THE NEW NOVELS
MR ALDINGTON'S MOTLEY FOOLVERY HEAVEN, by Richard Aldington. Heinemann. 7s. 6d.
"And thus the motley fool did moral on his wench"; for the author's "wench" substitute the world in the aspects in which it presented itself to the motley fool and you have a summary of this novel which might have served for a tail-piece.
The fool is Christopher Heylin. He was at the University studying for a career of scientific research when a financial disaster to his father left him no alternative but to go down and earn his keep--a course which to him as the leftest of young intelectuals was extremely distasteful. As his moralizings take up a large proportion of Mr. Aldington's 376 pages we give an example of them:--Gentlemen, a fico for your heroism. The flustered hen which attacks an alley-cat stalking the hatched embyos fertilised by faithless cocks upon other hens is more heroic than the drunken warriors of Homer and the cannon-fodder of Verdun. Heroism is not dying obediently but living rebeliously. Against what shall we rebel, my God, against what? Shall we put Don Quixote in a gas-mask, and send him to bomb the ash-pits of finance, to machine-gun the rabbit warrens of industrialism?Mr. Aldington styles such pronouncements "ravings" and involves his Christopher in a series of situations in which he cuts the poorest figure. But fundamentally he is sympathetic towards him, for he credits him with sincerity; and in that understanding of modern youth together with his command of phrase and gift for devising predicaments to illustrate Christopher's convictions and pedantry he has all he needs for a shaply and stimulating novel.
But he has not written it. What has come between him and an acceptable presentation of a conflict of the existence of which in our time we must all be aware, is his hatred of what may be summarized as bourgeois. It leads him to ascribe so many unpleasant characteristics to his victims that they become formless and therefore unreal. He condescends to the cheapest laughs at their expense--when a university don waxes enthusiastic over what he takes to be an exmple of Romanesque architectrue he is confounded by the guide-book which states that it was entirely rebuilt in 1865 by a man who "ruined its proportions and added incongrouous elements." The plot lacks the foundation of character which is presumably claimed for it. Christopher's sister is encouraged by her worldly parents to marry a rich man agianst whom nothing more definite is alleged than that he is a "sportsman" with the tastes--or absence of taste--of the type. In a few months she flies from him pregnant and with a venereal disease. There were no grounds for foreseeing this catastrophe.
On the other hand, when the prosecutor in Mr. Aldington gives way to the artist who delights to pursue premises to logical conclusions the scenes go. Among the predicaments are two of what in the pre-Aldintonian era would have been called seduction. In these Christopher is cast first for one rôle and then for the other. The second--in which he has the initiative--is a triumph, for in it the modern youth begins his wooing with a biological tirade which, for all its absurdity, reveals him as, by his lights, a decent fellow.