeling, through inept use of these devices, in the average successful English novel or play.
Miss Jameson sets those dangers out of her own reach in this new book. (That she falls here and there into another is one of the chances of a good fight.) She knows—I think I may say, out of admiration of her always restless, stretching talent, that she has learnt in trial and error—that the function of the novel is not, as the poetically endowed English will always try to have it, poetic or spontaneous. The novel -is not in its whole a lyrical conception, and may only be so momentarily, and at its peril. The novel is a structure conceived, admittedly, in the mists of inspiration, i.e., in sensuousness; but it must be worked and concluded by intellect At its best, it is a clearcut cerebral monument raised on feeling. It has, therefore, the whole human range for scope—which is its danger, and the reason why so many novels are written. Most of the normal energies and urgencies may meet in the novel—and that is why, however many fools assail it, it will always be an open field of art. Miss Jameson, to write of France, has sat at the feet of the French novelists. Where better could a novelist study, in any case? And this new book is packed with hard-won, uneven rewards. It is extremely interesting, for a start. And if its theme is worked somewhat overscrupulously, the stresses are never sentimental in the English sense. Where they weaken the book, that fault arises from a sensual mysticism akin somewhat to that of Jean Giono, whose earth-emotion has always seemed to me suspect, and to have been defeated now—as France herself has not been—by France's temporary defeat. But lovers of France will forgive Miss Jameson the boring, senile territory-sensuality of old Cousin Honore, not so much because it gives her occasion to write with proud, eliminatory care of the seasonal and tradi- tional beauties of French—here Alsatian—country life; but be- cause around that nucleus she raises a whole representative edifice of Frenchmen in action. As she justly claims to have done. Her book deals with Alsace in the twenty years between the conclu- sion of the last War and the opening of this, which has so tragic- ally humiliated France. But such irony—of hope, of faith in all things French, of celebration of French reason and French honour—as it contains, is only a momentary irony, as the history of Europe shows, and as we all believe. This book gives us meanness, vanity, fear and megalomania, in terms of French and individualistic desires. It also gives us love —exposed as a peril; a source of venality, cruelty, and honour. It shows us brains at work, for good and evil, upon the complica- tions of tradition and cupidity and self-respect. And if, in some of its asides on human feeling, it seems to ask too much of the unsaid or the monosyllable, its direction still is civilised truth. "He felt a passionate wish to be settled, to be bored if necessary for a lifetime if that were the alternative to living an exciting life without her." Plain sentences such as that abound, and say more about the force of human needs than novelists often attempt to say. And finally, the passion informing the book is, for our time, an essential one—for France, for its life, its restoration. Looking, on the brink of war, to the far future, Edouard Berthelin, soldier, Catholic, man of brains and honour, prays: "Let there be French hands and feet, and a brain." So do we pray, closing with gratitude this honourable passionate book.
There are other books this week—there always are There is September to September, which will please the general, gentle English taste". It deals with English country-house life from Munich to the declaration of war. It is graceful, tender, and will draw a few tears from the more tearful of the upper classes: But it is also rather Mrs. Miniver-ish. Mrs.- Miniver with all her blunt teeth drawn, let me hasten to say. The middle-aged narra- tor is sensitive and bewildered, and knows that the day of her beflowered, protected life is over. But in the round she fs just a little too pleased virith some of the trivia of that life The Ghost and the Maiden Makes one wonder whether one ought not to look again at The Spanish Farm. For my part, I remember it as moving, honest and somewhat original in feeling. But this elderly, nudging, repetitive Easthampton story, all about whether or not a grandfather was married to a grandmother, and whether or not it matters that the lovely Jasmine was a war- baby—outside the blanket, I mean—is somehow hard to put up with, being too smug in its homeliness and sometimes oddly:taste- less, in an Edwardian way, in its dialogue.
Heart of a Child is clearly written for the Christmas marker. and to meet the English desire for a nice, picturesque tale of sweet little boy and a darling dog. It is set in the Tyrol in th winter of 8988, but attempts no realistic re-creation of the day-to- day truths of that desperate time. It is a pretty story, and will find its way to those who have a use for it.