Enid Bagnold Robert Kee - Essay

Robert Kee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The central character of [Enid Bagnold's The Loved and Envied] is Lady Ruby Maclean, a beautiful, rich, 33-year-old Parisian socialite, who "for a quarter of a century has been more fun than anyone else," and who is now making the transition from that quarter of a century to the next. "The old," she says, "are a bit sad, but it's like rheumatism—one can do nothing about it and they grow used to it." This sweet creaking of joints is the main theme of the book…. One should not let oneself be too much put off by the woman's magazine ring of the names or some of the sentences, or the slightly unreal atmosphere of a moneyed closed shop which pervades the book. These are merely the points at which the disguise is flaking off most clearly.

In fact, there is a good deal of moving and sensitive treatment of the theme. There is a deep and genuine feeling for the pathos of human life, often expressed with the ease of a first-class writer. A phrase such as that which describes a room in the flat where Rose, the Vicomte's mistress, has lived for thirty years ("the backroom was as though they had never quite got there") sometimes conveys the sadness of human transitoriness with a success which one would expect only from a better writer. (pp. 165-66)

But the success is limited. It is confined to an expression of the general pathos of human decay. The characters, as individuals and not just as pegs for hanging old age on, leave only a faint impression, which is perhaps why they have to be such very grand people. It is as if their money and grandness were there to bolster them up. But money and grandness will not do the work of a creative writer for him. The Loved and Envied is also given away by occasional simple technical faults. There are one or two annoying instances of recapitulation of incident, caused by dipping back into the memories of more than one old person. And, granted that sudden deaths are more pardonable in a novel concerned with old age than most, the number of them in The Loved and Envied (four) seems excessive. (p. 166)

Robert Kee, "New Novels: 'The Loved and Envied'," in The New Statesman & Nation (© 1951 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. XLI, No. 1040, February 10, 1951, pp. 165-66.