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Reviewed by:
  • W. H. Hudson and the Elusive Paradise, and: In the Spirit of Powys: New Essays
  • John Walker
David Miller. W. H. Hudson and the Elusive Paradise. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. 211 pp. $39.95.
Denis Lane, ed. In the Spirit of Powys: New Essays. Cranbury: Bucknell UP, 1990. 268 pp. $39.50.

W. H. Hudson is best known in Britain as a naturalist, or an outdoor essayist, for works like Hampshire Days, The Land's End, A Hind on Richmond Park, Nature in Downland, and so on, which capture the natural beauty and the details of the [End Page 296] English countryside. However, in his native Argentina much more is made of his fiction, especially those stories set against the creole background like The Purple Land, El Ombú, and Green Mansions that have been collected and published under the significant title of South American Romances. Long admired by contemporaries like Joseph Conrad, Cunninghame Grahame, John Galsworthy and others, Hudson has never achieved the fame of his friends, fated as he was to see his work relegated to the categorized nether regions of travel (The Purple Land), fantasy (Green Mansions) or futuristic literature (A Crystal Age). Even when he is appreciated by a perceptive English critic like Robert Hamilton, the other side of his life and work (the Argentine) is dismissed as being artificial, therefore by definition inferior.

It is to his credit that David Miller in W. H. Hudson and the Elusive Paradise has at least tried to portray both sides of the neglected Anglo-Argentine's work, looking for the clues to Hudson's search for the "Peace paradisic" in both the English essays and the River Plate fiction which share a common symbolism, representative of the invisible or supernatural dimension of the world. As in the works of that other underestimated quester, John Cowper Powys, the search is not for a conventional religious awakening or vision. It is more a "feeling of wonder, of awe, of fearful joy, of ecstatic and rapturous contemplation in the presence of the mystery behind what we call Nature." Miller, not inappropriately, calls these super-natural phenomena epiphanic. This notion of epiphany is not foreign to Hudson whose childhood autobiography Far Away and Long Ago emerged out of one these epiphanic moments when, as a result of a critical illness, the elderly writer in England experienced what might be called a kind of vision that enabled him to recall episodes from forgotten stages of his young life in the Argentine over which he was able to range with ease.

For Miller there are two kinds of epiphany, affirmative and negative. The former affirms the earthly by revealing the divine through or within it. On the other hand, the negative epiphany reveals terror, hatred, fear, and other evil dimensions of the human spirit and of the natural order, as in the short fiction, "El Ombú," "Marta Riquelme," and "Pelino Viera's Confession." Thus, Miller is wise to use Hudson's fiction to highlight especially the negative or dark side of Hudson's life and writings, a feature which I have demonstrated elsewhere. I agree with Miller's plan to divide his study into two parts, the first using examples from Hudson's essays as symbols of his vision of life (especially the dark side), which he then develops at greater length and with greater depth in the fiction where these symbolic aspects are presented in a more visible and concrete way.

W. H. Hudson and the Elusive Paradise, despite a lack of familiarity with the Argentine side of Hudson's life and works, and the surprising absence of some important studies published in North America (not to mention Argentina), is still an interesting and valuable work which, along with other recent studies (Tomlin, Ronner) should go a long way to giving Hudson his rightful place in the literature of the two countries which claim this neglected prose stylist and artist.

John Cowper Powys, if not one of the best known novelists of the modernist movement, is certainly one of the most controversial. Despite the praise of G. Wilson Knight, a most influential critic whose last work on the three Powys...


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