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|THE TIMES LITERARY
SUPPLEMENT, Thursday, August 1, 1918
New Novels: UP AND DOWN
Mr. E.F. Benson's new book UP AND DOWN (Hutchinson, 6s.net), is not wholly a work of fiction. For want of evidence, we must take as fiction the parts that concern the author's friend Francis, who lived in an island at the mouth of the Bay of Naples; deemed himself an Italian not an Englishman, a thinker not a doer; and then, when the war broke out, came post-haste "home" to the England where he belonged, enlisted as a private soldier, served in France and in Italy, won the Victoria Cross, and died in his Italian home of cancer. Matilda, the parrot, must be fictitious also, because, unlike most parrots in life or in parrot stories, she is too funny to be true. And the spiritualistic medium, who after Francis's death did positively seem to get into communication with him, may be fictitious. If she is the episode is, of course, valueless; if not, this was not the way to offer evidence for or against spiritualism.
Most of the book, however, tells the story of the war as it affected a middle-aged man who stayed at home. The main military events are briefly stated; the main periods are parcelled out. But the book's chief subject is the social history of the war-time in England, and the war's effect upon the thoughts, manners, and characters of those at home. The development of mysticism in Francis, from his philosophizing in Alatri to the pure worship on his deathbed, is the flower; the stalk and leaves are the development of the teller of the tale, who stands, more or less, for all of us. Some of it is exaggerated; in particular, the passage early in "January, 1917," on change of identity implies either that the narrator was a poorer sort of "drifter" before the war than the average Englishman, or that his nervous system has since been more upset than the average Englishman's. Mr. Benson does not take us very high or very deep. He startles us with no very acute analysis or blinding revelation. His thoughts are not so remote and subtle that anyone will find a difficulty in following him; just as his epithets are never so fresh or so summary as to stay the reader's even course. That is the value of his book, the cause why it will be welcomed by thousands. It gives a view of this tumbled universe which will satisfy many a doubting mind. It offers hope, consolation, and grounds for faith. And in fortifying it charms and amuses. The pictures of Italy will make any reader pine to be in Italy once more. The account of the charity matinees in London, of Miss Mackonochie at Alatri, of the episode of the German's lost pocket-book, of "optimists" and "pessimists," and how to treat them, and, above all, of Matilda and "Matilda-ism," are in the best vein of a clever social satirist.
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