David Caute V. S. Naipaul - Essay

V. S. Naipaul

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many novels fail when experience and invention are imperfectly fused…. [It is fairly easy to separate the two in] David Caute's first novel, At Fever Pitch…. It would have seemed then that Mr Caute was rash to attempt an historical novel, in which fiction has to be adjusted to fact. The appalling, over-written first chapter of Comrade Jacob confirms one's fears. Then, quite abruptly, all the novelist's instincts seem to come to Mr Caute. Forgetting to write prettily, he sinks deeper and deeper into his subject, and the result is a book which is far better than his first.

The novel tells of the failure of the Diggers to establish a communistic society on St. George's Hill in Surrey in 1649. They are opposed by landlords and the local clergy. Cromwell, fearing the spread of anarchy, sends General Fairfax to disperse the Diggers. Fairfax is unwilling to be brutal; then the Diggers, their numbers growing, become militant, and they are destroyed. Mr Caute suggests that even without Cromwell and Fairfax the cause was lost. This he does by taking us into the mind of Gerard Winstanley, the leader of the Diggers. Winstanley tells part of the story. We see his visions and accept them; we recognise his honesty; but we equally recognise his need for power, his willingness to compromise with the truth for the sake of his colony. This is a Joyce Cary theme and at times, especially when dealing with religious hysteria, Mr Caute speaks with pure Joyce Cary accents. But Mr Caute's own instincts have been right. He does not parade any distracting historical detail; and except for an unnecessary reference to 'some young chap called Andre Marvele', he drops no names. By seeming not to explain the age, he makes it live.

V. S. Naipaul, "On St. George's Hill," in New Statesman (© 1961 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXI, No. 1574, May 12, 1961, p. 758.∗