Enid Bagnold Raymond Mortimer - Essay

Raymond Mortimer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[National Velvet] is the story of a girl of fourteen with a passion for horses who obtains in a shilling raffle a piebald gelding, with which she wins the Grand National, owner up. This super-daydream is the skeleton of the book, its flesh is enormously English humour about children, animals and the lower middle classes. I cannot imagine a more repulsive recipe for a novel—and the result is one of the jolliest, raciest, books I have read in years. Miss Bagnold, except in one or two purplish passages, is entirely unsentimental. What amuses her in children is not their naiveté …, but their slyness, their egotism, their terrifying determination. To use the word "Dickensian" about Miss Bagnold would be misleading, for she is not a poet; she always remains in complete control of her characters; and she never lapses into caricature—the trouble is that I don't know how to suggest a mint-sauce and crisp Yorkshire pudding atmosphere, which is conveyed without a hint of offensive heartiness. The fact that books and pictures and musical compositions have to be classified as high and middle and low brow is profoundly depressing. It is therefore with something like a whoop that I recommend National Velvet as a novel calculated to sell by the ton, and at the same time likely to be gobbled up by the most fastidious.

Raymond Mortimer, "Books in General: 'National Velvet'," in The New Statesman & Nation (© 1935 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. IX, No. 215, April 6, 1935, p. 489.