on 6 March 2014
One day in Kensington Park, Mary Sutherland and her fiancee Adrian Herbert, an artist, meet Owen Jack, an unrecognised composer, and get him to teach music to Mary’s younger brother Charlie. However Jack is very highly-strung and doesn’t remain long in the job. Meanwhile Mary’s wealthy friend Madge Brailsford wants to be an actress and by coincidence engages Jack to be her elocution tutor, even though, by another coincidence, her father has recently rowed with Jack on a train. After much hard work and some good luck, Madge becomes a success and so does Jack. Mary and Adrian split up but remain friends. Mary marries a businessman, while Adrian marries Aurelie Szczymplica, a self-obsessed pianist. Jack falls for Madge, and Charlie for Aurelie, but both are rejected. And there are various subplots. The theme seems to be that the dedication required to be an artist requires a certain selfishness that exacts a heavy cost in personal relationships. There are some strong female characters, some interesting stuff about Victorian theatre and, in its lengthy 440 pages, moments of great dialogue mixed in with some duller sections. My favourite parts were of the alternately sympathetic and horrible Owen Jack struggling with the deadening formality of Victorian middle-class life (the book was written in 1888 though not published till much later). Overall though, and despite the intermittent spells of brilliance, it’s one of those books that’d probably be forgotten if its author hadn’t gone on later to much greater things.
on 22 May 2013
Already in the preface I discovered Shaw to be a much more humorous narrator, who likes to play with the reader with a roughish twinkle in the eye, than I had a serious critic expected to be.
The story is light, entertaining and a colorful characterisation of artists' life in the English Society.
Shaws generalistic understandig of art is reflected in the tale and especially by an insider-perspective on music and painting.
However the story lacks realistic authenticity to some degree: All artists are well-off and tremendously succesful or simply rich enough not to require artistic success. The plot is based on a lot of fantastic and incredibly constructed incidents, wich have nothing to do with reality. The characters are only as deep as neccessary, i.e. they remain pretty flat.
Nonetheless Shaw's language, his humour and his pointed dialogues make this novel a highly recommendable piece of great entertainment, even if it won't stand as one of the most brilliant diamonds of world literature.