Frank Swinnerton The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For the past forty years, two-thirds of his long career as a writer, Mr. Frank Swinnerton has lived in a restored seventeenth-century cottage in the Surrey village of Cranleigh…. At least, he calls it a village, for, in spite of all the urbanization of the Home Counties, he has managed to remain confidently under the impression that he lives deep in the English countryside. Indeed, one of the attractions of Reflections from a Village comes from the otherwise by no means unsophisticated author's naive discovery of the garden, the village green and the commonest of wild birds and flowers…. There is nothing affected about this, however, for Mr. Swinnerton has preserved into old age much of the excitement with which he first began "to notice such things".

Old people do not merely remember the past, they carry part of it with them, and Mr. Swinnerton appears to wear, like a jacket, something of the warmth of a period earlier than that of the 1920s when he first came to his cottage. For he did not really fit into the age of Lawrence, Fitzgerald and Aldous Huxley; he belonged more to what he himself called "the Georgian Literary Scene". His writer friends were men like H. G. Wells and Walter de la Mare….

Perhaps, in his admiration for the Georgians, Mr. Swinnerton repeats some of their bad habits, including a tendency towards "belle-lettrism" on subjects about which he does not know very much, such as spiders. But he has their merits too: a genuine enjoyment of life, a sharp eye for the homely and familiar, and a capacity for friendship. Even his occasional blindnesses help to recapture the opinions and prejudices of a past age—he believes, for instance, that "superfine critics" still despise the work of Charles Dickens. Reflections from a Village is a rambling, companionable, agreeably old-fashioned book and though W. H. Hudson and Hilaire Belloc and the rest of Mr. Swinnerton's more country-minded friends would not have regarded his Surrey garden as being in the heart of rural England, they would certainly have agreed that he has made the most of it.

"Late Georgian," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3499, March 20, 1969, p. 292.∗