Enid Bagnold Leo Lerman - Essay

Leo Lerman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miss Bagnold's special talent has ever been the telling of stories set in the milieu which she seems to know best; and this milieu has several faces. One is that of the world dedicated to high life, the haut monde still to be found in the mondaine places, be they Manhattan, Morocco, or a villa upon some conveniently remote island. This world has a painstakingly assembled face.

Another of the Bagnold faces is the weathered and seamed one of outdoor folk: sportsmen, racing people, county gentry. And, naturally, she knows her servants, the people up in the garrets, down in basements, behind counters. She even knows those anonymous persons in streets, undergrounds, on omnibuses—those who make the big city roar.

That Miss Bagnold's men and women of fashion [in "The Loved and Envied"] continue, despite their new recherché lives, to hold the reader's attention is a measure of her novelistic ability. (p. 5)

The world of Miss Bagnold's novel is precisely that international one whose members are publicized incessantly in society columns and in magazines of high fashion…. If you look beneath the immaculate surface of the carefully assembled face on the fashion magazine page, if somehow you can see the face without the photographer's retouching, you will see the people in Miss Bagnold's book as she sees them and as she ultimately shows them to you and to themselves.

You will also know why she has taken the time and the prodigious trouble to write this intricately designed fan of a book, folding and unfolding some fifty years of life, manipulating the highly colored fan so that the people and places depicted upon its surface shift in time: are one moment to be seen piecemeal, the next exposed totally, and ultimately unfurled all together—the whole elaborate design revealed.

The picture upon this fan is that of a cohesive and meaningful community—aging and doomed. Since Enid Bagnold has been able to execute this picture, it becomes not merely a novel of high life, but a charting of the death of many hearts. It is another one of those reports that are being written by those who realize that their worlds are dying and know exactly why. (pp. 5. 14)

Leo Lerman, "Some People and Places." in The New York Times Book Review (© 1950 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 31, 1950, pp. 5, 14.