Monday, 4 April 2011

Dodo the Second

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1914
Approx. 102,000 words
(First read 04/04/2011)

Dodo the Second [...] by E. F. Benson. Doesn't the very title-page sound like a leaf from your dead past? I protest that for my own part I was back on hearing it in the naughty nineties, the very beginning of them indeed (the fact that I was also back in the school-room did little to impair the thrill) and agog to read the clever, audacious book that all the wonderful people who lived in those days were talking about. And behold! here they all are again—not the people who talked, but the audacious characters. Only the trouble is that we have all in the interval become so much more audacious ourselves that their efforts in this kind seem to fail to produce the old impression. This is by no means to say that I didn't enjoy Dodo the Second. I enjoyed it very much indeed; and so will you. For one thing, it was the jolliest experience to recognize so many old friends—Dodo herself (now of course the Princess Waldenech [sic]), and the wicked Prince, and the rest of them. Of Dodo at least it may be said, moreover, that she has matured credibly; this middle-aging lady is exactly what the siren of twenty years ago would have developed into, still beautiful, still alluring, and still (I must add) capable of infecting everyone else in a conversation with exactly her own trick of cheap and rather fatiguing brilliance. Added to all this there is now a new generation of characters, several of whom are quite pleasant company; for them and for one very impressive piece of descriptive work in the account of a gathering storm, this Twenty Years After may be heartily welcomed. Indeed one leaves Dodo of 1914 so vigorously alive that I am not without hope of her turning up yet again as a grandmother in 1934.
~Punch, 22/04/1914
It is twenty years since the author made a sensation with his Dodo. The book was talked of partly because it was alleged that some of its characters were taken from life, partly because Dodo was rather more than unconventional in her irresponsible talk. In the critical opinion of the day, the story was not so much immoral as fashionably improper. But that 'Dodo' was likable and amusing no one ever denied. She is still so in Mr. Benson's new story—far more than her over-sophisticated and excessively modern daughter. 'Dodo' still talks with lively inconsequence, and sometimes about things not commonly made the subject of general conversation. It is as if she had a prankish humor in shocking people. But there is no great harm in her; nor is there in the younger set now introduced, except that they rather tire and displease by their strained efforts to appear blasĂ© and clever.
~The Outlook (US), 02/05/1914
Here she is again, dear, delightfully irresponsible Dodo, forty-five years young, with a daughter of her own, Nadine. We are introduced to the party when bedtime has been officially announced "in order to get rid of bores who secluded themselves in their tiresome chambers." Nadine, Berts, and Esther are all lying on Nadine's bed, smoking and chatting, or 'chattering.' Mr. Benson has the gift of reproducing scintillating nonsense. There is many a clever word and thought voiced in the constant repartee of his varied characters. We wonder sometimes how people of such markedly Bohemian tendencies and elastic consciences should have such acute mental perceptions, apparently unaffected by late hours, cigaret-smoking, and social dissipations. There is no 'respecter of persons' among them. All love 'Aunt Dodo,' and Nadine speaks frankly of 'Daddy,' just divorced, and his chronic state of intoxication. She is also interested in 'Jack,' one of Dodo's discarded lovers who has again shown up and who, as a matter of fact, marries his old love with happiest results. The whole book is full of brilliant conversation on all kinds of subjects. Nadine's love-affairs nearly come to grief, but a tragic shipwreck reveals her true love, and all ends happily.
~The Literary Digest, 09/05/1914
Mr. Benson is supposed to have regretted Dodo as a youthful indiscretion, but his penitence on that score may be doubted since twenty years after he comes out, effervescent and unashamed, with Dodo's Daughter. His last novel is not nearly as shocking as was his first, but that is probably less poor Mr. Benson's fault than our own. The science of moral anti-seismography has been highly developed since Mr. Benson, an archbishop's son, tickled pleasantly the naughty aspirations of the British middle classes, and to-day it takes something particularly strenuous from Germany or the Scandinavian countries to make us feel even the semblance of a shock.
The bitter truth must be admitted; Dodo is not as naughty as we had pictured her through the telescope, no, opera glasses, of youthful recollections, and Dodo's daughter and her friends are
almost mid-Victorian in the propriety with which they marry and are given in marriage—Ouida would turn in her grave at the domesticity to which the British aristocracy has descended. For not only does Dodo's daughter, after some rather perfunctory misadventures with a character whom in essentials Mr. Benson has used in a previous book, contract a happy alliance with an ideally commonplace young man, but Dodo herself, having divorced Prince Waldenech [sic], the bibulous nobleman with whom we left her twenty years ago, marries her first love, the fiancĂ© whom she so unceremoniously jilted early in her career, and, of all bourgeois achievements, at the age of forty-five, presents him with an heir. As Dodo herself says, "Isn't it ridiculous?"
The author has not wholly lost his knack of social satire, and his tongue is in his cheek when Nadine and her friends patronize the Victorianism of the 'souls' among whom Dodo in her heyday was a daring leader. Dodo's Daughter is a readable book, and it is plain that Mr. Benson has mellowed with the years, but it is not as clever either as Dodo or as some of the other novels that he has written in the interim.
~The Nation, 14/05/1914

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