Sir Hugh Walpole's London Novel
The Joyful Delaneys. By Hugh Walpole. (Macmillan, 8s. 6c1.) Soldier's End. By Conal O'Riordan. (Arrowsmith, 8s. 6d.)
Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT
Sir Hugh Walpole has had the individuality and courage in The Joyful Delatzeys to write a book that stresses the importance of persons, as opposed to humanity in the mass, and the possibility and effects of happiness as opposed to the fashionable fears and discontents.
The Joyful Delaneys is a happy book, and ends on a note of happiness, though incidental to it are some tragic events. We read, elsewhere, much about poverty and the dole but, as Sir Hugh points out, there is a no less poignant poverty of people who have no dole. In times of revolution and change there is always the suffering of the dispossessed classes, but it is odd that it should be so widely ignored today, as it is odd that those who talk most loudly about humanity and its rights seem to be those who would most willingly sacrifice the individuals of which it is composed.
But it would be a grave mistake to imagine that The Joyful Delaneys is an essay in politics. It is a humane and cheerful story of a family, financially down in the world, who yet cling with a wholehearted love to that house in Charles Street, Mayfair, that had housed them for generations.
1934 was a critical year, a year of depression, hut the Delaneys, Fred, Meg and the children, Kitty and Bullock, radiated happiness and put up a stiff fight. After all, there was a lot to make them happy: they had themselves and they still lived in the house that they loved, the London was around them that they adored, Mayfair, Shepherd Market and the Green Park.
The immediate neighbourhood in which they lived can seldom or never have been so sympathetically realised and recreated and made a subject for poetry, so loved and transfigured and yet so soberly presented. Sir Hugh Walpole writes from his heart and it is a full and overflowing one. One of his most sympathetic creations, Claude Willowby, of White Horse Street, must for ever, I think, be memorable, and that attractive, pathetic and heroic personality cannot be dissociated from Shepherd Market and its neighbourhood. The focus of the book is the Delaney family, but round them are grouped some strange and impressive figures. Sometimes, it may be, Sir Hugh seems over tolerant of human frailties, but it is a tolerance that has its roots in wisdom and understanding, even if it be, in part, divorced from the stringency of the Divine Law.
Soldier's End completes Soldier Born. Soldier of Waterloo, Soldier's Wife. But it may be read with pleasure by those who have missed the earlier volumes and is likely to send the reader in search of them.
David Quinn has, after a full life, returned in middle age to Dublin. It is the time when the shadow of the famine is falling across the Irish countryside. David fights the famine, as he, less successfully, fights the torments imposed upon him by events in his own family. He is possessed by the highest ideals, divorced from religion, of an inexhaustible stock of selfsacrifice and seeks always to follow the highest as and when he glimpses it. But he is slow, even amazingly slow, in perceiving what is happening under his nose and is for ever being defeated by his rascally brother, Bonaventure. Personal sorrow drives him to London where he meets, at a public execution, Mazzini. Later he makes the acquaintance of Lord Ashley (who was to become the famous Lord Shaftesbury). Vivid, humorous and amazing sketches are given of these two.
Lord Ashley, the noble peer who selflessly, but how self-importantly, took up social work amongst the outcasts of London, is more like some grotesque creation of fiction than an historical figure. But, indeed, he lived and was a great man and one who, if he reflects glory on England, also throws a flood of light on what, to all foreigners, are its dark places. The book is packed with information, detailed and convincing, and the very varied scenes and .incidents and personalities are fused into something very near to a perfect whole.
We arc, at times, irritated by David's lack of resilience and lack of humour, as too by some inherent defect that does not seem to harmonise with his work as a banker or even with his activities as a fighter of the famine or as a general in the American war. But generosity and selflessness are undoubtedly his and he makes an original figure in an unusual book.
It is a pity that the author's dislike of Catholicism, especially in the latter part of the book is so pronounced.