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.