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192 THE NOVELS OF W, H. MALLOCK NOTES TOWARDS A BIBLIOGRAPHY By Charles C. Nickerson It is not without reason that the novels of W. H. Mal lock are little read today, though it is perhaps going too far to say, with Edith Batho and Bonamy Dobráe, that apart from THE NEW REPUBLIC "His other novels are bad."1 This is to ignore not only the scattered merits of his later fiction, but also the masterful satire on positivism in his second book, THE NEW PAUL AND VIRGINIA, a jeu d'esprit very different in satiric method from THE NEW REPUBLIC, yet no less effective. With its masterful fusion of plot and "message" it is an achievement which alone should suffice to ensure the reputation of its author. But the diffuseness and indirection of his later work cannot be gainsaid, a fact which may help partly to explain the neglect which has befallen his fiction as a whole. No one who looks at them with any care today can long remain in doubt abeut the brilliance of Mal lock's two satires. It is the later work that surprises the reader—not so much for its general failure (with the possible exception of AN IMMORTAL SOUL), as for the extraordinary virtuosity which emerges in spite of that failure. Stylistic grace and brilliant dialogue, not to mentien some skillful attempts to apply the techniques of the comedy of manners to the novel, are achievements in which any writer might deservedly feel a certain gentle pride. To say that Mel lock's later fiction is uneven rather than "bad" would perhaps be less misleading. For all their flaws, these are novels which, as Sir Max Beerbohm has it, "though the creative impulse in him was not, I think, a very strong one, are admirable in observation and wit and knowledge of life,"2 Mal lock was a satirist first and foremost. It was as a satirist that his own epoch acclaimed him and it is as a satirist that posterity must judge him. His sudden rise to fame in 1877 on the strength of THE NEW REPUBLIC—a book which Wilde, reading the BELGRAVIA version, pronounced "decidedly clever"3 and on the basis of which 0 Israel i predicted for its author "an eminent position in our future literature"^—challenged comparison with the earlier triumphs of the authors of PELHAM and VIVIAN GREY. All three books were romans aux clefs; but Mal lock's was unique in possessing a significance which went beyond personal or social caricature into a realm which has since been reserved for the "novel of ideas." For his satire is directed no less at the schools of thought embodied in the opinions of Jowett, Arnold, Pater, Huxley, and Ruskin, among others, than at the personalities of the men themselves. It is in this dual focus that the book's enduring interest lies—so much so that this "most brilliant novel ever written by an undergraduate"^ can number among those who have admired and emulated its techniques figures as diverse as H. G. Wells" and Ronald Knox, for the latter of whom it was "an essential book...perhaps his favourite work of secular literature outside the Classics."7 But Mal lock, although by temperament peculiarly suited to the genre in which he had made his name, was not content to remain a satirist— or even a novel 1st—merely. As the success of THE NEW REPUBLIC attests, a 183 keen understanding of the opinions of those with whom he disagreed played an essential part in his effectiveness as a satirist; but it was also one of the sources of his undoing as a novelist. Ideologically restless and unsure, he came to seek creative expression In a variety of social and philosophical preoccupations which his sceptical. Incorrigibly ironic, frame of mind could never synthesize. If the cynic is often an idealist In disguise, may not the satirist sometimes be a moralist manque*? Appalled by the social and theological drift of the century, yet unable to affect it significantly; attracted by the philosophical completeness of the Church of Rome, yet unable to resolve the emotional difficulties which belief entailed. Mallock...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 182-189
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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