A Mediaeval Monk Comes To Life
Brother Petroc's Return, by S. M. C. (Chatto and Windus, 6s.) The Mountain and the Plain, by Herbert Gorman (Cassell, 8s. 6d.) Royal Purple, by B. Harding (Harem, 8s. 6d.) Panic Spring, by Charles Norden (Faber and Faber, 7s. 6d.) Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT.
In Brother Petroc's Return. S. M. C., a Dominican Nun, tells the story of a preReformation Benedictine monk whose life endured to present times. In many ways it is charmingly done. and is written with distinction. The story begins at the time of the Reformation when Brother Petroc was on the eve of his ordination in a monastery in North Cornwall. He died suddenly, was buried in haste, and the community was
scattered. In recent days the buildings, still intact, were bought by a benefactor and given to a Benedictine community. Whilst making alterations in the church, Br. Petroc's grave was opened and he was discovered alive.
The story tells of his difficulties in adapting himself, after his sleep of four hundred years, to modern conditions and modern spirituality. Mechanical inventions, nerves and certain modern aids to the spiritual life all presented difficulties. I, personally, found a certain difficulty in accepting all this at its face value. Brother Petroc was sensible and rooted in God so it seems unlikely that he should have been so shaken by certain methods of spirituality however foolish the form in which he came across them. There are, however, some sensible comments on various modern exaggerations and on the folly, that perhaps isn't modern at all, of mistaking the means for the end. There is a description of what St. Ignatius sought to do when he founded his society that I, at least, cannot wholly •accept. But these are small criticisms of an admirably written little book.
It is my experience that a long novel can seldom be read to the end without moments of weariness and discouragement. The Mountain and the Plain is very long, over six hundred large pages, and yet I can think of few books less likely to weary and more likely to give pleasure to the leisurely reader. It is alive, informed, well-written and never dull. It has an additional interest in that it deals with the French Revolution and the Terror (and what happened then is happening, with a difference, today in various parts of the world). People are slow to learn the lessons of history and contemporaries are only too willing to forgive and condone anything if only they think they sympathise with the end for which those things arc done. "To do evil that good might come " was once an abusive gibe; now it is almost an accepted policy and a recognised form of excuse however fantastic the " &sod " may be. David Livingston was sent by his firm, an American one, to arrange fisr the selling of tobacco and pork to the French. On reaching Paris he fell by chance into the company of Mr. Paine, author of Common Sense and The Age of Reason. We see much of Mr. Paine, idealist and revolutionary, and follow his fortunes as a member of the Convention and, later, when condemned to death by those whom he had so strenuously aided. But it is David Livingston about whom the story mainly turns. With great skill the milieu into which he was thrown
is depicted. There are a multitude of figures and a multiplicity of events yet never is the sequence broken or the issue con fused. Mr. Paine's voluble conversation gives us the idealistic side of affairs: historic figures and historic facts, including his own condemnation to death, give the sombre correction, embodied reality. David Livingston's friendships and love story are interwoven with history so that in following his adventures the major events of the time are made intensely real.
* * * The interest of Royal Purple lies in the horrible end of King Alexander and his wife Draga rather than in their intrinsic qualities. Neither of them were admirable in any sense and if he had not even been King of Serbia and she an ambitious peasant girl to whom he was attracted they would have lacked all interest. Mrs. Harding seems to have made an accurate study of all the available literature and based her
novel as closely as possible upon it. She, inevitably, is inclined to stress the melodramatic side of the sordid and miserable story. Alexander Obrenovitch inherited the unattractive qualities of his father and Drags seems to have been ambitious. unscrupulous and undistinguished.
Panic Spring is one of those crude, shallow and embittered books whose chief merit is to relieve, one hopes, the author of a certain amount of accumulated life. Mr. Norden evidently is an admirer of South Wind and, at a distance, follows the setting of that book. We are again taken to a southern island inhabited by a few odd folk. We listen to their conversation, we follow their activities. not very strenuous, and read a few strange comments on Quietism. Sometimes it is likely to offend readers who take it seriously and sometimes in its better pages, there is something macabre.. 1 think Mr. Norden might easily write a better book.
I Speak of Germany, by Norman Hillson. (Routledge, 10s. 6d.) Mr. Hillson believes Germany is developing a form of genuine socialism of her own and that Britain should be friends with her. The hook is elementary in style and simple in argument. Some would call it sheer propaganda, though doubtless for an excellent cause.