Nymph and Schoolboy
Jeremy at Crayle. By Hugh Walpole. (Cassell. 7s. Gd.)
IT is almost inevitable that the immediate successor of a really triumphant novel should be something of a disappoint- ment. The popular success of an unusual book like The Constant Nymph niust mean an invasion of the creative mood by a thousand distracting appeals, the temporary disturbance of that recollection in which new images Of humanity catch breath from their author's desire.
In Red Sky at Morning the chief figures are again unstereo- typed and engaging, while the Botticellian Emily sweetly -retains the wild innocence that delightfully invested the Tessa of the previous book. (It is almost as if these sex- conscious days had an occasional impulse to revertto mediaeial virgin-worship.) Yet the story has an air of haste and even ". of caprice ; the hurried style betrays the serial form, blurs the fairer figures and leaves the less sympathetic too crude. The twins, William and Emily Crowne, are the children of a literary artist- whose -acquittal from the charge of murder . left him convicted of even more sensational offences. They grow up in the country, happy and heedless—elfin children Then, for a time, under the rose-red sky of their morning, they move like fairy riders through the applause of London, radiant and dreaming, concealing the latent violence and obscure distress of their heritage with exquisite and nonchalant manners, so interdependent that the boy is called "Siegmund" - by his jealous yet appreciative cousin, Trevor. It is plainly inevitable that here is a case of " So swift bright things come to confusion " ; but one is slightly discontented with the mode ' of the catastrophe. When 'Emily realizes in panic that she and her brother are but pariah princes after all, she might, frantic for security, have wedded her old friend the parson. But the nymph-like substance is not so easily subdued by a physical alteration ; and the idea that, she becomes happy with him, even when she allows motherhood to possess her, is not made credible by the author. .Meanwhile William, exasperated by the cheap siren who has married him and by the quarrelsome ways of the artists' community he has settled at Monk's Hall, is goaded into killing Trevor one summer night. The story ends on a note of suspense. Will Emily wake frantic from her sleep ? Will Trevor's own word be taken, and his death be called suicide ? The substance of the novel is original and pathetic ; but it calls for more delicate care in its manipulation. As it is, we have a sense of rootless futile creatures inadequate to their doom. The " crowd " of Bohemian conversationalists talks stridently, as in many other novels by present-day women ; but the sweet English river-landscape, glimpsed behind the later scenes, is very soothing. This is, of course, a notable novel ; and any disappointment with its development is a kind of tribute to the author.
Mr. Hugh Walpole as a psychologist has a remarkable range. He can make a beautiful and terrible Gothic cathedral the protagonist of a tragedy ; with a Balzacian ruthlessness and an almost unholy insight he can pursue old ladies to their ultimate dens of desolation ; and he can faithfully recapture the obscure and violent motions in the backwoods of a small boy's consciousness. I suppose you are already acquainted with the sincere, the turbulent, the dimly but truly perceiving Jeremy. This is the description of his first term in the Upper . Fourth at Crayle, when he is fifteen and a half, and the possessor of a third of a study. Puzzled by his own changing tastes and The uneasy attitude of his transitional year, he " blunders or is pushed into some uchippy situations that make him writhe at human injustice ; but his clear honesty brings him through. So persuasive and intimate is Mr. Walpole's way that his -reader becomes deeply absorbed in Jeremy's tfobbleS. -The:pressure of the beauty of sound and colour and remote fair images on the Shy, shamed mood of the adolescent is. suggested with fi:tender;ret.. plat Mr. Walpole can also describe a football-maich.wifh such a zest that the rankest outsider. will "watch the 'changing fortunes -breathlessly. He can convince you that a physical fight of some fierceness is the
best way for boys to settle a feud. He' can even induce. you to believe that a midnight.feast of sardines, doughnuts, potted meat, marinalide, bikuits, and sausage rolls might be a consummation of earthly bliss. But he cannot persuade me that, when the Head gazes ecstatically over his white-built school beside the sea, and finds it very good, he would not be better employed in clearing up the jungle of the Lower School, and that his nickname should be, not the Camel, but the Ostrich. I cannot believe in the happy ending of the torture of the Dormouse. " It is only the too imaginative who are more than temporarily bruised, and even they not for ever," says Mr. Walpole, the apostle of fortitude. To be tortured in childhood is to be bruised for ever, whatever callosity of surface may cover the tortured nerves. Jeremy, however, is not one of the maimed, and his term ends gorgeously with the wild rapture of the Callender match, when the frosty stars beginning in the clear sky, and the chrysanthemum scents in the eager air, are mingled with the sense of heroic victory. With this book Mr. Walpole should capture a host of new admirers, for nobody who has any sympathy with boyhood can afford to miss this lovable hero in his critical year.
RACHEL ANNAND TAILOR.