And Sees Britain After the War
White Ben. By Clemente Dane. (Heinemann, 8s. 6d,) Barry and Sally. By Alfred Rowberry Williams. (Cape, 7e. ed.) Golden Apples, By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. (Heinemann, 7s. ed.) Salt of the Earth, By Joseph Wittlin. (Methuen, 7s, 6d.) Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT
I DON'T, myself, find it very easy to understand Miss Dane's intention in writ ing White Ben. If it had been more frivolous it could have been more amnsing ; if more serious it would have been a different hook. As it stands it is a fantasy, or perhaps a parable, of doubtful meaning. It would seem to hesitate between uncertain aims.
A scarecrow becomes endowed with life, hut, it is an incomplete end o wrn °ill . Memories a re imbibed from the old clothes in which he has been dressed. Quickly he absorbs
human words and the imprint that history, in his case a distorted, simplified and futile history, has left upon the countryside.
His one fixed Idea is that his mission is to "get rid of the crows." For him crows, at the start, are just crows, or possibly ravens, but soon after contact with humans they come to mean almost anything: people in black coats or hats or just people he does not like or understand.
The period is the 1940's and the "next" war, which is in fact the present war, has taken place. England, with most of the civilised world, is in ruins. An International Conference held at Washington has arranged the Cessation; the old word Armistice has, of course, to be replaced. An old millionaire has been defeated at the Conference and returns to England determined on revenge and just in time to make use, for his own purposes of White Ben, who has emerged from the kitchen garden over which he had presided.
The English, defeated (though not technically so), impoverished and out of hand, are shown as rather bestial imbeciles. They murder, and massacre and imprison in concentration camps, and follow any mad slogan and adore the scarecrow. Ben returns to his original garden and is dismantled by the little girl who had made him.
IN Barry and Fatly we find ourselves in an England that is fast disappearing but in which, at least, one old man clings to what used to be considered an Englishman's ideal. Freedom for old Barry really meant freedom.
His house for him really was his castle and both were rooted in a bit of land that was his own. The land had no known owner so that Barry, a farm labourer, was tacitly allowed possession until it became impossible, even for the urban council, to turn him out.
He loved his work and he loved horses and what with the land and tumbledown cottage and the gift of a foal, he felt that at last he had what he had always longed for.
But troubles came with the development of the district and, if it had not been for his old employer, who was a successful farmer, he would have been defeated long before the death of Sally the mare. It is a good picture in many ways and welcome in these days as a reminder of times in which liberty for many meant more than just liberty to vote.
MISS RAWLINGS' great gift is her ability to impart to the reader a vision of the texture, colour and smell of the wilder parts of Florida. She did this in The Yearling and does it better, and more concisely, in Golden Apples.
It is a simple story of an orphan brother and sister who go, in despair, to live in a deserted and solitary house in the hammock, or jungle. The brother and sister, vital and well drawn, live happily for some years and then, to their dismay, learn that the foreign owner, or more accurately his descendant, is returning to claim his property.
Richard Tordell has, through a false accusation, been exiled by his family to their neglected property in Florida. He arrives bitter and dismayed. He loathes the dilapidated shanty of a house, the strange and hostile hammock, and does not try to understand the strange and uncouth people whom he finds about him,
Blind to the beauties of the country, despising and ignoring the people, he feeds on his own bitterness. The fever from which he almost dies brings him into contact with the lovable and abounding Dr. Albury, and through him with some other neighbours. He sins against the morality of the people and pays heavily for it. But, largely owing to the unfailing love of the doctor, not alone for him but for all his people who dwell in that wild country, he comes back to life and sanity.
Some of the best pages deal with Camilla and her cultivation of oranges and the help she gives to Luke, who is fired with the desire to transform the hammock into an orange grove.
The weakness of the book is its lack of knowledge of the roots of a sound life. The doctor sees clearly that "a man, by himself, is nothing. He is a wretched mass of nerves, and misery and fear, always on the defence. He must, he simply must, abandon himself, lovingly, to something, to something more enduring than he." A non-Catholic American, for all her good will, has not yet seen that faith has made civilised man what he is, and rejection of it is making him, once again, a savage,
SALT OF THE EARTH is a translation of a Polish novel. It purports to be the story of a peasant who was called to the colours in 1914. He is a railway porter and we see both his limitations and his loyalties. The Emperor for him was air object of profound devotion and, parallel with this, is his love for the railway and station that had made the background of his life. The book does, I think, throw some light on peasant mentality, though it is a pity that neither Religion nor the Austrian Empire is treated sympathetically.