22 AUGUST 1941, Page 21


IT is curious that the western mind, so richly provided with formal and deep-based symbols to fit the whole span of human experience, shoukl seek to adapt to its purposes, always uncomfortably as it seeds to me, the amorphous raptures and images of the east, especially of India. The Transposed Heads is a Brahman fable written by the great German, Thomas Mann. It is a slight and sensuous thing, too remote and consciously fabled for its terrible- ness to affect us more than does that of Bluebeard ; in any case, humour is effectively mixed with its gore ; especially the humour of scared and anxious humanity in timid debate with a crusty deity.

The story is of two young men, both " twice-born," who fall in love with the same young woman. The humbler one, the "Krishna-manifestation," woos her for his friend who is of priestly Brahman caste and who, when he gets his bride, does not make an immense success of the marriage. He is not sufficiently sensual for the girl, whose desires have been troubled by the bodily beauty of Nanda. All three are unhappy, therefore, until en pilgrimage they come to a shrine of Kali, the dark mother, where terrible events take place, and after the two young men have beheaded themselves they are restored to life by the girl's intercession, but—by her clumsiness—with heads transposed. This accidental solution is, of course, no solution. In no time everyone is unhappy again, and Brahman honour and philosophy have to provide a suitable violent ending. The tale is short but d.squisitional, and embellished by sly humour—but the necessary Indian sensuousness is too heavily lacquered on, too decorative ; and the whole conception is somewhat artily naïve.

Ramoine Cat, being announced as a novel for high, medium and low brows, some of us will be left wondering what kind of brows we have. I confess I have found this " outrageous novel " quite boring. It deals with English history of the year 1540, when Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, plotted successfully with Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, for the overthrow of Thomas Cromwell, the destruction of the Lutheran influence in England and the diVorce of Anne of Cleves who stood for that influence. The Ramping Cat is Norfolk's niece, Katherine Howard, who succeeded Anne of Cleves as Henry's wife.

The story is written as if taking place in the England of, say, 1938, complete with telephones, radio and cocktail-parties. That is an amusing enough idea, if only Mr. Mawson had been more outright contemporary and had not been content with the boring idiom of the clubs in Pall Mall ; if also he had not had the unlucky notion of sentimentalising his ramping cat, faking her as a sort of bright-young-person-gone-thoughtful, a slightly tousled Arlen heroine who has seen the light in terms of duty to England. I think we would all have preferred to retain our hazy memories of the peccant " rose without a thorn." Nor can it be said that the " Spanker, but by God you're a brick," line of talk of these English statesmen falls any more freshly on the ear than Would a few " gadzooks " and " sirrahs." However, the piece of history is ingeniously, not to say laboriously, worked out, and backed up with plenty of carefully paralleled hatred of the