Catholicism Used As A Stage Property
Bird tinder Glass. By Ronald Fraser (Cape, 7s. 6d.) Nightingale Wood. By Stella Gibbons. (Longmans, 8s. 6d.) Light of Other Days. By Elizabeth Corbett. (D. Appleton-Century Co., Rs. 6d.) Love the Destroyer. By Margaret Leigh. (Bell, 7s. 6d.) Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT
It is pleasant to read a novel that makes its climax, towards which the whole story ingeniously moves, a spiritual rather than an emotional one. Bird Under Class studies in parallel chapters the lives of a modern young man and woman, entangled and entwined but hardly united, and that of an Englishman, Philip Seymour, who was Prior of a Carthusian monastery in Spain. Dom Philip is always interesting, but it is disconcerting to find that he, who has been a professed Carthusian for twelve years and Prior for two, is certainly not a Catholic and but doubtfully a Christian.
Mr. Fraser, who has studied so carefully the outward aspects of the Carthusian life and depicts it so charmingly and accurately (though the monks don't, I believe, ever talk in the refectory), is one of that increasing company of authors who use Catholicism, however sympathetically, as a stage property. By doing so they feel themselves free to miss, or obscure, or deny its essential truths. Dom Philip, who had been a successful psychotherapist in Harley Street, became a Carthusian so as to be under " discipline " and achieve something he felt he lacked in knowledge or intuition or power.
So from the very start there is a flaw: a Carthusian's search for perfection is not a search for power, still less for psychotherapeutic powers. His supernatural union with God abets, as it were, the workings of
God in the souls of men but not on these lines, nor is it sought for—the motive attributed to Dom Philip.
Exactly what he did seek, and still more exactly what he found. is veiled in obscurity, but it would seem to have been such powers as Yogis are said to obtain or those who practise the Hermetic Art.
He attained sufficient power to instantaneously affect Marisol and Stony Jackson when they met. Marisol was always something of a mystic although she confessed to having "a terrible skill in harlotry." Stony was a tougher problem, for he had deliberatelycultivated a materialistic atheism that rigidly confined both soul and outlook.
It is amazing, and not without bathos, to find that the Prior, so ideal in many ways, forsaking the riches of Catholic supernaturalism for the poverty of some ancient or modern magic. It is without surprise, after this, that we find Marisol embracing, for no clear reason and with no clear effect upon her character, Catholicism, preparatory to forsaking it like the Prior. For the rest the descriptions of the Spanish Charterhouse are wholly delightful.
Miss Gibbons has a way with her in her novels .that makes them most pleasantly and indisputably her own. Nightingale Wood is not, I think, by any means her best book but it is filled with that slightly satirical humour we expect from her and delight in. Her eye is quick to notice those subtle but revealing nuances that differentiate social set from social set and today from all the yesterdays. Mr. Wither. whose greatest triumph was to have made his garden as dull as his home, lived in Essex and tyrannised over a wife and two rapidly ageing daughters. His son broke loose and married the daughter of a local shopkeeper. Viola was pretty and common and pathetic and human. Dreadful as I think she must have been in real life, she is likeable in the story as through tribulation she metamorphosed from widow to wealthy bride. Tina, one of the daughters, wooed and loved the handsome chauffeur, Saxon, though Madge was content with a dog. Victor represents wealth and gaiety and the Hermit poverty and a gusto for life.
It is a happy mixture but not so satisfying and memorable as, for instance, Miss Linsey and Pa.
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In Light of Other Days we learn about several generations of the Reilly family who emigrated from Ireland to America. Vital, alive, humorous, and occasionally tragic and fundamentally Catholic, they are a good family to know. Unlike so many Americans in fiction they are more human and good than brutal and bad. The writing is excellent and the reader interested from start to finish.
Miss Leigh, author of Love the Destroyer, wrote a successful story of the Western Highlands of Scotland in Highland Homespun. She returns in this book to the same setting and draws a picture of Sabina Brandon's possessive and destructive love for David Macleod. a travelling tinker. Sabina, wealthy, beautiful and dominating, cannot, by any stretch of language be called an attractive personality. Tired of her life in England she buys a small Highland farm and works it, uneconomically. with a long-suffering and rather foolish friend. She falls for David at sight and pursues him with a morbid and unpleasant lack of control. Marriage and his death inevitably follow.
David and his sister Mary are delightful and well drawn and form almost the only relief in a story that depresses and that lacks the grandeur that genius might, conceivably, have given it. It is agreeably written and the Highland scene described with heartfelt appreciation.