Frank Swinnerton The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The title of Mr. Swinnerton's new book [The Doctor's Wife Comes to Stay] is Trollopean, and so in a sense is the story. An energetic and successful young artist, egotistical but attractive, finds that his wife is not content merely with household duties, nor even with the small celebrity of occasional parts in "little theatre" productions. The immense success of the play in which she is acting obtains for her an offer of the leading part in its American production; and she goes to America, leaving her husband at home in the care of her apple-cheeked Victorian mother who comes on a prolonged visit. This lady is the doctor's wife of the title; the doctor himself is an impressively puritanical, sharp-tongued and untidy Scot.

The most unpromising themes may be turned to good fictional use; and Mr. Swinnerton's story, which sounds perhaps even more like Hollywood than like Trollope, is in fact written most carefully and intelligently in the manner of Henry James. At the end of it we are left with a kind of Jamesian problem, and Mr. Swinnerton evokes with remarkable skill that sense of horror, mystery and fascination in the past which comes through so clearly in the master's work. The Doctor's Wife Comes to Stay is not an altogether easy book to read, although it is written with much humour; its subject, obliquely revealed, is really the artist's investigation of the secret lying in the Victorian mother's past. Mr. Swinnerton prepares us for the final dramatic scenes—which cannot be disclosed without affecting the reader's pleasure—with admirable artistry.

"Past and Future," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 2500, December 30, 1949, p. 853.∗