Tuesday, 1 January 1980

Travail of Gold

What a WEIRD picture!
Fiction ~ novel
Published April(?) 1933

Mr Benson has again come to Mayfair for the scene of this novel. It is modern in atmosphere, sentiment, and action. The smiling social satirist who is Mr Benson has on this occasion more than shrewd fun and pleasant caricature for his object. It is a serious study of developing character. We meet Christopher Merivale, and, frankly, we do not like him. He has ideals, but is naturally cold and harsh, and first the withering influence of disappointment over his play, and then the even more fatal consequence of success plays havoc with his humanity. In contrast stands his lover, Nancy Cornish, as sweet and true a woman as has walked through the pages of fiction. The story works out to a foreseen end. Among the incidental personages must be mentioned Wee Violet, an absurd Bensonish character, quite in the the author's most inspired vein. It is a good and clever novel, well planned and neatly presented, and that excellent smooth English which distinguishes Mr Benson's writings has never been employed with greater effect.
 ~ Aberdeen Press and Journal, 19/04/1933
Quite early in Mr. Benson's pleasantly written story one realises that no setbacks and disappointments could possibly avail to retard the ultimate progress of anyone so delightfully malicious and uncompromisingly self-centred as Christopher Merivale. After his preliminary failures as a dramatic author, Christopher breaks away from the slightly cloying influence of Nancy Cornish's invincible idealism and ruthlessly lampoons his step-mother and such of his friends and acquaintances of either sex as have manifested any interest in his career, with the result that his subsequent plays achieve success and the old days of his poverty are done away with, if not entirely forgotten. The story ends with Christopher busy upon the revision of one of his earlier and idealistic pieces with a view to rehearsing the part of the heroine so that she would become Nancy Cornish to the life, 'satirically fashioned into food for laughter and mockery.' Apart from Christopher and the rather irritating Nancy, Mr. Benson's new gallery of portraits contains some striking evidences of his skill in character delineations ~ Christopher's step-mother, Margaret Merivale, her cousin and financial adviser, Robert Lucas, Sir Robert Graham and Rebecca Morris, and perhaps best of them all, the grotesque 'Wee Violet,' the interior of whose London House is so designed and constructed as to reproduce the atmosphere of a tropical jungle with none of its drawbacks and discomforts.
 ~The West Australian, 27/05/1933
This is the usual mixture given us by Mr Benson, with a significant difference. We have the chattering, malicious women of middle-age whose utterances are full of a certain kind of humour that we are asked to accept as unconscious. The new touch is in the slightly deeper plumbing of character so far as the two principals in the story are concerned. As in Sheaves ~ now so many rather shallow years ago ~ the author has not been quite content with a comedy (or rather farce) of manners, but has groped for the souls of his man and woman and succeeded in dragging some small portion of them to the surface.
There is a girl in this book so noble, so unselfish, so little prudish, so tactful, so almost inconceivably perfect, indeed, without even the priggishness that might have been an excuse for aversion, that the 'hero', consciously a good bit of a worm, cannot stand her for very long, and the reader, while loathing him, is almost forced to sympathise. We must feel a little superior at some point or other to a close companion or else resent him. The man so much resents his clever, tender understanding, and ~ in her own line ~ all too financially successful Nancy that we find him at the end actually preparing a cruel analysis of her in a play.
There is a great deal about plays in the novel, and none of it the usual fantastic stuff of the novelist. Mr Benson knows his theatre. The young in the story talk as the young of to-day are hardly apt to talk; but their actions are entirely up to date, especially where their sex-relations are concerned, and any climax of wedding bells is not so much avoided as forgotten.
~The Yorkshire Post, 07/06/1933
It is just forty years since the appearance of his brilliant Dodo turned the limelight upon the younger son of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since then Mr. Benson has placed to his credit a list of titles of considerable variety,—it needs a whole page of the fly leaves of this book to record them—ranging from the delectable David Blaize series to caustic novels such as the present story. This is a study in cynical meanness; the full length picture of an intellectual, highly polished cad,—a devastating performance, carried through unsparingly. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth—as Mr. Benson means it to do.
Chris Merivale starts as a young man of promise, still in possession of ideals and aspirations as a dramatist. He is shown in contrast to the woman who loves him, Nancy, a struggling young actress,—who develops into an English Duse. While she succeeds, Chris fails and becomes embittered, jealous of her triumphs. Then he too succeeds, by abandoning his ideals and writing venomously clever satirical plays. The story then records his progressive degeneration until he becomes a monster of cynicism and selfishness. The book is highly effective; one will not forget the unspeakable Chris.
~The Saturday Review (US), 24/06/1933
Benson has charted for himself an erratic curve of sales. A fair enough guess would place this toward the upper curve of his fiction, as a readable tale, with more of meat than the average novel, which should be popular with the more intelligent of the circulating library market, and have a healthy over-the-counter sale. A modern story of the outer fringe of the intelligentsia in London, with the focus on the essentially modern problem of the effect of 'money of her own' -- in this instance fairly earned, on a girl who becomes overnight a favorite behind the footlights, and on her lover, whose aspirations toward dramatic success lag behind. She is an idealist, he, a materialist. When success finally comes to him, it is not through the work toward which he had been striving, but through bitter, satirical vein of comedy, in which he turns to his own ends the foibles and eccentricities of his friends and acquaintances, and even of his immediate family. And he falls victim to his passion for money, and sacrifices all his ideals with scarcely a qualm.
~Kirkus Reviews, 06/1933
What other author than Mr E. F. Benson could write with equal facility and conviction about the Victorians, the Edwardians, and the ultra-moderns?
Mr Benson is the novelist who never grows up. Each fresh phase of morals and manners finds him abreast with the new tendencies, interpreting, commenting, criticizing. It is remarkable that such a vivid picture of the social life of London to-day as is contained in Travail of Gold […] should have come from the same pen as As We Were.
Travail of Gold is an indictment, to a large extent yet Mr Benson escapes the charge of cynicism and pessimism by bringing his 'heroine' through the 'travail of gold' unspoilt, although his 'hero' loses his ideals and ruins his soul in his successful battle for wealth.
Plenteousness is a pleasant thing,” Mr Benson quotes as an introduction to the story, “but travail of gold maketh the heart to wither.” Nancy Cornish, a young acress of genius and high ideals, inspires Chris Merivale to great heights as a dramatist. They share much travail before they win gold, but Chris, far from showing gratitude for Nancy's help, [illegible: probably 'formally'] renounces her ideals and holds them up to mockery and ridicule. The glamorous atmosphere of the theatre, and the humours and extravagances of the London social round, are handled in a way which makes for excellent entertainment.
~The Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 14/12/1933

No comments:

Post a Comment