Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes is a novel about truth. As the president of the medievalists points out to Gerald, historians must tell the truth; as to private individuals poking into the secrets of others, that may be quite another matter. Yet it is through his coming to understand that historical truth transcends individual rights that Gerald realizes that personal truth is also important. It is their refusal to look at the world realistically that makes both Ingeborg and Marie Helene such a threat to those whom they draw into their world of illusion. Once Kay and John, for example, accept Ingeborg’s view of life, they can never look at the world independently.

Although Ingeborg pretends to be passionately concerned about truth, she merely uses that excuse to manipulate their children. By telling them the details of Gerald’s affair with Dollie, she causes them to reject their father and to cling to her. Ingeborg’s truth is selective. She refuses to admit, even to herself, that she is responsible for Kay’s withered hand, just as she will not admit that the children and the parents are tired of the St. Lucia songs.

What Gerald must understand is that truth cannot be selective, not even divided into historical and personal as the medievalist suggested. It was Gerald’s assumption that questioning the Bishop Eorpwald theory would hurt people that caused him originally to suppress his suspicions. His reaction in the historical field was no different from his reaction in his own life, where for decades he avoided the truth and simply fled from his responsibilities toward his children. At the end of the novel, Gerald has discovered that the historian he was protecting did not deserve to be shielded and that the announcement of the probable hoax made very little difference to the academic world. As to his personal blindness, that did make a very great difference. Had he pursued truth throughout his life, not selectively but completely, Gerald would have had a far more satisfying life.