Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1521

First published: 1920

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: 1912-1919

Locale: Southern England

Principal Characters:

Mark Sabre, an idealist

Mabel Sabre, his wife

Lady Nona Tybar, a friend

Mr. Fortune, Mark’s employer

Mr. Twyning, a business associate

Harold Twyning ...

(The entire section contains 1521 words.)

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First published: 1920

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: 1912-1919

Locale: Southern England

Principal Characters:

Mark Sabre, an idealist

Mabel Sabre, his wife

Lady Nona Tybar, a friend

Mr. Fortune, Mark’s employer

Mr. Twyning, a business associate

Harold Twyning, Twyning’s son

Effie Bright, Sabre’s friend

The Story:

Most of his friends thought Mark Sabre an odd sort, in spite of the normal life he led. He was married to a girl of his own class and worked in the very respectable firm of Fortune, East, and Sabre, suppliers for the best churches and schools in England. It was his attitude toward life that seemed unusual. He had no definite convictions about anything, and he could always see both sides of any controversy. He hated the restrictions that convention placed on people; but at the same time, he believed that conventions were based on sound principles. Mabel Sabre, one of the most conventional women alive, was totally unable to understand anything her husband tried to discuss with her.

The only person who understood him well was Lady Nona Tybar, with whom Sabre had once been in love. Nona’s husband, Lord Tybar, was a charming man but completely without moral principles. When he flaunted other women in Nona’s face, she turned to Sabre for comfort in his friendship, but Mabel, Sabre’s wife, could not understand their friendship any better than she could understand anything else about her husband. After five years of marriage, Mabel and Sabre were living almost as strangers under one roof. Mark Sabre’s employer, Mr. Fortune, and his business associate Mr. Twyning despised him because they did not understand him; consequently, Sabre felt that he lived only as he bicycled between his home and his office, for then he could know himself as he really was. Sabre felt that there was a mystery to life, which he could unlock if he found the right key. His life was almost dedicated to finding that key.

In addition to Nona, Sabre had three friends with whom he liked to spend his time. They were his neighbors, Mr. Fargus, old Mrs. Perch, and her son. When the war came, young Perch wanted to enlist, but he could not leave his invalid mother alone. Sabre knew that Effie Bright, daughter of an employee at his office, wanted a position as a companion, and he arranged to have her stay with Mrs. Perch after her son went to the army. Young Perch was killed, and when his mother received the news, she also died. Shortly after the old lady’s death, Sabre himself joined the army. Because Mabel did not want to stay alone, she employed Effie to stay with her; however, she treated Effie as a servant.

Lord Tybar was a hero in the war and won the Victoria Cross before he was killed. Nona went to France after her husband’s death and drove an ambulance for the rest of the war years. When Sabre came home on leave, Mabel discharged Effie. She said that the girl was impertinent and unreliable.

Late in 1917, Sabre was wounded and sent home to stay. Mabel took no more interest in him than she had before, until the day she received a letter from Effie. Effie begged to come back to the Sabres. She now had an illegitimate child and no one, including her father, would take her in. Mabel was righteously angry at the proposal, and when Sabre tried to defend the girl, she began to suspect that he might have a reason to help Effie. Before they reached a decision Effie, having no other place to go, arrived with her baby. When Sabre insisted that she stay, Mabel left, declaring she would not return until the girl and her baby had gone. Mr. Fortune and Mr. Twyning, who had been made a partner in the firm, would not allow Sabre to return to the firm unless he sent Effie away. They feared scandal would hurt their business. Sabre, however, would not be forced to do what he felt would be an injustice and a sin. He had found the key to the puzzle; he knew that the solution to the mystery of the world is simply that God is love. Love for one’s fellowmen could set the world right again. He loved Effie as he loved all mankind, as he loved even his wife and the others who hated him.

Keeping Effie in the face of criticism brought only disaster to him and to the girl. Mabel sued for divorce on grounds of adultery, naming Effie. Sabre was away from his home when the papers were served, and before he could quite comprehend that his wife could believe such a foul thing, he was arrested. Effie had taken poison after first killing her baby. She had learned of Mabel’s suit and thought she could help Sabre best by committing suicide. Sabre’s enemies were not satisfied. He was taken to court and accused of being responsible for her death. Effie’s father, Mabel, and Mr. Twyning all claimed that he was the father of Effie’s baby and that he had bought the poison which she drank. It was proved that he could have been the father of the child. Only one voice, however, was raised in his defense. Nona returned from France and appeared at the trial, but there was little she could do.

The verdict made Sabre responsible for Effie’s suicide. Sabre went home, but he would not allow Nona to go with him. He found a letter from Effie in his house. In it, she told him that she was taking her life and that of her baby because she had caused him so much trouble. She also named the father of her baby; it was Harold Twyning, the son of Sabre’s enemy. The boy had been afraid of his father’s anger and had not claimed his responsibility.

Sabre was enraged and went to his old office prepared to kill Mr. Twyning. When he reached the office, however, he learned that his enemy had just received word of Harold’s death in battle. Sabre dropped Effie’s letter in the fire and offered his sympathy to the man mainly responsible for ruining him. Then he went into his old office and collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage. Nona found him there and took him home. For many months, he could remember nothing that had happened to him, but gradually he began to piece together the sordid, tragic story. He learned that Mabel had secured her divorce and remarried. He learned to know Nona again, but he asked her to go away because he had accepted disgrace rather than reveal the story of Effie’s letter. Nona refused to leave him, and after a year, they were married. Sabre knew then that he had really found the key to the mystery of existence in that dark season of life before winter gives way to spring.

Critical Evaluation:

A. S. M. Hutchinson’s IF WINTER COMES is a prime example of a novel that cannot be called universal in its appeal yet has remained a minor classic among twentieth century British and American readers. The simplicity of its theme, man’s discovery of universal love and forgiveness, coupled with the overly complex plot puts it more on the level of a daytime television serial than a great work of literature. Nevertheless, as one critic has put it, Hutchinson’s works are second rate, but good second rate, which is a distinction in itself.

One of the principal reasons why IF WINTER COMES is not considered first rate is that it plays entirely too much on the audience’s emotions. The tragedies that befall the principal characters border on the maudlin. The reader may become very engrossed in the plot but does so on an emotional rather than an intellectual level. It is difficult to relate the bizarre turns of plot to real life.

The best aspect of the novel is the characterization of Mark Sabre, a simple man who appears too complex to his acquaintances because he takes a different view of life from their own. He, like many people, desperately tries to find an uncomplicated existence but is prevented from doing so by the complexities of life. In many respects, the characterization of Mark is drawn from Hutchinson’s own personality. Although he had a great deal of success from his literary career during his own lifetime, he was somewhat of a recluse and desired to live a very simple, peaceful life, devoid of notoriety.

Aside from the picture of Mark Sabre, the descriptions of life and manners during the era of World War I in the English town are valuable to students of social history. By analyzing situations and the moralistic reactions of the townspeople, an interesting picture of English country life emerges; although chronologically removed from the Victorian era, the people in the novel are basically as staid and unrelenting as their nineteenth century counterparts.

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