Study Guide

William Trevor

by William Trevor Cox

William Trevor Essay - Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 9)

Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) (Vol. 9)

Trevor, William (Pseudonym of William Trevor Cox) 1928–

Trevor is an Irish-born novelist, short writer, and playwright now living in England. His work is characterized by a subtle prose style, and his characters, people old and living an isolated existence, are depicted with a sad, whimsical humor. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

[The Children of Dynmouth] is a small failure of transplanted suburban Gothic, but it has its interesting points. Mr Trevor is one of those writers who take a certain masochistic pleasure in being confined by the smallness and meretriciousness of the average English domestic emotions. He sees our lives measured out not in coffee-spoons so much as plastic teaspoons, not to mention boxes of Daz, episodes of Crossroads and pints of bogus continental lager….

Timothy Gedge [the central character] is in every way a horror…. The Children of Dynmouth is the story of how he goes about [realizing his ambitions], by blackmail….

Trevor captures the diseased affability of the junior conman rather well, in lines of dialogue that seem to marry something namelessly disgusting in their half-conscious ambiguity…. The child is definitely repulsive. But all the more reason why the author should not duck out of the consequence of Timothy, which he unfortunately does….

[The conclusion is] very disappointing. Whatever the social likelihoods of Timothy's case might be, he has been brought to a pitch of literary malice which can't simply be allowed to fall away [as it does]. Withdrawing his relish of Timothy's evil, and presenting him suddenly as something like a case-history victim, Mr Trevor hops without warning into another mood, almost another genre. He is guilty of failing to respect the impetus generated by his own characterisation, and of reasserting the decencies of life in a way that the whole tendency of the story belies, negates and derides. The old accusation of blowing up a short story idea to novel length is bound to come up too—though Trevor's problem, as he faces the task of doing something impressive with the miniature repressed emotions of a leftover genteel society, entitles him to some sympathy.

Russell Davies, "Tiny Tim," in New Statesman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 9, 1976, p. 53.

William Trevor characteristically writes a finely wrought story in which the action is wholly dramatized in the Jamesian sense…. (p. ii)

[The title story in Angels at the Ritz] dramatizes the machinations of a jaded middle-class suburban world. One couple engages in ritualistic exchanges of partners, trying to draw in the couple who engage our sympathies. They escape—narrowly in the husband's case—and the wife finds a renewed sense of life. Such affirmation doesn't ordinarily occur in Trevor's fiction, but this is not to say that he enjoys defeating his characters in their expectations or that he characteristically presents a grim view of life.

The two best stories in the collection—"Last Wishes" and "The Tennis Court"—show how he adumbrates human experience in all its comedy and pathos. Both involve the coming of death and the impact of the modern world upon an older time and society. In "Last Wishes" the reader is so thoroughly drawn into the complicity of the servants that he forgets momentarily the strength of their deception and their greed…. In "Last Wishes" one encounters "the territory of unease, the sure-footed sinister prowl around the edges of pain" that a … reviewer has remarked in Trevor's short fiction.

"The Tennis Court" has the sureness of effect and brilliance of economy that reveal the signature of a master. The narrator, a middle-aged woman, looks back at the events of her childhood in the summer of 1939, and in recalling that halycon time on the eve of World War II she presents the last vestiges of Edwardian England. Old Mrs. Ashburton wishes to restore her tennis court at the family manor (now owned by Lloyd's Bank) and in that act to recapture the leisured world of England on the eve of World War I. The party is a great success, but its very success brings pathos in its wake, and Mrs. Ashburton says: "I've had a lovely day," adding: "It's all over. Yet again." In the simplicity of that closing speech lies the heart of the story: the past has been repeated—in an awkward and democratic manner (former tenants attend the party), with little of the ceremony and splendor that marked Edwardian times—but that event fades as quickly and inexorably as the past upon which it has been crudely modeled.

Graham Greene has said that Angels at the Ritz is one of the best collections of short fiction, "if not the best collection, since Joyce's Dubliners."Before I read the book that claim seemed to me preposterous; afterward I was wholly persuaded of its rightness. (p. vi)

George Core, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor, © 1976 by The University of the South), Winter, 1977.

English novelists continue to work in a realistic and conventional tradition that looks back not to the great Modernists (Joyce, Woolf, Mann, Lawrence, Gide), but to the late 19th century: to a common-sense vision of the world that is adequately expressed in terms of beginnings, middles and ends, and in language that is pragmatic and unadorned. Within such limitations (which are perhaps primarily those of English publishers), a surprisingly rich and humanly engaging literature has been developed, and it is possible to read certain outstanding English novelists of our time—among them Iris Murdoch, V. S. Naipaul and William Trevor—as "experimentalists" in a special sense. They are far less concerned with formal virtuosity than their American counterparts, and far more explicitly concerned with the moral dimensions of their art. It may safely be said that they are more readable; and many readers might argue that they are more entertaining….

Trevor evokes potentially tragic situations that do not develop into tragedy: He gives life to quite ordinary people—men, women and children—who find themselves locked together by a single event and who are forced to reassess themselves and, as a consequence, their relationships. (p. 13)

Trevor does not force his readers to any clear-cut conclusion. What is unmistakable is his faith in his characters and his exuberant talent in bringing those characters alive in succinct, unsensational terms.

"The Children of Dynmouth" is Trevor's finest novel so far. At its core is a memorable creation—an aimless, sadistic 15-year-old boy named Timothy Gedge who, having no father and virtually no mother, wanders about the seaside town of Dynmouth trying to connect himself with other people. He … is tolerated by everyone and liked by no one; by the novel's end he has come close to destroying several people. Timothy's malice arises from his chronic aloneness, so that it isn't possible, as the vicar recognizes, to see the boy as evil. He is a fact of life in Dynmouth, a testimony to Dynmouth's inexplicable failure…. Trevor has basically a comic imagination, though he deals with very serious subjects; his novels, for all their anxious moments, manage to end more or less happily.

One comes to detest Timothy Gedge, with his sharp cheekbones, his mocking, moronic conversation and utterly selfish concerns; yet at the same time one is forced to experience Timothy as a natural event—or an Act of God, like flood or famine. He is mean, vicious, silly, idle, tiresome, but he will not go away. (pp. 13, 36)

Timothy's connections with the people of Dynmouth are achieved only through the violation of their privacy and through the violation of his own sanity; in fact he remains utterly alone, one of those deprived, debased individuals who commit terrible crimes without possessing the depth of feeling required to know what they are doing….

Yet such is Trevor's optimism that there may be a place in the pattern of lives even for Timothy; the vicar's wife, who has been unable to have a son, comes to see in Timothy the son who had not been born to her. And so there is the possibility of redemption; or, if not redemption, at least a place in the community. But it is all very tenuous, very problematic. The novel ends abruptly and ironically, and nothing is really resolved.

"The Children of Dynmouth" is a skillfully written novel, a small masterpiece of understatement. Where "Elizabeth Alone" sags and nearly buckles beneath the weight of too many incidental characters and their whimsical lives, "The Children of Dynmouth"—like the powerful "Miss Gomez and the Brethren"—manages to give life to a surprising variety of people, linking them together in the rhythms of a community as well as in the more urgent rhythms of a suspenseful narrative. It is a sensitive and honorable achievement, a work of rare compassion. (p. 36)

Joyce Carol Oates, "More Lonely Than Evil," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 17, 1977, pp. 13, 36.