Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The several mentions of subterranean buildings (including the chapel) at the Aerodrome are memorable: Nothing that it represents is open, forthright; its activities and goals are shrouded and are not open to inspection. By contrast, everything in the Village—its people, their daily activities, and their transgressions; its buildings, its institutions, its contrasts of wealth and power and poverty and impotence—is open for all to see. The faceless efficiency of the one is the antithesis of the other. At the conclusion of the novel, the Village continues, though the future of the Aerodrome, identified as it is with the will to power of a single person, is uncertain at best.

The Aerodrome, in effect, shows two states of mind that have existed for ages in the modern world: the dissatisfaction and disappointment of people with the ineffectiveness of democracy, bureaucracy, and liberalism on one hand, and the growing enthusiasm for efficiency, organization, and results— however ruthlessly attained—on the other. Moreover, it suggests that individuals are divided into two warring groups: those who are sensual, vegetative, and bound to the body and the slow processes of time, and those who are motivated by the will to power and impatience with tradition and the slow processes of time. One group may be seen as the feminine element, the other as the masculine. The Village represents tradition, the Aerodrome represents change and modernity, and each of these has even wider symbolic significance.

The epigraph to the novel, an extract from the seventeenth century metaphysical poet George Herbert, provides a succinct guide to the theme:

But there are two vast, spacious things,The which to measure it doth more behove:Yet few there are that found them; Sinne and Love.

It is the interrelatedness of these great forces that Warner has explored within the context of an allegorical novel set in the recent past and that is as pertinent as if it were immediately contemporary.