Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As much as Paul tries to be in control of his life, he realizes that the “nearly forty years in the wilderness should have prepared him for the fact that the most profound decisions were not finally made by him.” If in his repetition of the past Paul hoped to return to the source, to discover the Promised Land, even within himself, his attempt fails: His repetition becomes the subversive ghost of the first summer, which in its turn is not an origin but already a repetition of previous journeys. “The world is divided between those who have their feet solidly in life . . . and those who . . . belong nowhere because early on they set out with the idea of reaching a Utopian destination which could not exist anywhere except in the mind.” What comfort and self-realization Paul feels are social, deriving from a vague desire “for justice, freedom and equality for all.” As his refusal to complete the repetitive circle of his journey at the end of the novel indicates, however, Paul Morton remains open and optimistic: “Life without the pursuit of an ideal was an idle waste.”

Down from the Hill, influenced by metafiction and the rhetoric of self-referral, also comments on the creative process. Paul, a writer himself, is preoccupied with names and the unity of sound and form, with “wishing to envisage unity” and describe its parts from a unified field perspective, and with the attempt to repeat a past that will not succumb to accurate representation. “He had been more of a king in former days, but things were much the same”: The beauty of nature remains constant, an underlying field of unity in a world of change.