Enid Bagnold

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Anthony West

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[Insofar as "The Loved and Envied"] is about people and emotions, it is a very good book…. "Serena Blandish," [Miss Bagnold's second novel, was] an extraordinarily exact, lucid, and, in a wholly feminine way, strong account of the experiences that turn a girl into a woman. It was a brilliant start, which promised at least an English Colette. What followed, however, was a long silence, broken, finally, by ["National Velvet,"] an agreeable middle-brow comedy. (About her next novel, "The Door of Life," which was concerned largely with the glories of motherhood and the maternal instinct, the less said the better; it might have been written by a man.) But now, after more than twenty-five years, Miss Bagnold has abruptly turned back to the line of development she began with "Serena Blandish" and has to a considerable extent fulfilled its promise.

What "The Loved and Envied" does, and does extremely well, is create an atmosphere of maturity. Since the triumph of the literary movement—or, to be more accurate, drift—initiated by Hemingway, which is devoted to celebrating the dumb ox above all other kinds of men, the focus of writing has been more and more on violent death and perpetual adolescence. The average novel treats the crisis through which people pass on their way to maturity as a matter of the final solution of problems of relationship. When characters over forty appear at all, they repeat, without any gain in experience, fundamentally adolescent situations…. The great virtue of Miss Bagnold's book is that it is a clear break away from this sort of inanity. Most of her characters are between fifty and sixty. They have behind them experience appropriate to their age, which has taken them beyond a fumbling confusion about sex, and they have digested that experience into ideas about living that have some richness. The main business of the book is the discovery of the emotional poverty of a woman in her fifties who has lived so entirely to herself that love has died around her without touching her, and its contrast to the emotional wealth that love of one kind or another has brought to the people in her circle of acquaintance. There is an imaginative abundance in the number of complete lives, and in the variety of situations, that have been brought into the story, but what is truly impressive is the manner in which the relationships are shown in development, from uncertainty to certainty, from passionate urgency to friendship and constancy, and away from it to estrangement. There is a description of the loss of emotional contact between a woman and her parents that amounts to a tour de force; it is done, with a beautiful economy, in terms of a slow ebbing of intensity that shows up the ordinary Sturm-und-Drang account of the process, done in terms of adolescent rebellion, for the crude personal fantasy it usually is. The economy is accompanied by grace and wit, so that although mortuary thoughts are never very far off, there is no feeling about the book of gloomy snuffling around the doors of the charnel house.

These merits are substantial, but it has to be said that "The Loved and Envied" has one major defect. Like so many British writers, Miss Bagnold dearly loves a lord. A sour whiff of snobbery comes from her pages…. Miss Bagnold's Italo-Anglo-French aristocracy is transparently and tediously fraudulent; characters whose psychological and physical construction is as convincing as it could conceivably be are knocked clear into dreamland by the pretense that they are vicomtes, dukes, and so forth. (pp. 86, 88)

Anthony West, "Three Novels," in The New Yorker (© 1951 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXVI. No. 49, January 27, 1951, pp. 86, 88.∗

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