Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

This Bildungsroman, or novel of self-discovery, is a running account of the hero’s ruminations on the baseness of human existence and the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. It is intentionally didactic. “How easily and carelessly we abandon real life!” the author writes, adding that the search for a finer and fuller life can succeed only if certain conditions are met: “First, that the complete human being is formed by a man and a woman; second, that living implies much more than acquiescence in a set of formal beliefs, more than getting and spending money.” Aldington cautions, however, if one takes life “with all your senses open, with your body as well as your mind, with your own fresh feelings instead of abstract laid-down ones, then indeed all men [are] your enemies.”

Antony Clarendon epitomizes the times in which he lives. His disillusionment, lack of trust, and loss of faith were not unusual among many like him who believed that England was the land where men with splendid hearts may go. “To hell with governments, glories, nations, parliaments, princes of industry, trade supremacy, red flags and striped flags and spotted flags—to hell with them! Our national honor is at stake. Well, let it be—who cares?” Many of Antony’s nonfictional counterparts would agree.

These war veterans formed Great Britain’s “lost generation”; they became the dropouts, those who left the running of their country to the old...

(The entire section is 448 words.)