Enid Bagnold Rosemary Benet - Essay

Rosemary Benet

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Readers who complain that the shadow of futility and frustration hangs over the modern novel, should read "The Door of Life". Here is no wishy-washy inhibited heroine, but a vigorous lady, full of zest for life.

She rules her own world, the typical large English household…. She has four strong and interesting children, and is awaiting the birth of the fifth with a brooding pleasure that verges on ecstasy. It is around the idea and the expectancy of birth that the whole household revolves during that warm, still summer….

Though the core of the book is the birth, the background is clear and well drawn. The four other children are very alive for Miss Bagnold has a rare gift for describing children. She makes them talk and walk and act like children, not literary phenomena…. It is a particular achievement to have created Boniface, for the remarkable child is hard to do. Written down, he becomes merely precocious or queer. Not so, Boniface, "resolved to lead the life of a man, before he was fit to leave babyhood for childhood."…

The only person who seemed unreal to me, is one undoubtedly drawn from life, the Scotch midwife or nurse. She is too remote, and mystical, and too much the High Priestess to come alive to me, even if she does exist somewhere….

In this book, Miss Bagnold reminded me of Colette. One is as French as French, the other typically English. Each has a fine and careful style. The resemblance is still more in the vigour and vitality of their writing and their feeling for the rhythms of nature. Finally each has done an excellent—though very different—portrait of a middle-aged woman, a woman by no means through with emotion, who has stopped midway to ponder over emotion….

["The Door of Life"] is feminism at its best. It combines vitality with sensitivity, an excellent combination.

Rosemary Benet, "Rich Mystery of Birth," in New York Herald Tribune Books (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), October 2, 1938, p. 4.