Enid Bagnold Edith H. Walton - Essay

Edith H. Walton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Except for its sharpness of observation and its delicate humor, there is little to connect the author of "National Velvet" with this informal diary, written when Miss Bagnold was 19. For reasons which now seem incomprehensible, the publication of "A Diary Without Dates" produced a flurry in wartime England and caused Miss Bagnold's dismissal from the military hospital where she was working as a V.A.D. It is true that her book … shows a certain hostility to the sisters who were Miss Bagnold's superiors, but otherwise it could only have been offensive in that it was too clearheaded and realistic to please contemporary patriots.

Considering her youth, considering the feverish emotions of the period, one is amazed at Miss Bagnold's immunity to the traditional bunk about war. Her book is not sentimental, nor does it babble of heroism and glory. She records, merely, the impressions of a very sensitive young person who can never accustom herself to the pain—nor to the stupidity—which she sees all around her…. It is the merit of her book that it is fresh, unsparing, honest. She feels no necessity to sentimentalize the wounded, whose sufferings affect her so keenly.

As to the actual material in her diary, there is nothing new or particularly remarkable about it…. Where she surpasses the average is in her pungent vignettes of eccentric or amusing patients, and in her general capacity to dramatize both sides of hospital life, the tragic and the comic. Despite its brevity and its apparent casualness, her book captures the living quality of a major experience.

The answer, of course, is that Enid Bagnold, even at 19, had two important assets. She could feel, and she could write. Simple as her prose is, it has an exquisite economy and exactness which presage her later work. After two decades and a plethora of war literature "A Diary Without Dates" is still worth reading and reprinting. Entirely unpretentious, it communicates emotion directly and poignantly; it makes one share the impact of war and suffering upon a youthful, intelligent and very receptive mind.

Edith H. Walton, "The Wartime Diary of Enid Bagnold." in The New York Times Book Review (© 1935 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 24, 1935, p. 11.