Wednesday, May 18, 2011

John Buchan strikes again...

Yes, I know this is a vintage novel review blog. I know it's not really for poems or insights or funny stories. But things have been frantic. I've only just gotten around to digging into the very large stack of vintage novels I bought on the weekend. So for tonight, I shall leave you with a lovely little insight from over on Great War Fiction:
Is Aronson Lawrence?
In John Buchan’s Mr Standfast (1919), Richard Hannay visits the Garden City of Biggleswick, and meets several intellectuals who oppose the War, among them an ‘unwholesome youth’ identified as ‘Aronson, the great novelist’.
Hannay’s reaction to Aronson is negative in the extreme:
Aronson, the novelist, proved on acquaintance the worst kind of blighter. He considered himself a genius whom it was the duty of the country to support, and he sponged on his wretched relatives and anyone who would lend him money. He was always babbling about his sins, and pretty squalid they were. I should like to have flung him among a few good old-fashioned full-blooded sinners of my acquaintance; they would have scared him considerably. He told me that he sought ‘reality’ and ‘life’ and ‘truth’, but it was hard to see how he could know much about them, for he spent half the day in bed smoking cheap cigarettes, and the rest sunning himself in the admiration of half-witted girls. The creature was tuberculous in mind and body, and the only novel of his I read, pretty well turned my stomach. Mr Aronson’s strong point was jokes about the war. If he heard of any acquaintance who had joined up or was even doing war work his merriment knew no bounds. My fingers used to itch to box the little wretch’s ears.
After this description, the character pretty well disappears from the novel, but there is surely enough there to suggest that Buchan might well have been thinking of D.H.Lawrence, also consumptive, also with a notoriously irregular love-life. The Rainbow had famously been prosecuted for its heated suggestions of lesbianism, and the words ‘reality’ and ‘life’ and ‘truth’ are the characteristic argot of vitalists like Lawrence and Middleton Murry.
As for the sponging, perhaps Buchan had heard the story of how Lawrence had accepted the hospitality of the Meynells and repaid it by writing the hurtful ‘England, My England’ (1915). The offence that this story caused the Meynell family was greatly increased when Percy Lucas, who had been thinly disguised as the ineffective central character of the story, was killed on the Somme in 1916.
There seem to be enough similarities between Lawrence and Aronson to suggest that in this paragraph Buchan is giving Lawrence a taste of his own medicine by putting an unflattering version of him into a work of fiction.
The line "He was always babbling about his sins, and pretty squalid they were. I should like to have flung him among a few good old-fashioned full-blooded sinners of my acquaintance; they would have scared him considerably" has always been among my favourite things that Buchan ever wrote. Ever and anon, as life got me down, I would think of them and chuckle. It's lovely to know that they were actually aimed at DH Lawrence--a chap I have never read, because his novels always sounded so revolting. Nice to know I was right!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loathe D.H. Lawrence. In college, I labored through "Sons and Lovers", a vile piece of trash. I believe it's about a callow narcissist with unresolved amorous feelings for his mother--or something like that. I promptly flushed the novel out of my mind once I finished it. Theodore Dalrymple wrote a scathing review of Lawrence several years ago for City Journal. It is worth reading (as well as his smack down of Virginia Woolf, another author I cannot abide).

http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_3_oh_to_be.html

http://www.city-journal.org/html/12_3_oh_to_be.html

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