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THE GOLDEN ARROW: MARY WEBB'S "APOCALYPSE OF LOVE" By Charles Sanders (University of Illinois) The dynamic verve with which Mary Webb composed, and which pervades even the faultiest of her novels, has generally obscured the structural devices by which they were organized. Especially Is this true of The Golden Arrow, which has bean regarded too long as merely another pledge of what Mrs. Webb was to achieve In her more masterful Precious Bane. Despite Its dlffuseness In a few Individual episodes . Its less engaging style, and Its less profound grasp of motivation . The Golden Arrow demonstrates a happier grasp of overall organization than the few critics sympathetic to Mrs. Webb have so far remarked.1 This overall organization Is achieved through an allusive montage— In an Idiom and "philosophy" peculiar to Mrs. Webb—of the Christian Apocalypse. John Arden's resemblance to John of Patmos and the consequent effect of his resemblance on the novel's setting and episodes have not been studied sufficiently. Character, setting, and Incident In The Golden Arrow manifest, In a generally consonant fashIon , Mrs. Webb's "apocalypse of love."2 Her "apocalypse" Is a blend of Christian and pantheistic elements, and Is to be envisioned In this world. We can understand It best through a close analysis of character, setting, and Incident combined. John Arden's visionary character Is first hinted In the descriptions of his environment.3 His stone cottage, for Instance, stands "In the midst of the hill plateau, higher than the streams began, shelterless to the four winds" (p. 13). To the cold and uninhabitable north towers the Devil's Chair, representing to all who do not comprehend this world through love, "unalterable evil: The scattered rocks, the ragged hollybrakes on the lower slopes were like small carved lions beside the black marble steps of a stupendous throne. ... It remained Inviolable, taciturn, evil. It glowered darkly on the dawn; It came through the snow like Jagged bones through flesh. . . . For miles around, In the plains, the valleys, the mountain dwellings It was feared. Storms broke round It suddenly out of a clear sky; It seemed as If It created storm. No one cared to cross the range near It after dark—when the black grouse laughed sardonically and the cry of a passing curlew shivered like broken glass. The sheep. . . would. . .cluster suddenly and stampede for no reason. If they had grazed too near It In the night. So the throne stood—black, massive, untenanted, yet with a well-worn air. (p. 3D To the warmer and auspicious south, however, the Flockmaster's signpost stands humbly In Isolation: At times the sheep crowded round it wl';h stampings and jostlings of woolly shoulders; the ponies rubbed against it; cuckoos in the wild game of mating would alight on it with an excited gobble and flash away again. Legend said that somewhere here, long since, the cuckoos met in circle before uttering a note in any field or coppy, to allot the beats for the season. (p. 30) The signpost looks always, "with its outspread arms against the dim reaches of heather, like a crucifix" (ϕ , 51)· Between the Devil's Chair arid the signpost, to the west and east John Arden witnesses the constant struggle between good and evil, between war and peace: "Out of the east, from beyond the signpost, came day like an irridescent dove. Out of the west sane stcrm like a hawk" (p. 114). But, to Johr Arden, the dove and the haw!-: are one, so to speak. In church his hymn-book opens automatically to "The King of Love my Shepherd is," in which he reads "with a vividness denied to the lettered and the leisured those illumined pastures and unwrinkled waters where, simple and wise, the central figure of the Fourth Gospel presided" (p. 26); on business at the office of the county weekly, he is "dreamy from his favourite passage in Revelation" (p. 273). His more practically-minded wife, Patty, describes him as one "as can't see a thing nearer than the colour on the farthestoff hills, and that's not real" (p. 30). John sees beyond the "real." When Stephen Southernwood, the young...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 1-8
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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