Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN is the scarcely concealed autobiography of the author, Siegfried Sassoon. The tone of the book is nostalgic. The passages concerning cricket and the more technical passages about fox hunting are somewhat tedious; for the most part, however, this sensitive record of a young man’s quiet, well-ordered life in prewar England is interesting and illuminating. The class distinctions may be difficult for an American reader to understand, but Sassoon indicates that later in life he came to be more liberal in his feeling about people of lower social ranks.

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The novel is a detailed picture of a faraway place and time, of a leisurely and safe world in which neighborhood cricket matches and fox-hunting afternoons provide the only excitement. Two world wars have since put an end to the trivial way of life described so lovingly by the author, but perhaps the class structure (he seems to imply) on which that world so precariously balanced was bound to perish. Reading Sassoon’s meticulous descriptions gives the reader somewhat the sensation of peering into an old stereopticon at a frozen and dusty scene from long ago. George Sherston’s values are certain but are rooted in a previous century. Neither Sherston nor any of the other characters develop or grow; like stuffed animals in a museum, they simply continue being what they are, propped up in front of their occasionally changing backgrounds.

The descriptions, however, are detailed and interesting, and an atmosphere of civilized charm spreads over the pages. There is little excitement—even in the section dealing with the war—not much character analysis, and no plot to speak of, yet MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN is a small classic of mood; a gentle irony that stops short of real satire adds an occasional tartness to the narrative without disrupting the even tone. Sassoon’s understated prose is clean and graceful and a pleasure to read.

Sherston deliberately limits his memoirs to certain aspects of his life; the reader learns almost nothing about his emotional life and little about his intellectual existence. Even many of his nonsporting activities are omitted from the narrative. At times, Sherston probably seems more shallow than he actually is. He is a sensitive man, sharply aware of the beauty around him, and dedicated to decency and honor. He says that he is tempted to write the mental history of his life in the war, but the reader ends the book still wondering what lies beneath the smooth surface of this man.

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