Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Reviews of the Works of Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940)


The purpose of this blog is to review, and to gather together other critics' opinions of, the entire works of E F Benson.  'Fred' is known today almost exclusively for his Mapp and Lucia novels and his ghost ('spook') stories, but in his day he was a popular and versatile author, whose career of almost 50 years saw him tackle a wide range of subjects in both fiction and non-fiction.

I've set myself the task of reading his entire literary output, though I'll probably have to draw the line at titles such as English Figure Skating and A Book of Golf, which would very likely kill me.

Though Benson is one of my favourite authors, I'm not an apologist ~ if a book's bad, it's bad ~ and he did, sadly, write rather a lot (mainly novels) that wasn't good.

Anyway, here goes ~ I hope you enjoy the blog and find it useful.

I realize there's no particular order to all this (other than The Order I Read Things In, which is no use to anyone, not even me), and as I can't get the 'Search this blog' function to work for the site, here's a handy alphabetical linked index instead.  The novels ~ all 63 of them ~ are in bold italic; everything else isn't:

N.B. Items marked NEW! ~ these are reproduced free of charge and in full for, as far as I'm aware, the first time ever to the WWW readership.
 
1886, aged 19
Account Rendered
Across the Stream 
Act in a Backwater, An
Adjustments
Adventure of Hegel Junior, The 
Aegosthena
Afrit of the Sea, An
Age of Walnut, The 
Alan
Alliance of Laughter, The
'And No Bird Sings ...'
'And the Dead Spake ...'
Angel of Pain, The
Ape, The
1889, aged 22
Archaeology in Literature
Arturo's Boat
Arundel 
Assunta's Sacrifice
As We Are 
As We Have Become
As We Were
At Abdul-Ali's Grave 
At King's Cross Station
Atmospherics
At the Farmhouse 
Aunt Jeannie [unpublished play]
Aunts and Pianos 
Autumn and Love
Autumn and the Spring, The
Autumn Sowing, An
Babe, B.A., The
Bagnell Terrace 
Baron, The
Bath-chair, The
Bed by the Window, The
Bensoniana
Between the Lights 
Birds NEW!
1893, aged 26
Blackmailer of Park Lane, The
Blotting-book, The
Blue Stripe
Book of Golf, A
Book of Months, The
Bootles 
Box at the Bank, The
Boxing Night
Bread of Deceit, The
Breath of Scandal, A 
Brick, The >>> Dodo and the Brick
Bridge Fiend, The
Bridgwater Club, The
Brontë
Brontës, The 
Buntingford Jugs
Bus-conductor, The
By the Sluice
By the Waters of Sparta 
Call, The
Capsina, The
Card of Casuistry, A
Carrington
Case of Bertram Porter, The 
Case of Frank Hampden, The >>> Return of Frank Hampden, The
1898, aged 31
Cat, The
Caterpillars
Challoners, The
Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Cherry Blossom
China Bowl, The
Chippendale Mirror, The
Christmas with the Old Masters
Christopher Comes Back
Clandon Crystal, The
Classical Education
Climber, The
Climbers and Godmothers
Clonmel Witch Burning, The >>> Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel, The
Colin 
Colin II
Comedy of Styles, A
Complementary Souls
'Complete Rest' 
Confession of Charles Linkworth, The
Corner House, The
Corstophine 
Countess Hatso, The
Countess of Lowndes Square, The
Country House Parties
Courtship of Lord Arthur Armstrong, The
1904, aged 37
Creed of Manners, A
Crescent and Iron Cross
Cricket of Abel, Hirst and Shrewsbury, The
Crotalus, The 
Curious Coincidence, A >>> At Abdul-Ali's Grave
Daily Training
Daisy's Aunt
Dance, The
Dance on the Beefsteak, The 
Dark and Nameless
Daughters of Queen Victoria >>> Queen Victoria's Daughters
David Blaize
David Blaize and the Blue Door 
David Blaize of King's >>> David of King's
David of King's 
Day In, Day Out
Death Warrant, The
Defeat of Lady Grantham, The
Defeat of Lady Hartridge, The 
Demoniacal Possession
Desirable Residences
Deutschland über Allah >>> Crescent and Iron Cross
Dewan-i-Khas 
1909ish, aged 42ish
Dicky's Pain
Dinner for Eight 
Disappearance of Jacob Conifer, The
Diversions Day by Day
Dives and Lazarus 
Dodo [play]
Dodo: A Detail of the Day
Dodo and the Brick
Dodo's Daughter [i.e. Dodo the Second]
Dodo's Progress
Dodo the Second
Dodo Wonders
Doggies 
Dorothy Crystal Syndicate, The NEW!
Double Misfit, A
Drawing-room Bureau, The 
Dummy on a Dahabeah
Dust-cloud, The 
Early Brontë
Earthquakes at Atlanta 
Eavesdropper, The 
Economies of Mrs Hancock, The NEW!
Education of a King, The
English Figure Skating 
English Skating
1914ish, aged 47ish
Entire Mistake, An
Entomology 
Everlasting Silence, The
Expiation 
Exposure of Pamela, The
Face, The
Fallacy at the Heart of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The
Fall of Augusta, The
False Step, The
Fascinating Mrs Halton, The >>> Daisy's Aunt
Femme Dispose
Ferdinand Magellan
Final Edition 
Fine Feathers
Five Foolish Virgins, The
Flint Knife, The
For His Friends
Freaks of Mayfair, The
Friend in the Garden, The 
Friend in the Garden, The [play]
Friendly Russia NEW!
Friend of the Rich
From Abraham to Christ 
Future of the Novel, The
Gardener, The
Garden Gate, The
Gare du Nord 
Gavon's Eve 
George Moore
George's Secret
Ghost in the Secret Garden, The 
1925ish?, aged 58ish?
Givers and Takers
Godmother, The 
Golden Temple of Amritsar, The 
Gospel of the Gourmet, The 
Governments Who Dig Their Own Graves NEW!
Guardian Angel, The
Guy's Candidate
Hanging of Alfred Wadham, The 
Hapless Bachelors, The
Harmonious Blacksmith, The
Heart of India, The
Henry James: Letters to A. C. Benson and Auguste Monod
Hidden Power, A 
Home, Sweet Home 
Horror-horn, The 
House of Defence, The
House of Help NEW!
House with the Brick-kiln, The
How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery
Image in the Sand, The
Imaginary Interviews 1: Chamberlain and Kruger
Imaginary Interviews 2: The Marquis of Salisbury and Lord Rosebery
Imaginary Interviews 3: The German Emperor and Dr Leyds  
Inheritor, The 
Inscrutable Decrees
In the Dark
In the Tube
Jack and Poll
Jamboree, The
James Lamp
James Sutherland, Ltd.
Janet
1927ish, aged 60ish
Jill's Cat 
Jill's Golf
Joy of the Chase, The
Judgment Books, The
Juggernaut
Julian's Cottage 
Kaiser and English Relations, The
King and His Reign, The (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII)
King Edward VII
Lady Massington's Resurrection
Lambeth Palace
Liberty of Law NEW!
Life of Alcibiades, The
Light in the Garden, The
Like a Grammarian
Limitations
Limoges Manuscript, The
Little Headache, A
Lovers, The
Lovers and Friends
Love's Apostate 
Lucia in London
Lucia's Progress
Luck of the Vails, The
Luck of the Vails, The [play] 
Machaon
Mad Annual, The
Magic White and Black
1930ish, aged 63ish
Male Impersonator, The
Mammon & Co.
Man Who Went Too Far, The
Mapp and Lucia
Margery >>> Juggernaut
Max
May 29th, 1928
Mezzanine
Michael >>> Mike
Middleman, The
Mike
Miss Mapp
Miss Maria's Romance
M.O.M. 
Money Market, The
Monkeys
Mother
Mother of Men, A
Mr Carew's Game of Croquet 
Mrs Ames
Mrs Amworth
Mrs Andrews's Control
Mrs Lauderdale's Office
Mrs Naseby's Denial
Mrs Ross Puts Her Foot Down
Mr Teddy
Mr Tilly's Seance 
Murder of Alan Grebell, The
1935ish?, aged 68ish
Music
My Friend the Murderer
Mystery of Black Rock Creek, The
Naboth's Vineyard
National Service or National Disgrace? NEW!
Negotium Perambulans
Noblesse Oblige 
Notes on Excavations in Alexandrian Cemeteries
Number 12 
Oakleyites, The
'Oh, to be in England ...' 
Old Bligh, The
'O lyric love half-angel and half-bird'
Once
Once a Year
On the Decadence of Manners
On Undesirable Information
Oriolists, The 
Orozco at Dartmouth College
Osbornes, The
Other Bed, The
1938ish, aged 71ish
Our Family Affairs 1867-1896
Our Hard-working Royal Family NEW!
'Our Sister, the Death of the Body'
Outbreak of War 1914, The
Outcast, The
Outside the Door
The Passenger
Paul
Paying Guests
Peacock Enamels, The
The Peerage Cure 
Peter
Pharisees and Publicans
Philip's Safety Razor
Pirates
Poland and Mittel-Europa >>> White Eagle of Poland, The
Poor Miss Huntingford
Portrait of an English Nobleman
Princess Sophia, The
Professor Burnaby's Discovery 
Progress of Princess Waldeneck, The >>> Dodo's Progress 
Psychical Mallards, The 
Public Schools Alpine
Puce Silk, The
1939ish, aged 72ish
'Puss-cat'
Queen Lucia
Queen of the Spa, The
Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria's Daughters
Question of Taste, A
Ravens' Brood
Reading in Bed 
Reaping, A
Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel, The
Reconciliation
Red House, The
Relentless City, The 
Renewal, The
Return of Dodo, The
Return of Frank Hampden, The
Rex
Robin Linnet
Roderick's Story
Room in the Tower, The
Rubicon, The
Sanctuary, The
Satyr's Sandals, The
Scarlet and Hyssop
1940ish, aged 72ish
Sea Mist
Secret Lives
Sheaves
Sheridan Le Fanu
Shootings at Achnaleish, The 
Shuttered Room, The
Simple Life, The
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Roger de Coverley 
Sketches from Marlborough
Smorfia
Snow Stone, The
Social Customs
Social Sickness
Social Value of Temperance, The
Sound of the Grinding, The
Souvenir of the Air Raids, A
Spinach
Step, The
Story of a Mazurka, The
Superannuation Department, AD 1945, The
Tale of an Empty House, The
Technique of the Ghost Story, The
Temple, The
Ten Days in the Peloponnese
Terror by Night, The
There Arose a King
Thersilion at Megalopolis, The
Thing in the Hall, The
Thorley Weir
Thoughts from E. F. Benson (1913)
Thoughts from E. F. Benson (1917)
Three Old Ladies, The
1940ish, aged 72ish
'Through'
Thursday Evenings
To Account Rendered
Top Landing, The
Tortoise, The >>> Mr Teddy
Tragedy of a Green Totem, The
Tragedy of Oliver Bowman, The
Travail of Gold
Trouble for Lucia
Two Days After
Unusual Autobiography, An
Unwanted, The 
Up and Down
Valkyries, The
Victorian Biography - and Afterwards
Vintage, The
Weaker Vessel, The
When Greek Meets Greek
White Eagle of Poland, The
Winter Morning, A
Winter Pastimes
Winter Sports in Switzerland
Wishing-Well, The 
Witch-ball, The 
Woman's Ambition, A
Worshipful Lucia, The >>> Lucia's Progress
Zoo, The 

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
Countess of Lowndes Square and Other Stories, The
Desirable Residences and Other Stories
Fine Feathers and Other Stories
Flint Knife, The
More Spook Stories 
Sea Mist
Six Common Things
Spook Stories
Visible and Invisible

Mapp and Lucia



Friday, 14 December 2018

Paul

Fiction ~ novel
Published October 1906

I haven't read such a poor novel since ... well, since 40 or so of the other E F Benson novels I've read.
The whole of this story could have been told in the space of a novella (20-30,000 words); instead EFB stretches it out to mind-boggling proportions, until you can see right through it to the void beyond.
The only things to recommend it are two rather brief comic interludes which have little to do with the turgid, preposterous, and unbelievably boring 'romantic melodrama' going on in the foreground: these have echoes of the funnier bits of An Act in a Backwater ~ themselves few and far between.




Few writers of fiction give so much hope to its readers as Mr. E. F. Benson. His versatility is unquestioned, and his style is ever attractive. No other novelist is quite his equal in word-painting of the rarer phases of Nature, and the back-grounds of his works are always admirable. In analysis of a character he is able and convincing, while his men and woman act on each other in a most logical manner. Nevertheless, Mr. Benson has not yet found a subject quite worthy of his powers. In the present case, the mis-mating of a gifted girl with a vampyre-like, loathsome man of wealth, we have unquestioned power, but despite the clever development of the plot, we have a suspicion that a better might well have been found.
[Here I’ve omitted a fairly detailed description of the plot.] Unquestionably there is power in the story, and some of its passages are redolent of beauty. The comparison and analysis of character are excellent, both in Paul, Norah, and Beckwith, while in such minor skethces as Mrs Mundy, Archdeacon Harold and his wife, and Lady Anstruther, the humour is unfailing. Paul's temptation suggests that of Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda, but there is no plagiarism.
~The Manchester Courier, 16/10/1906

The amazing power and subtlety of Mr E. F. Benson's Paul […] almost takes one's breath away. It is a novel which the reader can never forget. Theodore Beckwith is a very wealthy young man, with a withered and contorted frame, but with a gift of insight and a strength of personality which are both entirely out of the common. He marries Norah Ravenscroft, a bright and buoyant girl, who has, in the spirit of good comradeship, a healthy and sun-browned friend, Paul Norris. The motives which inspire Norah to accept Beckwith are difficult to state in brief, but her mother's unfortunate speculations are no small factor. The motives which inspire Beckwith are equally compounded of different elements, but among them is the desire of a morbid soul to have brightness and cheerfulness near to him. He is delighted when he sees Paul and Norah together; their natural chaff, the joy of their sunny friendship, their infectious hilarity, all have their influence upon him. So he invites Paul to become his secretary, and Paul, at Norah's express wish, accepts the position. Soon Beckwith discovers that Paul loves Norah, and that Norah loves Paul; indeed, he is the witness, with his eerie insight, of their own silent discovery of the fact. Then he begins to play upon their passions, flinging them together, playing wild music, to which he bids them dance, acting, in short, a diabolical part with a friendly face. One time he plays eavesdropper, and hears that spoken which was inevitable. With the utmost calmness he speaks to Paul. No, Paul must not go away; he must stay to be forced “to dance on a hot plate.” It is a terrible situation, and the portrayal of the three characters is beyond praise. Here, indeed, is fine psychology, with admirable restraint, relieved by dialogue between the subsidiary characters which never poses as brilliant, but is joyful and bright as the sunshine itself. On the day after Norah has communicated the fact of her impending motherhood to Beckwith he is killed by a motor-car which Paul, in a frenzy of hatred, is driving at his master's behest. Once again subtle questions enter. Was it murder? The line is difficult to draw, and the remorse-stricken Paul spends agonised months in drawing it, nor does he find peace until one morning he attends a Communion service at St Paul's, and the 'comfortable words' go home to his heart. Then he goes and confesses his murderous hatred of Beckwith to Norah, taking his courage in both hands. In itself this chapter is a triumph of spiritual analysis; it brings Mr Benson to us on an astonishing plane of achievement. Of course, afterwards, he wins Norah. We have no compunction in telling the plot. It is of the smallest consequence. That which matters in this remarkable novel is the analysis of complex motives, the laying bare of abortions in psychological structure and of unusual subtleties in the affections, such as most of us have found in practical life, the deep and even profound realisation of the meaning of sin and of its awful Nemesis. In the school of the psychological novel, which in our days seems to be the conquering form, not even Mr Henry James, with all his precision of subtle analysis, has carried the art farther than Mr Benson in this book. It is a novel which will abide in the hearts of readers with some half-dozen, and no more, of the hundreds which have appeared in the last few years.
~The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, 17/10/1906

The author of Dodo and The Challoners has a talent curiously feminine, by which we do not mean precisely effeminate. He does not mince in his gait or speak in falsetto; but his progress is attended by a kind of emotional frou-frou. His characters are always in a flutter of spirits, whether high or low; it is hard to take such volatile persons with becoming seriousness, however grave the predicament into which the author may for the moment immerse them.
There are really only four persons in this present story: an Englishwoman of pleasant manners and a ruinous passion for stock-gambling, who is kept pretty well in the background; her daughter Norah, who loves Paul, but does not know it; Paul, who loves Norah, but does not know it; Theodore Beckwith, the villain, a loathsome person who naturally marries the heroine. Beckwith is a kind of
vampire; physically a weakling, with the monstrous power of feeding his strength by contact with youth and vigor. His chief pleasure is in the exercise of a wanton malice. Having married Norah, he
induces Paul to become his secretary, thus securing the companionship of two healthy young creatures whom he may feed upon and in due time torture. He sees to it that they remain in no doubt of their feeling for each other, taking pains to throw them literally into each other's arms. The
disappointing thing about the tale is that it is only striking, and not moving at all. The villain is too villainous to be true, and the hero too amiable to engage sympathy; the heroine is simply a nice girl
in an awkward position. Paul respects the rights of the husband. Eventually, however, he crushes Beckwith under a motor-car, nearly killing himself in the desperate attempt to save the vampire. But he really does kill the other man, and he really has had a momentary impulse to do it deliberately. This fault-preys on his mind for over a hundred pages, during which he takes to drink, and otherwise enjoys himself very little. Finally he atones by rescuing Beckwith's child from being run over by a train. This makes everything as comfortable as possible.
~The Nation, 13/12/1906

There is just a tinge here of that diabolism toward which Mr. Benson seems to have a bent. It is seen in the malignant and superhumanly clever creature who, himself all but a cripple, thrives in a ghoulish sort of way on the good health and spirits of others. This distressful person pervades the book. His tragic taking off by an automobile steered by an enemy, who is never quite sure whether or not the killing was intentional, gives an opportunity for some dexterous juggling with questions of conscience, remorse, and love. Mr. Benson always makes his books readable, and this is no exception.
~The Outlook (US), 15/12/1906

Some dozen years ago when his Dodo appeared it was realized that a writer of more than ordinary ability had entered the field. In the years that lie between that relatively crude effort and the work
under notice there is evident an improvement both in literary style and conception of plot. The individuality and distinction of phrase are maintained, but the obtrusive 'smartness' which marred the first novel has been carefully eliminated.
Paul is a modern love-story, the scenes of which are laid in Italy and England. The principal characters, Paul and Norah, are healthy, normal, English
types, who from the first are attracted to each other and in the natural course of events should have married and been happy ever after. A very different destiny, however, has been ordered for them.
Their Eden has an intruder in the person of Theodore Beckwith, one of the strangest and most sinister characters that ever issued from the brain of a novelist. Puny, anemic, irritable, and a victim of insomnia, he presents a sufficiently striking contrast with the handsome young athlete who is the hero of the drama. Tho[ugh] the novel ends happily and the true lovers come by their own the reader can hardly forgive the author for the untimely death of the best-drawn character in the book.
~The Literary Digest (US), 19/01/1907

Another novel of the month which has Italy for a setting is Paul, by E. F. Benson, best remembered as the author of Dodo. Frankly, it is a purposeless book and an unpleasant one. Its interest suddenly drops at the half-way point, like an underdone loaf of cake, and what is meant to be its most solemn chapter is more apt to provoke a desire to laugh. Norah Ravenscroft would have married Paul Norris if her mother had not gambled away her money. As it was, she married Theodore Beckwith instead. Mr. Benson expects us to like Norris; he is just a strong, clean-limbed, clean-minded young Englishman, a good-natured, grown-up boy, and on the whole rather colourless. Beckwith, on the contrary, we are expected to dislike; he is a weak, undersized, obnoxious little animal, almost uncanny in his ability to gather strength and energy from those around him, sapping their vitality in a manner almost vampire-like. But unpleasant as he is, Beckwith has the merit of being original, and when, half way through the story, the author strikes off his head with a sweep of his pen, the
interest of the book dies with him. A husband who is not only devoid of jealousy, but actually foresees that his wife is likely to fall in love with another man, and makes that man his secretary
so as to secure his constant presence in the house, and amuse himself by watching the struggles of the luckless couple against their growing infatuation, is at least a novelty in fiction, although a rather morbid one. But after Paul has simplified the situation by running an automobile over Theodore, there follows a wearisome delay while Paul is mentally outgrowing his boyhood and becoming enough of a man to decide whether he really meant at the last moment to run over Theodore, and if he did mean to do so, whether it is his duty to confess to Norah that he is the murderer of her husband. And when he finally does muster up the courage to tell her, she just looks at him and intimates that she has known it all the time and loves him all the better for it. This ought to satisfy Paul, but it doesn't. He continues to feel that he ought to make some sort of atonement for his sin. The idea stays by him, even after he and Norah are married. But the dead Theodore has left behind him a constant reminder in the shape of an infant son; and after the manner of infants, it learns in time to use its feet, and one day manages to toddle away from its mother across the railway tracks, directly in the course of an oncoming express train. Paul knows at once that the hour for his atonement has come. He flings himself before the train, fishes Theodore's child from under the engine's wheels and tumbles headlong beyond the tracks. Then the train is gone, and Norah is saying to him, "You gave your life for the child. You gave it to Theodore!" And Paul answers in all seriousness, "Yes, at least I meant to." Mr. Benson must have lost the last vestige of that sense of humour which he apparently possessed when he wrote Dodo.
~Frederic Taber Cooper in The Bookman, 01/1907

In Paul, Mr. E. F. Benson shows himself one of the most daring of modern novelists. I do not use this epithet in the cant sense of the term, as denoting that he deals with subjects that it would be more wholesome to leave alone, for we have here no example of tainted or neurotic fiction. He is a daring writer because of his extraordinary presumption upon the confidence and good-will of his readers. He deliberately constructs the first half of his plot in such a way as to produce the maximum of irritation, not to say resentment. Our natural impulse at the end of this section of the book is to throw the whole thing aside and refuse to allow our patience to be abused any longer. The picture of the physically puny but intellectually formidable Theodore Beckwith is too cleverly wrought to be incredible and too subtle to be disgusting, but we feel as though the writer were taking an unfair advantage of us in compelling us to make the acquaintance of so abnormal a creature. If he had not established a claim upon our attention by his previous work, we should ask indignantly whether our imaginations were given us to conceive such a ghoulish figure as this, and should joyfully accept the killing of Beckwith as liberating us from an evil dream and exempting us from the necessity of pursuing the fate of the other characters any further.
But Mr. Benson goes placidly on with his story in the conviction that we shall hear him out, and we do. We then find that the grewsome Beckwith episodes are the fitting and necessary background for a character study of remarkable power and thrilling interest. At first we had thought that the book should properly have been entitled Theodore, for until the end of the thirteenth chapter he was the outstanding figure and Paul Norris merely one of many victims of his ingenious cruelty; but from this point onward we recognize that what has gone before is preparing the way for the great conflict between inclination and duty that has been fought out in the soul of Paul.
A young man of much personal charm and of habitual gayety of spirit is suddenly staggered by a tragedy in which his own share is so strangely complicated that it is impossible for us who know all to pronounce him either innocent or guilty. It was an accident and no murder, an accident in which Paul even risked his own life to save that of his enemy; yet, paradox though it may be, there was in the deed a sufficient element of murderous intent to plant a sting of ceaseless self-reproach in the
conscience of the unhappy cause of it. This agony of the man who cannot acquit himself, though the world holds him blameless and even admires his magnanimity, presents to the novelist a much more intricate problem than that familiar subject, the inexorable remorse of the undetected criminal.
The terror of Paul Norris is not that of Bill Sikes. But the alleviation which is open to the most brutal offender against the laws of society tempts him also. There is one unfailing means of expunging the sense of evil and of removing what its victim persuades himself is a morbid sense of responsibility. The alternate exhilaration and despair, the comfort and the burden, the valorous resolutions and the ingenious self-deceptions of the secret drinker are here portrayed with graphic
power. The steady degradation of character that we are watching is the result not of sensual self-indulgence — for Paul does not drink for drink's sake — but of an almost panic-stricken impulse to snatch at anything that promises an anodyne for the poison of remembrance. Until within a few pages of the close, we are kept in suspense as to whether Paul's enemy and persecutor, by the mere memory of the tragedy that cut him off, is to work more havoc after death than in life and is to drive
him to utter collapse, body and soul.
It is no small triumph for a writer to make us admit, when so near the denouement, that we have not the least idea how it will all end and that whether Paul goes to the bad or pulls himself together the conclusion will in either case be entirely credible. The passage in which the crisis is reached and Paul is delivered at one stroke both from his mental obsession and from his debasing habit is, for its dramatic interest, the culmination of the whole story. If we laid the book aside now it would be with the satisfaction that comes from the relief of an almost personal anxiety. Yet. the two chapters that remain by no means produce the effect of an anti-climax. For one moment we apprehend that we were over-hasty in our anticipation of a 'happy ending,' and that though Paul has been saved from the curse that has been dogging him, he is to have but a brief enjoyment of the expected boon. The apprehension passes and the incident that has caused it is found to be the one thing that was needed to complete and assure the happiness that it threatened.
A book which appeals so strongly to the deepest emotions requires a considerable intermingling of lighter elements if it is not to produce at times a sense of unbearable strain. This need is supplied by the cleverness of the dialogue, the variety of the minor characters, and the artistic quality of the descriptions of Italian and English scenery. The figure of Mrs. Mundy shows that a cheerful contribution to the general effect of a story may be made by the introduction of a person who is incurably pessimistic. Such is her habit of mind that as she is engaged on a watercolor of the Bay of Salerno she manages to infuse into the radiant Italian sunshine something of her own melancholy. "One felt that it might begin to rain any minute." The Archdeacon's wife also adds much to our pleasure, as does Lady Ravenscroft, who "did not like money in the least — she only disliked the absence of it, which is a far different matter."
~Herbert W. Horwill in 'Present-day Tendencies in Modern Fiction', The Forum, 04/1907

A genuinely fine novel; a story marked by powerful workmanship and glowing with the breath of life.
~Daily Telegraph, 1907

It is a fine study of a soul stricken with remorse, brought through the depths to God's peace at last. It is marked by a high seriousness, and an understanding and sympathetic tact.
~The Guardian, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves

Written with uncommon intensity and brilliance. Somehow it has presented to him a problem that has appealed to all that is warm and human within the sphere of his own gifts, and the result has been that he has given us a novel that is marked by deep thought, clever construction, and a most intimate knowledge of the play of emotion between real men and women. He has achieved a triumph.
~The Standard, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves

The lighter side of the story is characteristic of Mr. Benson at his best and gayest. Nothing could be more natural or more amusing than most of the dialogue, and a whole handful of the subsidiary figures; it is full of admirable portraiture and an abundance both of humour and of humanity.
~The Outlook (UK), quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut and Sheaves

[…] another story of salvation [is] Paul […] in which the eponymous hero has an affair with a married woman, murders her husband, repents, and finally saves her child from being squashed by a train.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991