By GORONWY REES
Summer of Life. By Beatrice Kean Seymour. (Heinemann, 8s. 6d.) Andreas, or The United. By Hugo von Hofmansthaal. Trans- lated by Marie Hottniger. (Dent. 8s. 6d.) Days of Contempt. By Andre Malraux. Translated by Haakon M. Chevalier. (Gollancz. " 8s. 6d.) Tim English do not read on holiday, so no books are published in August. But for those who feel that a novel is a graceful
thing to hold in one's hands as one sits in a deck chair, I can confidently recommend Summer of Life. It will not alarm or bewilder or impose intellectual strain ; and it will add a pleasant day-dream to the torpor of an afternoon by the seaside. Eliot Merrall is an artist, an B.A., whose works sell and are admired by advanced critics—lovely things with a perfection of line. His son Max marries his promiscuous model Leonore, is betrayed, and left with a physical disgust for women which, until the end of the book, prevents him from marrying his true love Sally, housekeeper and angel in the house to the Merrall family. Lorna, Eliot's wife, is such a woman as we all want to meet, beautiful, sympathetic, generous,, good and wise, and is shot by the insane husband of one of Eliot's models. Ashe and Jill, her daughters, are married, one to a detective, one to a clergyman. One is dis- tressed because physical passion plays so large a part in her marriage, one is satisfied, content and priggish. The younger children play elaborate games involving a profound know- ledge of Shakespeare and English literary history. The Merralls are unconventional, but profoundly respectable, and their life conforms exactly to English ideas of what artists' lives ought to be, but, alas, too often are not. The Merralls are unconventional by instinct but not in deed, so they have the best, or worst, of both worlds. Eliot protests because his Philistine relations resent his painting from the nude. But he is equally shocked by the suggestion that he should use Leonore as a model after she has married his son. This seems to me a curiously inconsistent attitude ; and I would suggest that complexes so deep as thoe from which Max suffers could hardly be so conveniently cured by the news that Sally is to leave the Merrall family.
But. it would be unfair to disparage Summer of Life. It is patiently and carefully written, and constructed according to the best rules for writing a novel. Take a group of people, more or less related ; identify each character by a few easily recognisable marks, internal and external, so that they can never be mistaken for each other ; presume that these marks compose the whole of their characters, and dictate their responses to every situation; but let their re- sponses be controlled also by the necessity that goodness ought to and therefore must prevail ; introduce a few irrelevant incidents—murder, adultery, bankruptcy, shipwreck—to raise the story out of the commonplace ; and you have the plan for a novel which novelists, with few honourable exceptions, all follow. Those of the greatest talents exercise them in giving probability to this inherently improbable scheme of things ; some can even afford to discard the irre- levant incidents ; others merely hope for the best, and the best is perhaps only that one should create people with " characters " exactly and precisely defined, such, indeed, as we should like people to be. Yet perhaps they are not. For a man may carry his " character " about with him like an overcoat. If on a hot day he were to leave it at home, he would lose very little. But such a suggestion is perhaps too paradoxical to receive much assent, certainly from our novelists.
Nothing could very well be less like Summer of Life than Hugo von Hofmansthaal's unfinished novel, Andreas, or The United. The two long chapters describe Andreas von Fer: schengclder's journey from Vienna and stay in Venice in the year 1779. The story, so far as it goes, is symbolical of a metaphysical struggle which shows itself in chance meetings, inexplicable events, dreams, ambiguous love affairs; 'and eccentric characters who, because they exist as agents of good and evil, lose the sharp outlines of individuals - and shade away and merge into one another, yet preserve their reality. It is curious that the struggle itself is vague and undefined ; while the characters, for all their shifting identity, reveal a witty and inventive creative power. " He wrote hurriedly, the breeze tugged at the page, he ought to have lost his temper, yet there was a self-command in all his limbs, a—so strange the word may seem—courtesy to all the lifeless objects which rendered him such sorry service." In addition, the atmosphere, moral and physical, is excellently suggested, yet without historical descriptions and allusions. Hofmansthaal has at least this talent of a good novelist, that he gives us a sense of the persons and the scene of his novel melting into one another, so that both are alive. It is perhaps an equal talent that he can suggest the formlessness and ambiguity of people's lives, becoming sharp and precise only at moments when they are dominated by some idea or emotion.
M. Malraux, like Hugo von Hofmansthaal, and, I think, like all great novelists, is more concerned with types than indi- viduals, The English novel has always been cursed by the desire to create " characters," so particular, so fully specified, that they exclude everyone and everything else except them- selves. M. Malraux, however, believes that what differentiates people is less important than what unites them. This is not a matter of technique but of an attitude to life. It is the view, profoundly superficial, of most novelists that men are particular, unique, and important because they are unique, and on this the whole of their psychology, which, for all their talent, is sterile and false, is founded. M. Malraux represents men as representative, of good and evil, of forces which transcend the individual. It is a tragic view of life ; it is also a Marxist view of life, and M. Malraux is perhaps the only living writer who has succeeded in exploiting the psycho- logical and emotional material which Marxism can give a novelist. For he has understood that it may enrich and refine his psychology. The novelist who succeeds in creating characters particular in every detail must find that he has bound himself to a mechanical psychology, which allows of only one possible response to each particular stimulus ; this is, I think, the cause of the peculiar untruthfulness of the English novel. But M. Malraux sees men with all the infinite possibilities and variations of the classes, the interests, they represent, with the vitality of the forces which work through them, and, in addition, with the moral grandeur of men engaged in a conflict too vast to be exhausted in any clash of individuals. They are the agents of a doom and a destiny.
To see life in this way may be easy, to represent it thus, concretely, demands genius. In Days of Contempt M. Malraux works with material that would give no scope to the conven- tional novelist. Kassner, a Communist, is arrested by the Nazis, imprisoned, brutally mishandled, released owing to an error of identity, and escapes from Germany by aeroplane to rejoin his wife in Prague. The novel merely describes the sufferings, ideas, fears, sensations of a prisoner isolated in his cell. But Kassner is not only an individual, he is the representative of a class and a movement, and his sensations and ideas have the power of transcending his prison, they expand, like stones thrown in a pond, uniting him with his fellow workers, everywhere, in China, Russia, Siberia, Germany. They unite him with them not only in imagination but in fact ; for he knows that, with madness approaching, the effort to control and direct his sensations and ideas, to retain his integrity so that he will not commit treachery; is itself an act in the struggle to overcome the brutality and evil of the Nazis. It is this expansion of the individual into something' greater which giveS such pathos and significance to Kassner's sufferings and makes them a centre of conflict.
The novel, which is very short, is in part a work of piety, dedicated to "the German comrades who were anxious for me to make known what theykad suffered and what they had upheld." No one but M. Malraux could have succeeded in the task, and in Days of Contempt, as in La Condition Ilumaine and Les Con- querants, he shows himself to be the most interesting and the most moving novelist- now writing.