Readers of fiction are now pretty familiar with the theme of the decay of an English upper middle class family. It is a pleasure to report that Miss Streatfeild's "Caroline England" is a variation which almost, if not quite, restores to this theme something of its original freshness.
There is little in the structure of this book which is original. Even that august and banal intruder, the royal funeral …, trails its sable across her closing pages. How often English novelists have used the obsequies of Victoria, Edward, and George to punctuate or pronounce the decline of some family! But even this tired device seems permissible here; for Miss Streatfeild has restraint, delicacy, integrity.
Her novel falls into two parts; and, if these two parts could have been reconciled, there would have been no denying its distinction. The first part tells of Caroline's Victorian childhood. It has all that homesick quality which English novelists can bring to the description of a past just beyond the reach of their personal memory. It is at once a lament and a fairy tale, half mournful, half enchanted. But Caroline the young rebel is completely distinct from Caroline the conventional wife of John England. Miss Streatfeild might have been writing of two different characters.
The novel's back is thus broken beyond repair. But Miss Streatfeild succeeds in carrying over into its second part some of the atmosphere which pervades the first. The tale is at once quiet and vivid; the characters spring from the author's brain and not, as is so often the case, from her theme. The theme is scarcely more than this—that women of Caroline England's type are passing from the English scene, just as surely as their family possessions are passing into other hands. It is this reviewer's conviction that, until other aspects of English life are more fully explored, this particular theme cannot hope to recover whatever vitality it may once have had; but Miss Streatfeild comes as near to shaking this conviction as any novelist he has ever read.
George Dangerfield, "Family History with Variations," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1938, copyright renewed © 1963, by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XVII, No. 22, March 26, 1938, p. 16.