"HE WAS A MAN WHO USED TO NOTICE SUCH THINGS"
Thomas Hardy. (English Men of Letters Series.) By Edmund Blunden, 7s. tat.)
Curtain Up. By Lennox Robinson. (Michael Joseph, 10s., 6d.) The Scene is Changed. fly Ashley Dukes, (Macmillan. 12s. 6d,)
Reviewed by WILFRII) ROOKE-LEY
THE emphasis which Mr. Edmund Blunden lays on Hardy the poet in his critical study of that writer is in accord' with Hardy's own predilection, for he regarded himself primarily as a poet and secondarily as a novelist. But in depreciating the novels Mr. Blunden fails to remark how rich they too, arc in passages where Hardy's poetic vision was at work.
Few of us, I suspect, to-read a Hardy novel from curer to cover; we prefer to browse among them in search of these re
membered passages, Indeed, he would he best read nowadays in an • anthology, and it is a pity the admirable one published some twenty years ago by Chatto and Windus has been allowed to go out of mine lie was, of course a pessimist:a rif trthebt,C'hesterton said. "brooding and hlayheming Uh'Cr the village Idiot.He saw life as a pitiless struggle with fate in which man was doomed to he the loser.
But posterity will forget Hardy the pessimist and remember only Hardy the miniaturist, who rendered the country scene, not by what is called word-painting, but by the selling down of a series of facts carefully observed.
In using this method Hatdy is unique among English writers. The truth is he painted his own self-portrait in his poem •• Afterwards," with its haunting refrain,
" He was a man i■ ho used to notice such things." There in a single line is the art of hamae Hardy. 1 he critic who fails to take this into account is guilts at least. of a sin of omission. It is typical of Mr. Blunden's approach to Hardy that he dismisses a novel like The Trumpet Major in a shoo perfunctory paragraph; yet this novel is perhaps richer than any in those poetic moments, those passages that cause a catch at the heart, on which I ant bold eitough to believe posterity will fasten as the essential and memorable Hardy.
It is impossible to acquit Mt. Blunden of a certain narrowness or sympathy, and for this reason his hook will disappoint many a lover of Hardy though as a biography it is valuable in the way the author links up the novels with the successive phases of Hardy's own lire and mental development.
M. Lennox Robinson's Curtain Up and Mr. Ashley Dukes' The Scene Is Chtinged me hooks about the theatre: and in that th,r, are the autobiographies of men
who have consistently pursued a spiritual ideal. I found both or them exciting.
It is good to read about a man who was happy to live on £3 a week as long as the work he was doing was worth while and lie could preserve his artistic integrity. Such was Mr. Robinson's princely salary when at twenty-three he was made manager and producer of plays at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. This famous theatre may now claim to he the only National Theatre in the English-speaking world, on the ground that for sonic years it has been receiving a
small grant from the Government. This may have made it less derpendant on its audiences in London and the United States; but how much better than a subsidy would have been the intelligent support, from the first, of its own people. In theatrical enterprise, as we know, the dice are loaded against those who follow the gleam; but need they have been quite so heavily loaded as they seem to have been in Dublin') MR. Ashley Dukes never seems to have been reduced, as was Mr. Robinson, to one cigarette a day (and all that that implies), though his life, too, has been a [allowing of the gleam. lie is probably the only European in the English theatre. He has worked hard to bring the English stage abreast with the European. His translated plays make an impressive list at the beginning of his book, and the records of the Stage Society and similar enterprises bear witness to his achievement.
He is (as the novelist of Ouida's day would have said) " ar home in all rhe capitals of Europe." This gives his autobiography much of the charm of a travel book. He has the rare art of taking the reader with him wherever he goes. And where has Mr. Dukes not gone in the last thirty years in quest of beatify? His book gives you the impression of ceaseless wandering: and if there he an art in wandering he must have it to his finger-tips, But whether he is watching a performance of Othello in the courtyard of the Doge's palace in Venice, or hob-nobbing with Rheinhardt at the Salzburg festival, or attending notable performances in Paris or Berlin or Warsaw, or enjoying a Californian summer, or running off to Provence or Italy or the Grecian isles to write plays, in some mysterious way the reader shares in the delight of it all.
Such men have their rewards. It is odd that idealism in the theatre does pay—if it you give if time. Suddenly, capriciously, out of the blue them conies a winner. No one can explain why or how'a play which the commercial managers have dismissed as highbrow turns out to he a best-seller. There was Mr. Robinson's The Whiteheaded Boy; there was Mr. Dukes' The Man with the Load of -Mischief and Murder in the Cathedral, which started its triumphant career at his own little theatre, the Mercury. This is why the autobiography of an idealist is so often the only success story that is really exciting.