David Caute Bernard Bergonzi - Essay

Bernard Bergonzi

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

David Caute's At Fever Pitch, which came out in 1959, was one of the most remarkable first novels of the Fifties…. This packed account of African politics, army life and sex contained so much material that one wondered if Mr. Caute hadn't utilised all his available experience in writing it. His second book, Comrade Jacob, tends to confirm this fear. It's a political-historical novel, set in 1649, soon after the execution of Charles I, and it describes the rise and fall of the egalitarian community known as the Diggers…. Mr. Caute is concerned primarily with the intellectual and ideological implications of the Digger revolt, rather than with superficial period detail…. Yet there is something shadowy about the substance of this novel: Mr. Caute seems more concerned with debate than with drama, and Comrade Jacob is a roman à thèse rather than a true novel of ideas. One is constantly aware of the Marxist spectacles through which he regards his subject: Winstanley is seen as an embodiment of revolutionary proletarian consciousness; the Commonwealth commander, General Fairfax, is a liberal aristocrat who finds himself uneasily on the progressive side; the sadistic Captain Gladman is the type of Fascist who is thrown up in a revolutionary situation; while the clergyman, John Platt, who becomes the Diggers' implacable enemy, is an epitome of clerical reaction. This is a well-written and highly intelligent book, even though Mr. Caute has, I think, honourably failed the notorious hurdle of the second novel. I shall certainly want to read his third.

Bernard Bergonzi, "Roundhead Utopia," in The Spectator (© 1961 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 206, No. 6933, May 12, 1961, p. 689.∗