Friday, 20 December 2013

David Blaize and the Blue Door

Fiction ~ novel (children's)
Published 1918
(First read 20/12/2013)

For once I can't find anything to knock about an E F Benson novel.  David Blaize and the Blue Door is, of course, a book for kiddies, for little kiddies at that.  The eponymous hero is six years old; he goes to bed one night, passes through a blue door situated behind his pillow, and has a ~ fairly lengthy ~ series of adventures à la Alice through the looking-glass.  The adventures were humorous and quirky enough to keep me interested; the prose light and easy with just the right Oh do tell us a story, dear Uncle Fred! tone to them; the author doesn't pontificate or moralize (much); and the whole thing is very Edwardian, cozy 'n' comfy, even when, towards the end, it gets a bit 'soldiery'¹.
All in all, a jolly read.  Mind you, I daresay today's kiddiwinks would be bored shitless with it.  ["Don't you mean 'witless', Ewie?"]

I really think ~ not that anyone asked ~ that Benson should have written more for children, preferably on the subject of animals: this, and his sketches Jill's Cat (1916) and the pair 'Puss-Cat' and There Arose a King (both 1920) are not only charming but appear somehow both effortless and inspired, unlike so very much of his adult fiction.  Ah well, not a lot we can do about that, unfortunately.

P.S. DB & TBD should not be considered a prequel to David Blaize and David of King's: it stands up entirely on its own merits.

¹ I can imagine EFB's publishers saying to him, "Could you at least make some kind of acknowledgment that there's a war on? ~ you don't have to send David to Passchendaele or anything ... just a teeny little mention of soldiers or something, if only to let the parents know you're aware it's happening?"


Several years ago Mr. Benson wrote a story about this same David in his lively schoolboy stage. Here we have David as a small child. Jolly things happened to him when he went through the blue door, and only Alice in Wonderland saw more wonderful and topsyturvy queer sights than David.
~The Outlook (US; in 'Books for Young People' column), 26/11/1919
Up and Down (1918) and David Blaize and the Blue Door (1918) were composed during and after [Arthur Benson's] committal to a mental home, yet they are innocent of any reference to it, even by implication. This was probably quite deliberate, for both books are an evasion, a denial of the real and the important. […] David Blaize and the Blue Door is a book of fantasy for children, in the manner of Alice in Wonderland.  It enjoyed much success in its day, but now seems contrived.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991.  (Hmmm, I wouldn't call it any more contrived than ~ to take a random example ~ Alice in Wonderland.) 
David Blaize and the Blue Door is an imaginative fantasy that departs radically from the more traditionally structured David Blaize school stories. […] Searching for answers to important questions that adults dismiss as nonsense, David finds behind the door a Wonderland-like realm where nonsense is taken seriously by the inhabitants. The Times Literary Supplement [19/12/1918] notes similarities to the Alice books, but observes that Benson “carries the sincerest form of flattery just far enough to be clear of any charge of attempted concealment; and he weaves it into a story that is, in its main lines, his own invention.” Benson's inventive dream-fantasy anticipates some of his later supernatural fantasies, exploring the nature of 'nonsense' in order to question the limitations of conventional notions of 'sense'.
~Carolyn Sigler in Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice Books, 1997

No comments:

Post a Comment