Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

When The Aerodrome appeared, the noted critic V. S. Pritchett described its author as “the only outstanding novelist of ideas whom the decade of ideas has produced.” Since then, critical opinion has declared The Aerodrome to be Warner’s most important novel: It has been included in Oxford University Press’s Twentieth-Century Classics series and has never been out of print. It has been made into a miniseries for television.

It is sometimes forgotten that The Aerodrome appeared eight years prior to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and its publication during wartime may well have affected its popularity and pertinence, since the public’s attention to the real nature of the opposition of democracy and totalitarianism was not focused until the advent of the Cold War that followed the peace of 1945. Both novels have lovers who are denied freedom to exhibit their love; both have newly ordained and unthinking overseers; both have officially sanctioned language. Orwell’s Winston Smith, however, is fundamentally a symbol, a stereotype, whereas Roy is individualized and triumphs over adversity and the institutionalization of power to return, with Bess, to the love and ways of the Village. (It should be noted that “Roy” is an Old French form of roi, or “king”: It is thus Roy rather than the Air Vice-Marshal who lives and rules.)

Some readers have noticed a similarity between The Aerodrome and the novels of Franz Kafka, but the similarity is found, for the most part, only in the use of the allegorical method. Warner himself acknowledged his indebtedness to the British allegorical writers: John Bunyan, Jonathan Swift, and John Milton, in particular. Like most allegorical novels rich in symbolism, The Aerodrome rewards the reader with fresh insights into the human condition after every reading, particularly as one contemplates the authority of the Squire and Rector (absolute, yet wielded with wisdom and compassion) and that of the Air Vice-Marshal (equally absolute, yet exercised to deny the nobility and grandeur of life itself).