David Caute The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Comrade Jacob], Mr. Caute, a scholar of some assurance and brilliant representational imagination, has written the heroic, and often cruel, story of the Diggers' community, its persecution both unofficial and official, its perseverance and eventual destruction. The story is told largely through the minds of the main characters, preeminently that of Winstanley himself. Here Mr. Caute achieves a masterpiece of sympathetic personification. To fill out imaginatively the known outlines of an historical person is not so hard, since considerable latitude is left to imagination. But to put breath into an already rounded figure, particularly one so articulate and self-examining as Winstanley, is a more delicate artistic problem, because one may not transgress the constriction of known facts, and yet must fill the crevices which self-portraiture inevitably glosses over.

With some of the other characters … the author's self-imposed constriction of space leaves a feeling of slight dissatisfaction, of questioning whether justice has been done or something has not been subtly contrived to fit a case. (A small point here, of historical integrity: since those characters mentioned above are all real people, should not Mr. Caute provide some documentary justification, for instance, of his peculiarly repulsive picture of Captain Gladman?)… It is signal of the value of this book that the questions it arouses in the mind, political, psychological, historical and also literary, are such as a brief reviewer must shut from his mind, if he is not to outrun his task….

[This] book is a remarkable, and moving, evocation of a stirring and significant experiment in English history. Its historical resonances are profound, its patterning of social relationships most subtle, and within so small a compass it concentrates a background of considerable scope.

"The Diggers," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1961; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3090, May 19, 1961, p. 305.