7 SEPTEMBER 1934, Page 18


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.] Sin,—The writer of a letter under the above heading in your issue for August 31st has possibly voiced an opinion held by numbers of your readers, since I, too, had been struck- by the absurdity of spending fifty lines in dealing with a novel which finally was contemptuously dispatched as "a silly and badly written book."

Naturally the ordinary reader like myself at once thought : "If so silly and so badly written, why waste time over it ?

And now, as though still more to confound us ordinary readers, there appears in the same issue as the letter to which I refer, a half-page publisher's notice of this very novel, quoting at some length a eulogy of it, taken from The Times Literary Supplement.

When two competent critics review the same novel, and one dismisses it as " silly and badly written," while the other hails it as "an unusual and powerful novel," and states that it "unquestionably falls into the category of" The Shaving of Shagpat, and Wuthering Heights, well, what is the ordinary reader to think, except that criticism is so arbitrary a business as to be almost better ignored ?

It is no uncommon thing to see a book which has been rapturously received as epoch-making one moment sink into unwept-for oblivion the next, and during the development of the English novel perspicacious critics have been known to show grave errors of judgement.

Would it not then, Sir, be of greater benefit to the reading public if reviewers worked on the plan of dealing in the space allotted to them with as many books as possible which seem to them to show merit, stating concisely their reasons for so thinking, and contenting themselves with a mere mention of those which they deem unworthy?

One often finds oneself as irritated by devastating disparage- ment as by fulsome praise.—I am, Sir, &c.,