Robert Westall Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At a first reading I felt that the historical sources for The Devil on the Road were too obtrusive in the narrative, but a second reading made the careful structure of the book and the skilful correlations of past with present a good deal more apparent. The infamous Witch-Finder General of the 1640's, Matthew Hopkins, and the sadistic false witness and greed he showed towards helpless victims in Suffolk, provide the basis for the story of a first-year student at London University who … is caught up—as victim, saviour or reincarnation?—in the fortunes of Johanna Vavasour and her efforts to help certain condemned cottagers on her family estate. Since it would appear that young John Webster did in the end change the course of history, or at least of one small part of it, it is perhaps best not to examine too closely the logic of his interaction with the past but rather to surrender to the vivid details which ostensibly explain it…. There is a moral in the book but it is implicit rather than dominant: those who accept the committed force and feeling of the story, its intermittent humour and strongly authentic idioms, will also accept the proclamation against violence and cruelty without feeling they are being bullied by the author. (pp. 3516-17)

Margery Fisher, "Shadows from the Past," in her Growing Point, Vol. 18, No. 1, May, 1979, pp. 3515-17.∗