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December 06, 1936 - Image 8

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1936-12-06

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PAGE EIGHT THE MICHIGAN DAILY

SUNDAY, DEC. 6, 1936

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Brittain's 'Novel Of Transition'
Marred By Didactic Approach
HONORABLE ESTATE-A NOVEL enough, extraordinarily narrow views
OF TRANSITION By Vera Brit- about marriage. Having been thor-
tain. MacMillan. $2.50. oughly trained in political philosophy
by her father, Janet is anxious to
By PROF. EARL LESLIE GRIGGS continue her intellectual life and is
(Of the English Department) unhappy in the quiet English village
Vera Brittain's Honorable Estate is in which her husband is stationed.
not only a somewhat didactic study She resents the coming of her baby,
of the institution of marriage, but it becames increasingly disillusioned
is also a commentary upon the social with her husband, involves herself in
changes during the last half-century, the suffrage movement, and finally,
particularly as they affected the sta- after a bitter altercation with her
tus of women. husband, leaves him entirely, only to
The novel begins with the story of die a year or two later.
Janet, who as a young girl not yet 20 The scandal occasioned by his
years old had married Thomas Ruth- wife's conduct deprives Thomas Ru-
.rston, a clergyman with liberal po- therston of any opportunity to fol-
"itical ideas and, paradoxically low his profession, and he falls into
__ a state of morbid insanity. Miss Brit-
iences of Nordenskiold, Jensen and tain implies that the institution of
the rest, and felt that I must see marriage, as interpreted by our Vic-
for myself what the truth was of torian forebears, was responsible for
this great mysterious interior." the wrecking of two lives; as a matter
of fact, both Janet and her husband
In 1886 Peary made his first trip are abnormal. Had he been less in-
to the Arctic, exploring the eastern tolerant and self-righteous, had she
part of Greenland. His life work been more feminine and less career-
might be said to have been launched.. struck, surely their difficulties might
From then on his work was mainly have been ironed out. In other words,
in the Arctic till his expedition of the failure of the Rutherston mar-
1909 when he reached the Pole. riage is apparently more successful,
The foregoing very brief ,sketch of of Victorian standards.
Peary's life has been elaborated in The second part of Miss Brittain's
Professor Hobb's biography with skill book concerns itself with the mar-
and discernment. The essential facts riage of the Alleyndenes. This mar-1
are presented well, and the develop- miage is apparently more successful,
rent of Peary's skill as an explorer but Jessie Alleyndene never under-
and of his abilities as an engineer are stands, nor even attempts to under-
set forth with a fine sense of the in- stand, her husband's nature, and
tegration necessary to a full life and merely resigns herself to self-pitying
to a complete and artistic biography. surrender. After all the Alleyndenes
are a middle class Staffordshire fam-
Then The waCok Incident' ily, rich but self-satisfied and ignor-
Peary's triumph was clouded by ant.
the "Cook Incident," and this part of The last and best part of this long
the book Professor Hobbs has novel deals with the story of Ruth
handled ably. The delicacy of the Alleyndene. Given a higher educa-
subject, the fierce passions that were tion at Oxford because of her bril-
aroused, and the great ignorance that liance (her schoolmistress overcameI
was displayed combine to make it a the prejudice of the elder Alleyn-I
natter to be dealt with candidly, but denes) instead of entering upon at
firmly, and fairly, but tactfully.
Carefully documentation was also
necessary, and this has been given.
In constructing a biography from n CuHR TM S GIF SC
the essential facts, in presenting CHR TG T C
them in vigorous and yet beautiful MAKE YOUR SE
>rose, Professor Hobbs has made a
contribution to literature as well as
o the history of exploration. ForT ES
he scientific he has provided val-
cable appendices; for the casual, an 1111 South University Ave.
ndex. fi&& d4t

normal existence, she is thrown into
the maelstrom of the war. Entering
into the service of the government
as a nurse, she comes face to face
with every horror that man's inhu-
inanity could devise. One by one her
moral and even spiritual standards
fall. She learns of her brother's
homosexuality without lasting re-
sentment. She falls, in love with Eu-
gene Mcury, a dashing but noble-
hearted American soldier, and even-
tually accepts him as her lover.
With great tact and delicate beauty
Miss Brittain describes the coming of
love to Ruth Alleyndene, and when
Eugene is killed in action the novel
rises to really , tragic heights. The
war over. Ruth, heart-sick and in de-
spair, joins a relief expedition to
Poland, throws herself with abandon
into the dangerous work of alleviat-
ing a cholera epidemic, only to meet
Dennis, the aenemic but intelligent
son of the unfortunate Rutherstons.
A friendship follows which ripens into
mutual understanding, if not love,
and culminates in marriage. Ruth,
despite the advent of twins, enthus-
iastically joins in the efforts of the
British Labor Party, becomes a leader,
and is eventually elected to Parlia-
ment.
What are we to conclude? Miss
Brittain takes us along the amazing
journey from 1895 to 1930, with its
vast changes in the social structure.
She presents various phases of the
long struggle for political and social
freedom for women, along with the
coincident growth in the emancipa-
tion of the lower classes. So far the
book is an admirable history of the
last half-century. But the novel
fails because Miss Brittain so ob-
viously tries to teach. No one of the
three marriages she gives is really
typical, and each is given its par-
ticular coloring by the accident of
personality or circumstance. Miss
Brittain's didactic purpose leads her
to twist her characters and her ac-
tion, to interrupt really moving scenes
with generalizations, to analyze
faultily, it seems to the reviewer, the
minds of her characters, and to miss
the obvious point that marriage is
not only a social relationship but a
spiritual bond as well.

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