Saturday, 12 November 2011

David Blaize

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1916
Approx. 98,000 words
(First read 12/11/2011)

There's a longish passage in his autobiographical Mother (1925) where Benson, unusually for him, talks at some length about the creation of one of his books, this one:

[...] I had long thought to myself [...] to write a school story not about cheats and bullies and sopranos, [but] to deal with affairs that conceivably have happened: to imagine a boy clean-minded and instinctively revolting from sentiment, who is yet absorbed in such passionate friendship as is characteristic of the fiery age. [...] this had churned in my head for years past, and now, just now, what completer escape from the tragedy and boredom [of the First World War] could a scribbler find?  It was to be boyhood againbefore war was invented or sex manifested, [...] when perfect bliss could be enjoyed with half-a-dozen racket balls and a friend, and when anyone over the age of twenty seemed already ripe for the winding-sheet¹.
And then, with half a page written, and the half page torn up, and a page written and the page torn up, the door at which I was thus rapping swung open, and let me in to a domain where I had no need to invent but only to remember and rediscover.  For there, in the forest of years in which my boyhood had wandered and lost itself, I seemed to find it again, quite alive and happy and ready to talk, and the whole business of recording appeared to be taking down the dictation of some external agent. [...]  Now the door of that storehouse was open and it was lit within and full of lively folk, and chapter after chapter came bubbling on to the paper without effort or selection or arrangement on my part.  The lively folk had settled it all among themselves: I had only to put down what they told me.  So, on most evenings for six months or more, I locked out the war and tiptoed back to where David and his friends were waiting for me. ...  When it was published, I found, with a thrill of amazed pleasure, that at last I had written something which my mother hailed and rejoiced in².
¹ My bolding to highlight the reference to Benson's Golden Age.
² In a passage shortly before this one he'd been complaining ~ well, kind of ~ that his mother never liked any of his books.  For that episode see the entry for Mother.

Other critics
This is actually EFB's old pal Hugh Walpole.
The latest of our novelists to succumb to the temptations of the school story is Mr. E. F. Benson; and I am pleased to add that in David Blaize (Hodder and Stoughton) he seems to have scored a notable success. It is the record of a not specially distinguished, but entirely charming, lad during his career at his private and public schools. Incidentally, as such records must, it becomes the history of certain other boys, two especially, and of David's relations with them. It is this that is the real motive of the book. The friendship between Maddox and David, its dangers and its rewards, seems to me to have been handled with the rarest delicacy and judgment. The hazards of the theme are obvious. There have been books in plenty before now that, essaying to navigate the uncharted seas of schoolboy friendship, have foundered beneath the waves of sloppiness that are so ready to engulph [sic]  them. The more credit then to Mr. Benson for bringing his barque triumphantly to harbour. To drop metaphor, the captious or the forgetful may call the whole sentimental—as if one could write about boys and leave out what is the greatest common factor of the race. But the sentiment is never mawkish. There is indeed an atmosphere of clean, fresh-smelling youth about the book that is vastly refreshing. Friendship and games make up the matter of it; there is nothing that I could repeat by way of plot; but if you care for a close and sympathetic study of boyhood at its happiest here is the book for your money. Finally I may mention that, though in sympathetic studies of boyhood the pedagogue receives as a rule scant courtesy, Mr. Benson's masters are (with one unimportant exception) such delightful persons that I can only hope that they are actual and not imaginary portraits.
~Punch, 12/04/1916

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