Page 3, 23rd January 1953

23rd January 1953
Page 3
Page 3, 23rd January 1953 — !Beauty, Power i-and Vulgarity

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Organisations: Church administration
People: Bruce Marshall


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!Beauty, Power i-and Vulgarity


THE FAIR BRIDE, by Bruce Marshall (Constable, 12s. 6d.) THE question I asked myself when I closed this book was: "How would it have struck you if you had never read The Power and the Glory?" This, to recoin a phrase, is the heart of the matter. I think the answer is that but for The Power and the Glory Mr. Marshall's new novel would be acclaimed. As it is there is the perhaps unfair criticism always in mind that we have heard all this before. "All" is perhaps an exaggeration. For there are certain expressions and metaphors which are peculiar to Bruce Marshall. You may think them clever or abhor them as irreverent to the point of blasphemy. Whichever you do, you must admit that they are characteristic of the writer. Let me give you an example to illustrate the author at his best-or worst-according to the reader's taste: "He knelt before the high altar. The sun, filtering through the coloured windows in powdery rays, threw blue and green patches on the dusty gold reredos. The horizontal pipes of the organ stuck half-way across the sanctuary like guns from a battleship. The red lamp burned before the Body and Blood of Christ brought to earth by the gorilla-like paws of priests like Canon Rota y Musons."

Now it is clear that few Catholics will applaud the juxtaposition of the Blessed Sacrament with a description of the anointed hands of a priest as "gorilla-like paws." It is, equally clear that the Protestant or pagan reader may be moved to ridicule or perhaps horror by such writing from a Catholic.

Personally, much as I dislike these figures of speech, I feel quite certain that Mr. Marshall uses them not because he is irreverent but because he imagines that the dogmas of Faith are most strikingly portrayed by violent contrasts between the precious things of God and the clumsy and unworthy instruments He uses. I feel that for him they serve as shockabsorbers to temptations against Faith. Whatever failings he finds in the clergy or in Church administration are regarded as human. The channels God uses for His divine grace may be soiled and unsightly hut after all, Mr. Marshall seems to say, they are only channels.

HERE we have a writer of power land beauty. It is a great pity that when he catches himself out in sublime prose he feels constrained to descend to the commonplace or the vulgar as if to reassure the reader that it was only a lapsus calanii.

Let me give examples of what I mean.

First the beauty : "The green and brown shutters on most of the houses were closed. The sun printed the tamarind trees on the pavement, and between the reflected leaves little flutters of light trembled like moonbeams on water. At the end of the street there were silver Hashes on the sea where the waves leaped up in the sun. The protruding red tiles of the houses sailed across the bay without ever reaching the other side. The priest held his face up to the sea : the sea was like a canticle well sung."

Within a few lines comes the anticlimax: "A yellow tramcar came bounding up the rails. swaying like a loose woman in a bar."

And then a few lines farther on : "Close up. she was not beautiful : her narrow eyes and pointed chin made her look like a backward seal."

Then, worse still, a quite unnecessary descent to vulgarity : "The clerks were paying no attention. Quite solemnly they were discussing whether the Marquesa de Villadecades ought to be charged a supplement for using her chamber-pot during the day."

DROBABLY the Spanish types are

correctly portrayed. But Mr. Marshall does not deserve that we should give him that credit. For in the first few pages of the book he describes an English prelate. This character is so fantastically unreal that we might be excused for thinking that his Spanish men and women equally arc caricatures.

Judge for yourselves.

The Spanish priest is trying to persuade the English Bishop to smuggle out of Spain a relic of St. John of the Cross. Here is a sample of the Bishop's conversation:

"It is not as easy as all that. Suppose they twigged it at the frontier. They let you take in half a bottle of brandy. But I have no idea of the quota for saints' fingers. . . . My dear fellow, I refuse to be bounced. I have got to have time to think and I would like to have a bite of din-din first."

I very much doubt if the youngest student in a seminary would refer to his main meal as "din-din." I am quite sure that few among the Hierarchy take "din-din."

F0 RT UNATELY the irresponsible-Marshall begins to give way to the Graham Greene-Marshall as early as page 34. If the book started on that page it would be a solid and thrilling piece of work.

It may seem niggling to take the first few pages and condemn them. But it must be remembered that most people form their judgment of a book's purpose from the opening chapters. I am sure that this novel is intended to be a serious work and, in its way, is a fine piece of apologetic.

There are, of course, many sentences scatteredthrough the book which will make the Catholic reader wince. Lust has that large share in these pages which modern Catholic writers evidently feel to be its due.

There can be no doubt that the plot of the book is gripping and many of the scenes are moving and tender. It is a good book in the sense that faith and virtue, however trampled, manage in the end to triumph.

I have no idea how the Spaniards will accept this fact-cum-fiction version of their civil war. Somehow I do not believe that they will regard this as a first instalment of Marshall-aid.

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