By Glen Cavaliero
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This book was much admired on its appearance, and its virtuesrestraint, a clear style, an unswerving development of its theme - can still commend it. But its reticence and very clarity are also its undoing. As a parable of loss, of estrangemen t, of the engulfing of one partner in an experience impossible for the other, the novel is genuinely moving - and disturbing: the uneasy relationship between the civilised and half-wild is finely developed. But the book lacks a dimension. ' The non-committal ambiguity of that opening, and the abruptness of Mrs Tebrick's change into a vixen, convey a sense of scorn for the medium employed: the literary effect is solipsistic.
And just as memory covers a rural childhood with a fine haze of happiness, so a would-be mystical strangeness becomes an element in the rural novel, making of the countryside not merely an idyllic world, but also a gateway into Rural Fantasies 35 worlds greater than itself. Instead of being an object of fantasy (as in some of the works discussed above) it becomes an occasion for it. The most widely read fantasy of this kind has probably been The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932), a book whose influence upon the popular imagination springs from a blending of an idyllic Thames Valley landscape with a reflection of deep-rooted psychological attitudes, of a wistful romanticism with the workaday and cosy.
His novel shows the same awareness as we find in his poetry, that complex interplay between intimations of experience beyond our normal consciousness and a keen response to the tangible world, a response that was accompanied by a startling honesty as to his own feelings with regard to what he knew to be the truth. His work provides a balance that only the finest of the other rural writers were to emulate. v The wide variety of types of rural fantasy have this in common, that they all bear witness to the increasing hold of the English landscape over the English imagination.
The Rural Tradition in the English Novel 1900–1939 by Glen Cavaliero