Frank Swinnerton Rebecca West - Essay

Rebecca West

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is not clear why Mr. Frank Swinnerton has called his new novel Coquette. A coquette, one had always understood, was a lady who loved the work for its own sake, who found the evocation and frustration of desire a satisfying sport in itself; but his Sally Minto was moved in her first encounter with a man by real passion and in her second by ambition. A novel about a coquette would be primarily … a discussion of the mystery of athleticism, that passion which leads human beings to spend their lives attaining proficiency in occupations which are obviously not of a kind that will print through this world into the next and be placed to their credit in eternity. But Sally Minto's story is something far other than this. It is first of all a virtuosic study of character. Throughout the book there are signs that Mr. Swinnerton is capable of talking conventional nonsense about women in general. He subscribes, for instance, to the legend that a set of girls will inevitably be jealous of the most attractive of their number, and makes all the hands in the dressmaking establishment where Sally works look on her with disfavour. This is Victorian. Experience is all against it; every pretty schoolgirl collects a train of plainer girl adorers, and while there may be rivalry among such leaders there is no jealousy felt by the plain against the pretty. This is not to say that there is no jealousy between women. There is, just as there is between men, but it is the jealousy the unhappy feel against the happy…. But the jealousy Mr. Swinnerton ascribes to the girls at Madame Gala's is a dusty convention with which a writer of his realist ambition ought to have nothing to do. It does in fact deprive him of one chance of exhibiting Sally's character....

(The entire section is 716 words.)