Enid Bagnold

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Christopher Morley

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[In "The Door of Life"] Enid Bagnold gives us, with candor and subtlety, an inward-gazing study of the companionship between a woman and her child, in the days just before and just after birth. At a time when so much of the world's attention is upon the destruction of life, this tender and explicit revelation of lifegiving is a thrill to enjoy. But I fear it probes too clinical, too frank, too tender, to please maternal readers. A deep and I daresay a wise instinct usually withholds the creators of life from articulate comment on the dreamy strangeness of its process.

For fathers, however, this is superb. Hardly since the famous childbirth in the Shandy family has the drama of a household in parturition been so astonishingly rendered. But in this story the father is appropriately removed from the scene; he has gone off on a three months' business trip to Bombay, and his magnificent madonna is in charge of the household….

[This] book has much humor. Even anyone who has never kept house in Britain or read Margaret Halsey will relish Enid Bagnold's innocent revelations of the British Stately Home. The gaiety that delighted us all in "National Velvet" is here in full measure; and the same masterly delineations of the different children, each sharply identified and understood. The same quality of acute observation and freshly vitalized writing is here. Passage after passage, some of beauty and some of clearest intuition, plead for quotation….

But beyond humor this book explores deep beauty and universal feeling. The character of the Squire—so the mother is called in the absence of the titular head of the house—is livingly before us. For the moment, in the crisis of these few weeks, she is scarcely of either sex but is the fundamental stuff of all humanity….

Enid Bagnold has remarkable powers; not least of them a sharply substantive sense of things. With no laborious contriving she makes the house and all its surroundings suggestively actual, influential. And she shows the delight and despair of the human spirit which finds itself so incomprehensibly mixed up with all these tangibles and carnals. She has dared a dangerous job, and gazed "with eye serene, at the very pulse of the machine." It seems to me a notable success; a cry in praise of life in a world bent upon death. It really is a Book of Genesis.

Christopher Morley, "Book of Genesis," in The Saturday Review of Literature (© 1938, copyright renewed © 1965. Saturday Review Magazine Co.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XVIII, No. 23, October 1. 1938, p. 7.

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