Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Satire can range from purposeful destructive dismemberment to genial finger-pointing, and Amis is quite capable of working along the line of tonalities from one end to the other, sometimes on the same page. He is, as is often the case with satirists, very quick, and he gives to his major character that same quickness to smell out the odors of sanctity, pomposity, venality, stupidity, and hypocrisy but not, for Garnet Bowen, without a price. If Bowen is to reveal through his hypersensitive geniality an eye for the silly and the stupid, he is to learn that he, too, is not entirely free of untenable preconceptions.

He hates the idea of going to the Continent, not only because of all the trouble such a trip will occasion (which he keeps to himself in his long list of “bum” tasks) but also because he knows how bad it is over there, how dirty, how dishonest, how bothersome it will be and all this turns out to be true. Yet it is Oates, a fellow Briton who cheats him, and whose toilet facilities nauseate the Bowen family. Much of what happens to Bowen is not particularly unpleasant at all, and his near-seduction by the beautiful Emilia is a bonus he could hardly have imagined.

It is, however, bothersome. Bowen has to make up his mind to act honorably in the matter of Strether, and is called upon to make an effort when Strether is hurt, to the point of actually driving a car, a task which he has carefully avoided for years. Amis is a commonsense author with not much truck for symbolism, but it is, perhaps, not...

(The entire section is 625 words.)