VANESSA, the last novel in the Herries chronicle, brings the family to the 1930’s. Like its three predecessors, VANESSA is concerned with many people and many years, and the multiplicity of characters becomes necessarily more marked and confusing. Although many readers of the novel are lost in trying to follow the fortunes of so many descendants of the earlier Herries, Hugh Walpole does accomplish what appears to be a chief aim—to show that the strength of the Herries family is a strength of England and that its weakness is a national defect.
VANESSA is one of those British novels that seems to lack a certain quality of emotional involvement. The characters are carefully drawn and are placed against a detailed background, and their actions are elaborately choreographed, but the resulting production lacks the spark of life. One must admire the mind that so painstakingly created the huge chronicle of which VANESSA is a part, but effort and size alone do not make a book a notable literary work. Perhaps the problem is that Walpole overexplains: he announces a scene in advance and then presents it, or he interprets a scene immediately after, although only on a superficial level. There is no mystery to the characters; the reader does not feel compelled to ask “And then what?” about them. They are what they seem, no more and no less; and the prose lacks a compactness and tension which would make the reader want to read...
(The entire section is 560 words.)