31 MAY 1930, Page 31


"Mos et Mores"

IT is Blake, I believe, who says somewhere that to generalize his the sign of a weak mind, and like most of Blake's utterances the remark carries an uncomfortable load of truth. None the

less generalizations may serve a useful purpose, at once eco- nomic and comparative, and can do little harm provided that belief in them is not substituted for belief in the objects thereby associated together. They may even, on occasion, comprise a truth which would remain invisible if left distributed over a variety of unrelated instances. Miss Sackville-West's new book, The Edwardians, is a case in point, for it consists largely in a series of superb generalizations about London Society in the early nineteen hundreds. I do not, for a moment, think .that it is any the less true for that. In fact, it is almost impossible to conceive such a book, essentially a roman de moeurs, being written in any other way. Miss West, moreover,

is certainly no tyro at the art of generalization. Besides £i ready flow of direct and acute observation.s about the manners, 'morals, traditions, loyalties and fads of the Edwardians, she manages to suggest the atmosphere and spirit of the times as ,a whole, by a series of pictures and conversations very cleverly :woven into the fabric of her plot. It is just by the careful selection of these incidents—in themselves perhaps neither :very significant or typical, that the suggestion of their general significance is maintained. This is the high art of generaliz- ation. Through it a tea-party or a croquet-match becomes of

equal importance with a love-affair or, a Coronation. Thug Miss West's picture of the " Smart Set," though based on a superficial examination of a few of their activities and neces- sarily restricted to a handful of characters, remains somehow a remarkably comprehensive and convincing study of those :seemingly far-off days. Fascinating, delicious, charming, are the adjectives which immediately spring to mind on appraising it, and of course they are precisely the adjectives the author intends her readers to use. And the story which provides Miss Sackville-West with the excuse for this witty excursion into the Mayfair of 1905 also provides her with the opportunity of describing " Chevron," the ancient country seat of her hero, with an equally malicious impartiality and perhaps a more personal knowledge. In any case the book is emphatically one to be read.

To pass from The Edwardian to Cimarron is like passing from " Chocolat Marie " to rump steak and onions. The comparison, however, implies no criticism of the quality of the 'steak, which is unquestionably of the very best. Here, at last, is a hundred per cent. Wild-West story which should be read by everyone with a taste for literature as well as adventure.

Not that Miss Ferber is sophisticated about her prairies. Far from it. Only that it requires as much sense of literature to write a really first-rate " Broncho Bill " as it does to write a first-rate psychological novel. Cimarron certainly qualifies for the former distinction. It is a hard-bitten, racy story of pioneer days in Oklahoma, when vast tracks of virgin country, only inhabited by Indians, were taken over by the American Government and thrown open in plots to anyone who could ride fast enough to get one, and shoot straight enough to hold on to one after he had got it. It was literally like that. Particularly it is the story of Yancey Cravat, lawyer, journalist- printer and squatter, a physical giant with a taste for Shake- 'speare and an insatiable love of danger, who takes his delicately reared wife Sabra out to Osage and plumps her down in that somewhat alarming city of cowboys and six-shooters. Their subsequent adventures, quarrels and escapades are too many and varied to be even suggested here, but they never fall below the level of the first drive out to the prairie, and are all told with the same verve and gusto. Would that all books of this type had even half as much vigour.

Many Captives is a quiet, subdued piece of work which many people will certainly find moving and perhaps beautiful.

Its intention, as the title implies, is the presentation of the various forms of servitude, physical and psychological, to

which circumstances, habit, misfortune or weakness of char-

acter may subject one. Personally; I felt a little distrustful of Mr. Owen's emotional background, though I admired the deft way in which- he manipulated his plot so as to make the most of it. His descriptions of Suffolk country and Suffolk folk, moreover, are well done. The weakness of his book seems to me largely in its construction, which is broken-backed and rather clumsy, leading to the climax onl& by obscure and rather devious routes.

Giant's Bread is yet another of those stories which begin at the end and then go back to the beginning. In this case it is the life Of a musician, a composer of genius, which forms the subject of the book. Miss Westmacott starts with a description of a performance at " London's new National Opera House " (presumably some years hence !), and then traces the life of the composer from early childhood .upwards, carefully emphasizing the influences of heredity, sex, and environment. As a first novel the • book has obvious merits, though at the same time it is crowded with faults. Pre-eminently Miss Westmaeott is not yet sufficiently certain of herself to know what to put in and what to leave out. Her sense of selection is still undetermined. She has, also, a tendency to be always on the side of the angels (though, of course, of the modern angel) and some of her characters are 'a little grotesque. Mrs. Deyre, for example, mother of the future genius, is a little too good (or bad) to be true. Granted that mothers of this type exist, and sometimes may even produce a genius, it is seldom that they contain all the Attributes of maternal impossibility—hysteria, selfishness, stupidity and an overweening affection for their offspring— in the manner of Mrs. Deyre. However, when Miss Westmacott has learnt to tighten up her dialogue, and to imply more than she states, she will be able to give fuller effect to her capacity for telling a story, and her very saving sense of humour. They are qualities not to be rated low in