(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Widower’s Son is a three-part novel which spans the lifetime of two professional soldiers. Charlie Scorton, the widower of the title, serves for twenty-four years in the Royal Artillery, rises to the rank of sergeant, and is on active service during World War I. His son, William Scorton, serves in World War II and achieves the rank of colonel.

Part 1 starts with a tightly written account of Charlie’s career. Born in Ashfield, a small industrial town near Nottingham, he follows in his father’s footsteps as a miner but enlists in the army when his best friend is killed in a pit accident. His father angrily disowns him, and his mother dies while he is serving, after the war, in India. After his discharge and the birth of his son, his wife dies also.

Charlie brings the boy up in his own image. While other boys are out to play, William is being put through his paces by his father, who teaches him map reading, orienteering, and tactics and employs a private tutor to coach him in his schoolwork. At fourteen, William wins a scholarship to a military college. On leave, he has his first sexual experience, with a girl he meets in the street, before returning home to show off his uniform to his father.

At the beginning of part 2, William has completed a wartime course at an officer cadet training school and has been promoted to captain. In a grimly realistic account of the British army’s retreat from the advancing Germans on the European battlefields, William and his battle-seasoned batman, Harold Oxton, become isolated from the rest of the unit and make...

(The entire section is 653 words.)