Saturday, 7 November 2015


Fiction ~ novel
Published 1924

Mr E. F. Benson continues to give us novels from his busy pen, and we imagine he secures a pretty large circle of readers for them. He is something in the nature of an historical survival, and yet he manages to preserve a rather remarkable quality of youth. As far as we can remember, his sympathies are always on the side of the youthful outlook, and he succeeds, up to a point, in stating youth's case. The curious thing about him is that in the welter of modern realism, such as we owe to Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy, and their successors, he alone survives as a realist of the period before. Older novel readers remember well the revelation of a Benson story twenty-five and thirty years ago, how real it all seemed after the romantic tales of Weyman, Anthony Hope (who did not try again in his Dolly Dialogues vein), and others on the one hand, and the novels of such writers as Mrs Humpry [sic] Ward on the other. He was as refreshing as Pinero on the stage after the Robertson comedies. And now, good though he is, he is seen to be behind the times, just as, again, is Pinero. The one has been eclipsed by Beresford, Swinnerton, and Compton McKenzie [sic, again], as the other by Somerset Maughams, Stanley Houghtons, and a host of others.
Mr Benson does not alter greatly. His style to-day in Alan […] is much the same as it was in The Image in the Sand and earlier books still. Clever 'chattery' is its mark, and a species of character drawing which consists in emphasising in hard, black lines the lineaments of complex beings, made up of a hundred real people combined to make the type-people with whom his stories deal. The publishers tell us on the jacket that Alan is a 'clever study of a novelist of the old school'. It is a clever study, but Alan is no novelist who ever lived or ever could have lived. The qualities of a great many novelists or imaginary novelists are combined to make an impossible creature. Similarly with his wife and her young lover, and the lion-hunter lady who so basely deserts him for his rising young relative. They are all drawn in a way which makes one suspect that Mr Benson has no faith in his readers. He cannot trust us to see what people are.
~The Yorkshire Post, 24/12/1924
Alan is a successful author, twenty years older than the wife he has made a drudge. A masterful study in egotism, a departure for Benson.
~The Bookman's Guide to Fiction, 06/1925

So predominant is Alan's profession in Mr. Benson's study of an egoist, that he strikes one as an egoist who does nothing but write novels. For his selfishness lies in neglecting his wife and enslaving her as his amanuensis, and in hating his young cousin Tim because Alan fades out as a writer while Tim becomes the literary idol of the hour. His feeling toward Tim is purely professional; be does not hate him because he and Agnes, Alan's wife, fall in love with each other.
Within narrow limits Alan is a convincing egoist, but as a writer he is hardly more than a caricature. Though conveyed in a long-winded and repetitious fashion, without any of those unforgettable flashes which reveal so much, Alan's egoism is made quite clear; but as a novelist, particularly a once famous novelist, he does not ring true. His tiresome pomposity, his dull wit and complete lack of humor, his almost incredible way of composing, his ignorance of modern literature, are a little too much to bear with, considering his position; they, and not his egoism—which is quite conceivable, even in the great—turn him into a caricature.
The book fails to assume life for another reason; it is far too wordy and undramatic. It has no feeling for either pace or climax, and two potentially good scenes—Alan's finding in a literary supplement a panegyric to Tim he expected for himself, and his entrance into Mrs. Probyn's drawing-room to find Tim lionized—are stodgily mismanaged. What Mr. Benson required to
show up his egotist was not scene after scene in Alan's workroom, but a few sharp incidents, a few revealing situations, a few clipped studies of the characters at interplay. What he achieved was a book as dull as one of Alan's own.
~The Saturday Review (US), 13/06/1925
In Alan Mr. Benson has given us a novel second only to his exquisitely humorous Queen Lucia as satirical comedy. The book deals entirely with the home life of a successful novelist whose vogue is on the wane, and the story introduces us, not only to Alan and his much enduring wife, but also to certain other well-drawn and entertaining characters. Alan is a supremely selfish man, not as elaborately portrayed or of as high social rank as Meredith's Egoist, but rather a British edition of the German husbands so feelingly delineated in Elizabeth and Her German Garden and The Caravaners. Alan's wife acts as his amanuensis, and, since he is as tireless a worker as was Anthony Trollope, the conditions of her life are pitiable. Moreover, she gains but little sympathy from her mother, who was once in love with Alan herself, or her sister Dora, a worldly woman married to a rich man and able to indulge her fancy for costly garments, a hobby that engrosses her waking hours. There comes into this family one Mrs. Probyn, a social pusher of the most virulent type, whose quarry is of the intellectual rather than the titled class. In her vision Alan is the sun around which the lesser planets of her dinner-table revolve, and, as he seldom goes about in society, she regards her capture of him as the most brilliant feather in her richly adorned cap. She squirms her way into the household, using her flattering tongue as a weapon of assault, for the novelist's vanity renders him an easy mark. She soon establishes herself in his study as a temporary amanuensis, in order to relieve the wife of some of her toil, and it is not long before she becomes a permanent fixture beside him. Meanwhile, as every reader will be glad to note, a young cousin appears on the scene and relieves the wife of some of her loneliness. He is an attractive young fellow, and every woman who reads the book, especially those who are reminded by Alan of their own husbands, will wish him well.
~The Outlook (US), 04/11/1925

The little clutch of secondraters, belonging to the first half of the 1920s, are Robin Linnet (1919), Colin (1923), Alan (1924), Colin II (1925), Rex (1925), Mezzanine (1926) and Pharisees and Publicans (1926). They may be a tribute to Fred's industry, but not to his talent. He seems to have been marking time, waiting in a literary limbo, content to drift along. The seven books are either exceedingly silly or exceedingly sentimental or just dull.
~Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd in E. F. Benson As He Was, 1988