Frank Swinnerton H. W. Boynton - Essay

H. W. Boynton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One secret of the charm of Frank Swinnerton's "Nocturne" is what may be called the warm disinterest, or sympathetic detachment, of the chronicler. He doesn't mean his little episode to "teach" anything: it is simply there before us, yet by no means as a "slice of life", for what makes it alive is the radiant energy of creative art. The artist's self as well as his skill informs it. Irony would be too cold a word for its mood, for there is something glowing here. As we enter that mood, we feel ourselves lifted to something like the wisdom and tenderness of the gods, glimpsing elements of beauty in the children of dust, and in the dust itself. "Shops and Houses" is a less sublimated kind of fiction. Its emotion is less intense and less from within. And it labors somewhat from the outset under the burden of an "idea". At once we are, so to speak, confronted with Beckwith, an English provincial town which is confessedly and unhappily typical. Beckwith is an ancient village but fifteen miles from London, half spoiled by the advent of railway and factories, yet still self-centered. It is a place of rigid class distinctions, raw social nerves, and ruthless tongues of censure or surmise…. It is a village of snobs, such as from Miss Mitford to E. F. Benson has made itself familiar to American readers as a kind of stronghold of Briticism. What gives Mr. Swinnerton's handling freshness is his explicit conviction that this narrow, ingrowing, pharisaical life of the Beckwiths of old England is a damnable thing, and not merely a quaint and amusing thing.

The opening situation is intensely British. The unchallenged social supremacy in Beckwith...

(The entire section is 680 words.)