Frank Swinnerton

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H. W. Boynton

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

[Nocturne] is neither grey nor gay, neither realism in its docket nor romance in its pigeon-hole. It is a book of fact but also of arrangement, of insight as well as observation; of dramatic action as well as sympathy. In short, it is a work of imaginative art, holding its magic mirror (and not a mere reflector) up to nature. To this roundness and fulness within its slender bounds [H. G.] Wells is paying tribute when he writes to Mr. Bennett, "You know, Arnold, he achieves a perfection in Nocturne that you and I never get within streets of." Mr. Wells enlarges upon his enthusiasm in his Introduction. "This is a book that will not die," he concludes. "It is perfect, authentic, and alive." Authentic or artistic—we may use either word in the effort to express our sense of this story as "the real thing." But I think the main point, which does not seem to be altogether clear to Mr. Wells, is that this is the real thing as a story. The Cockney family: Jenny, the milliner's girl; Emmy, the domestic slave; Pa Blanchard, the paralytic remnant of a reckless fellow … Alf, the vague satellite…. These people with their dingy surroundings fairly offer themselves to the grey method of a Gissing or the jaunty method of a Bennett or the inquisitive method of a Wells. The Swinnerton method is none of these. It is the method of the interpreter who frankly makes truth salient by his skilful manipulation of facts. Here, for example, it is his purpose to compass or focus the meaning of four lives in the events of a single night. To that end he employs without hesitation the familiar instruments of the romancer. He is after, not a slice of life, but a distilled and golden drop of life. That immortal tool of the narrative or dramatic artist which we call "the long arm of coincidence," and mock at when it is perfunctorily wielded, is here employed with bland consummate skill…. [All events in the plot] are compassed at the will of the storyteller; but so compassed that we accept them with rich gratitude as setting us free from the stupid casual incompletion of "fact." It is the tense and compacted method of drama in contrast with the elaborate haphazard of fiction as it is so often written to-day. As for the meaning or moral of the story, it is inherent, not appended. One feels its quality to be tragic, not sentimental or occasional.

For all its lesser realism of detail, its economy of materials, and its restraint of manner, the book is charged with high emotion…. (pp. 567-68)

H. W. Boynton, "Peace-Time Novels," in The Bookman, New York, Vol. XLVII, No. 5, July, 1918, pp. 564-70.∗

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H. G. Wells


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