The Gold Falcon: Critical reception



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Critical reception:


There are a great number of reviews which reflects the notice that this book attracted when published. They are very diverse in reaction, and most give some interesting insights into the book’s intent. Even so quite a number of the shorter items have been excluded for space reasons. These reviews were pasted into a scrapbook with their source noted in Ann Thomas’s handwriting. As already noted, the ‘anonymous’ author’s name was revealed almost immediately, although some seemed not to have realised that! Of course, under the pretext of the ‘anonymity’ of the author, the reviewers could add their own penetrating comments!


First a cutting with no source or date (possibly ‘Beachcomber’, or ‘Mr. London’?):


Back to Town Again


I expect soon to see Henry Williamson in the literary salons of Town again, and maybe about our streets, as I have seen him before, in corduroy trousers, and with a little keg of cider under his arm.


An original genius, the celebrated winner of the Hawthornden prize prefers to bring his own Devon drink when he comes to town.


His nature books are world renowned. I am told that he is the author of “The Gold Falcon” about which there is so much mystery.


Times Literary Supplement, 2 February 1933:


. . . [The Gold Falcon] is a baffling, disturbing, always individual and sometimes strangely beautiful book. . . . The narrative opens ten years after war’s ending and the first pages find Manfred in full flight from England home and family. He resembles his Byronic namesake . . . More and more he realizes in his vacillating way that it is his absent wife that he loves and her to whom he owes all, and the book ends with his sudden unprepared attempt to re-cross the Atlantic by aeroplane to be with her on hearing she is seriously ill.


Under all Manfred’s – and the author’s – agile mockery of spirit there lies a profound bitterness of spirit. Ever since the War, Manfred says, he has been “wondering why the hell we’re here”, trying to find a significance in the world without, or at least Jefferies’ ideal of “beauty and calm, without mental fear” within. He must find harmony or perish. But it evades him in life . . . It may be that he is weak-willed . . .; it may be something fundamental was missing, knocked out of him forever by his war experiences. The author surrenders rather than solves the problem; but “The Gold Falcon” remains for all that – perhaps because of it – a piece of work honest and oddly moving.


The Times, 3 February 1933:


“The Gold Falcon” is a long, full, and extremely readable novel . . . of an English poet’s visit to New York and dramatic headlong return. Manfred goes there to write a novel and for respite from certain domestic irritations. . . . There is a good deal of satire and ironical comment on American ways, and also on contemporary English literature and writers, and the whole thing moves with speed, dexterity, and witty and penetrating observation to its thrilling climax. . . . The last episode is splendidly conceived. The book is, however, never simply entertainment. Manfred shares the characteristics of his earlier namesake: he goes to America as “a modern Columbus of the mind” – it proves a forlorn quest. Thus the shadow of an ultimate futility haunts the record of his thoughts; it is not dwelt upon, but it is always implicit, and if the laughter is consequently sometimes bitter it is never merely superficial.


Evening Standard (Howard Spring), 3 February 1933:




I am distrustful [of anonymous books] [now one from a well-known novelist . . .]


The claim is well-founded. “The Gold Falcon” is a provocative, annoying book and guessing at the authorship will be a favourite occupation at literary parties for some time. There are clues lying all over the pages, but sometimes the trails cross in baffling way. I have narrowed the circle down to three well-known writers, one of whom, I dare swear, is the author. [But Spring does not nail his colours to a mast!] [precis of plot] . . .


To make such an outline is to give the pot without its contents. The strength of the book is the vividness with which innumerable personalities and scenes are brought before us. Its weakness is its lack of “binding” (it is diffuse and it sprawls), its tendency to chatter, and the failure to work the allegory of the gold falcon into any revealing relation with the human comedy.


[Re the hidden literary figures – some will not like it.]


Manfred has evidently had something on his chest for a long time, but he hasn’t had the courage to be sick in public.


Manchester Guardian, 7 February 1933 (7-inch column):




. . . Here is a chance for the reviewer to betray his incompetence, and the book is hardly one to be dismissed in a compact formula. . . . [plot precis] . . .


“Personal sunrise” strikes one as a vile phrase, and a few pages are sufficient to shake confidence in the author. He is strained, pretentious, scornful . . . but it improves and, occasionally, impresses; it is rather mad, rather a bore, but there is poetical intention and some vividness. Manfred is one of those egoists who are beyond rule or law . . . The author has something of the gift of the gab, something of eloquence. New York is a preposterous place in a turmoil of sex, drink, murder, wild talk, and irresponsibility; at a tea party eight hundred cocktails are drunk and two cups of tea. There is a great deal of philandering small talk, some artful sentiment, analytic disintegration which seems to destroy recognisable humanity. It is an able exposure but why do we read such books as this? . . . The story ends on a note of exalted sentiment . . . an animated and admirable description of the hero’s death, in an Atlantic flight.


Liverpool Post and Mercury (John Brophy), 8 February 1933:


I am told I am unusually patient, but “The Gold Falcon” has strained my temper to its limits. . . . [anonymous etc.] But the book itself tells us that Manfred earned fame by writing about Devon deer, and leaves plenty of other clues about. Mr. Henry Williamson ought to take action for libel against someone who has parodied so closely and so faithfully the incoherence and spiritual exhibitionism which have ruined his later books, and left out the flashing and quickening power over language which once led us to believe he was – what the Manfred of this book is convinced he is – a genius.


John O’London’s (Frank Kendon), 11 February 1933 (13-inch column):


. . . nobody who has read “Good-bye to all That” can have much doubt about the identity of Manfred, the hero of this queer feverish book. . . . Although “The Gold Falcon” is much less bitter in its total personal attack, there is in it the same cruel self-mocking hate which was characteristic of the biography. The author takes a perverse delight in flogging, mocking, scorning, his own moods. [Some explication of the plot follows] . . .


If I seem to write of this hero unsympathetically that is only a revulsion from the fever of sympathy showered upon him by himself and the author. There can be no doubt that “The Gold Falcon” is autobiographical and I found it quite impossible to judge of it as a novel. That is meant to be a tribute to the author’s power of writing. One grows angry enough to argue with Manfred . . . Frustration is a bitter tragedy enough, but the sufferer is not entirely innocent. The author of this modern version of Hamlet, of this Pilgrim’s Progress through civilization, expresses his philosophy of self-fulfilment through the love of others still like a desperate man who, lacking any conviction, intellectually invents a religion and cripples his life to fit in with it.


But of the author’s genius, of his cruel sincerity, of his burning desire to find a way, nobody who reads “The Gold Falcon” can doubt. The book was written in an agony of art.


This was followed two weeks later by the following piece, unsigned, but by somebody who obviously knew who this author actually was:


John O’London’s, 25 February 1933:


The controversy about the authorship of . . . is dying down, and the verdict of the reading world is not going to be the same as that hinted at by the reviewer who was (I am sorry to say it of so close a fellow-worker) completely taken in, just as the author intended. Had I been reviewing the book I should have asked in Fleet Street . . . I should then have concluded in print that the author was a naturalist . . . an egoist without humour . . . , a neurotic . . . with touches of religion and erotic romanticism which he eagerly wished to root out of himself and as eagerly wished to indulge. . . . Above all I would not have guessed out loud . . . as my ill-advised colleague did.


Weekend Review (L. P. Hartley), 11 February 1933 (12-inch column):


“The Gold Falcon” is a record of the spiritual progress made by Manfred, “airman and poet of the World War” during a brief visit to America. . . . in search of “personal sunrise”.


This unhappy phrase dominates the book. Manfred is an unashamed emotionalist; he lived by his sensibility, and he lived in discomfort, for his sensibility was always inflamed. . . .


. . . This raw, quivering personality, which lacked defences of any kind, registered acute sensations at the lightest touch. . . . This gives his impressions of America an unquestionable value, but it does not make him, what he doubtless appeared to himself, a latter-day Hamlet. . . .


The anonymous author has a good deal in common with Mr. Henry Williamson; the same awareness of beauty, the same appreciation of nobility, the same inclination to tear his heart out and wear it on his sleeve; and Manfred shares with Mr. Williamson’s Maddison the inability to make his life illustrate his ideals. . . .


I do not think that the story provides that intense crescendo of emotional experience at which the author aims. . . .


All the same though he does not command our loyalty like other pilgrims of eternity, Christian or even Odysseus, he does hold our interest . . .


L. P. Hartley also wrote a review a month later, placed here for comparison, for:


The Sketch, 8 March 1933:


. . . Here is a story which no one can say is lacking in emotion and sensibility. The hero’s sojourn in America is a kind of Sentimental Journey. He thinks a good deal, but he feels even more . . .


The chief grievance one has against him (and this deepens as the story goes on) is that he is too conscious of his own emotions. His character lacks stability: at any moment he may boil over. . . . He exudes a sort of facile desperation for which there is really not sufficient excuse. . . .


Still, in spite of its shortcomings, there is a lyrical soaring quality about this anonymous novel . . .


Birmingham Post, 7 February 1933:


This very fine anonymous novel [precis of plot] . . . Around his story is spun the web of contemporary life in attractive variety and with a sound grip on the material, while the concluding part of the novel attains an intensity that clinches admiration for a compelling work. Besides its mysticism, it contains somewhat of mystification. . . . The outward substance may thus hold some obscurities; but the essential symbolism is clear enough. All the characters have virility and the story drives with power; while, in the character of Manfred lies illumination.


Western Mail (F. J. Mathias), 9 February 1933:


[No attempt to guess the author.] . . . The American scenes are described with more than usual sincerity, vividness and literary distinction. Even more impressive is the author’s sympathetic response to the fluctuating emotions of a man’s soul when he is haunted by the loveliness of his lost illusions and the apparent hopelessness of the post-war world. . . . the book as a whole has a dazzling effect. It is tremulous with the sensitive longings of a cultured mind to recover its anchorage before it drifts to perdition.


Yet when a man’s heart is in Cornwall, why seek salvation in New York?


Sunday Sun (Neville Percy), 12. February 1933:




Robert Graves, whose “Goodbye to All That” is held by many book-lovers to be the best of English war books, has done it again, if I am not mistaken.


A book just out, “The Gold Falcon” bears unmistakeable traces of being the gifted Robert’s work, although it is published anonymously.


It is causing much discussion, apart from its anonymity, on account of certain well-known characters of real-life figuring in it under ‘aliases’ despite which they cannot escape identification – they are so aptly described. “The Gold Falcon” may prove a gold spinner.


Observer (Gerald Gould – who features as ‘Gerald Gilt’ in the novel), 12 February 1933 (10½-inch column):


The publishers have started a pleasant “spot the author” game in connection . . . I will offer my own guess when they announce a prize of twenty-five thousand pounds and a free insurance against damage by hot air. . . . Certainly the writer knows his job. His hero, Manfred, is the very essence of Flappers’ Delight [a racy precis of the plot] . . . he very properly went home again; and, for the more speed, went by air. This flight, again, is vividly described: it contains passages of such real beauty that one wonders why effort has previously been lavished on forced purple-patchery and easy cynicism. The end I am not sure I understand. A number of contemporaries are hinted at [lists the more obvious]. Why the concealment?


The problem of youth exhausted by premature intensity of experience is a vast one, one of the saddest the war bequeathed. It contains tragedy. In “The Gold Falcon” it is treated with flamboyance and obscured by irrelevance. Yet, when the writer forgets to show off, he can write. . . .


Sunday Times (R. Straw), 12 February 1933:


“The Gold Falcon” is the work of “a very well-known novelist”. The publishers know no more than that. You read a few chapters of it, and are attracted by its style, and made slightly uncomfortable by its bitterness, and moved by its stark honesty. And you are soon deciding that the author has sufficiently revealed his identity. But has he? I could mention four men who might have written the book, though only one of them could rightly be described as “a very well-known novelist”. Then is the author Henry Williamson? We must wait and see.


The novel itself is a disturbing piece of work. [precis of the plot] . . . [meets his death.]


So the problem is never solved, and you feel it never could have been solved. There must always be Manfreds in the world, and some will call them cads and say that they only have themselves to blame for whatever unhappiness comes their way, but others will try to understand and want to help. The story would be depressing if it were not written in so forthright a manner.


Incidentally, some other “very well-known novelists” and men of letters may be interested, if not always amused, by the criticisms passed upon them in the course of the story.


Daily Mirror, 13 February 1933:


A certain mystery is cast over this curiously intricate story by its anonymity . . . It is the tale of a man whose tortuous nature brings him much unhappiness . . . and oddly decides upon a visit to New York as a cure for his evil temper. The results are not very beneficial. Why should they be? . . . Unusual, symbolic, rather obscure. But worth the attention of highbrows.


Evening News, 14 February 1933:


If you read for amusement and do not care to explore what you read for its significance, then you will not enjoy this study of a man who has in his own defeated spirit a bitter legacy from war and goes to America in the hope of finding a “personal sunrise” there.


In any case it is a book which some people will like very much, some not at all; but the distinction of its writing and its sincerity on the one hand, and the humour and vividness of New York as seen through Manfred’s eyes on the other, will stay long in your mind; leaving an expression of nobility rarely experienced.


Daily Mail, 15 February 1933 (annotated by Ann Thomas: ‘ D.B.W.L.: i.e. Dominic Bevan Wyndham Lewis, who for a time (1919-24) was ‘Beachcomber’ of the Daily Express):


Revelation Department


For a trifling bribe, having left politics, I am prepared to reveal here, the name of the author of “The Gold Falcon”, the anonymous success de scandale of the moment.


He is a lean dark-brooding man with a fine, sensitive mind and a simply terrible little runcible moustache, due to living in the country with a lot of owls and otters. He told me once, years ago, on the very summit of the Pass of Roncevalles, that he didn’t give a damn for Roland, Charlemagne, Proust, Hardy, Tchekov, Knight, Frank, Rutley, or anybody on earth except Shelley. He then said he WAS Shelley, which embarrassed everybody. We can still hardly believe it.


* * * *


The night was moonlit, and the great Pyrennean gorges were sinister and over-whelming, as they are in the song of Roland.


"Halt sont les puits . . ."


But I expect you know all about that.


(Readers following this whole series will have recognised the allusion there. DBWL features briefly as Bevan Tarr Lewis in The Gold Falcon: it has recently been pointed out to me by an American HWS member that Tarr is the title of a novel by the other Wyndham Lewis, of Vorticist fame. There is no evidence to suggest that HW knew the latter – but of course he did love to play games with his readers.)


Glasgow News, 15 February 1933:




Speculation continues as to the novel, “The Gold Falcon” (to the delight no doubt of the author and his publishers). All those named as probable or possible writers of the book are English. No Scot is suspected – which is scarcely surprising when one finds that the name selected to conceal or reveal the identity of Alec Waugh is Alec Peace.


Waugh – War – Peace. You observe, of course, the consummate subtlety. But it would never occur to any Scot that “Waugh” by any pronunciation, would ever sound like “War”.


Daily Express, 16 February 1933:


The identity of the author of the latest best seller “The Gold Falcon” has been shrouded by the publishers in mystery.


I understand he is Henry Williamson, author of “The Old Stag” and “Tarka the Otter”. And I surmise that he chose to remain anonymous because this new book contains elements which were obviously likely to win it a wide popularity.


Liverpool Post & Mercury, 18 February 1933:


Books and Bookman


The Mystery of an Author, by Brother Savage


Who is the author of “The Gold Falcon, or the Haggard of Love”? This anonymous novel, which was issued last week by Messrs. Faber and Faber, has aroused much speculation, and a lot of guessing is going on in literary circles. The publishers describe him as ‘a very well known novelist”, and I notice that the Daily Post reviewer has put a name to that description. I will however, content myself with saying that I solved the mystery on internal evidence.


The author is a very well-known novelist; his home is in Devon, and not long ago he visited New York. The evidence which supplied me with the solution occurs where the hero is described as writing a book day and night without resting, sustaining himself by dipping into a tub of grapes at his left hand whenever he needed. As it happened, the author of “The Gold Falcon” described this very action to me not long ago as the accompaniment to one of his most swiftly-written books.


The Spectator (L. A. G. Strong), 17 February 1933:


Light in August is a great book. The Gold Falcon has at least some of the elements of greatness. The wrapper says that it is “The Adventures of Manfred, airman and poet of the World War, and later, husband and father, in search of freedom and personal sunrise, in the city of New York: and of the consummation of his life.”: a description which, even down to the repellent phrase “personal sunrise” is faithful enough. Manfred’s quest seems to me to be febrile and theatrical, though these attributes, plus his extraordinarily sensitive perceptions, provide scenes and descriptive passages of very great brilliance. My difficulty about him is not only that he stops in the course of each experience to feel his pulse, but that he takes it for granted we are all passionately interested in the finding. I was not – but the book has splashes of genius in it, and should not be missed.


Gloucester Daily Citizen (‘Penman’), 20 February 1933:


Remarkable Novel By An Anonymous Writer


[There used to be a craze for anonymous books . . .] It was with something in the nature of a thrill therefore that I received . . . a novel by an anonymous author.


It is a literary triumph.


The unknown author – I have been told by one who claims to be in the know that he is none other than Henry Williamson of “The Old Stag” and “Tarka the Otter” fame – has written an outstanding book.


The hero is Manfred, V.C., airman and famed author, and briefly, the story deals with his search for love. [Precis of plot follows.]


The author of the book has introduced elements which will be widely popular. His characterisation of the airman poet, of Barbara, and of the somewhat fast set who figure in the four hundred odd pages, is perfect; the story is gripping, yet lightly and delightfully told; and there is a delicious element of the unconventional and a rich vein of romance.


If the "Gold Falcon" is not a best seller I shall be astonished.


Yorkshire Post, 22 February 1933:




Manfred, the hero of The Gold Falcon is not old, but, as a disillusioned war-hero, he is in little better case. He has all the advantages – thirty-seven German aeroplanes down to his credit (surely an unnecessarily large bag), a poet’s laurels, money enough, a charming wife and son; and he is in such a state of desperation that he crosses the Atlantic to look for spiritual satisfaction in New York.


This is not a common place study of the artistic temperament, and its anonymous author is clearly a master of his craft. He can put the glint of spiritual romance upon the most sordid adventure; the most caddish behaviour, in his hands, becomes merely pathetically, even poetically, human. You can hardly detect him as he weights the scales, and, if you cannot accept the book ingenuously, you can admire a superb conjuring trick.


But the numerous references, so very thinly veiled, to English literary personalities do not help the illusion. Authors, like actors, are apt to forget that many people, who are yet intelligent and even sophisticated, do not know enough about the personal gossip of their profession to be interested in it.


Sunday Referee (Charles Graves), 19 February 1933 (giving an interesting side-light on the Graves family!):


Another club is the Graves Family Club. It has only been in existence for a year, and it meets once a month in Adelphi-terrace. Again, alas! Neither George Graves, nor Harry Graves the jockey, nor Captain Tommy Graves are members. That is a pity. They would probably enliven proceedings. But even without them the gatherings are quite interesting.


As a result of the last one, I hear that my brother Robert, who wrote “Goodbye To All That”, is the author of “The Gold Falcon” the anonymous best-seller published last week. Its authorship is attributed to all sorts of people, including Henry Williamson. After all, any information may not be accurate. I have not seen my brother Robert for six or seven years. He lives in Majorca now.


Bookman, (Wynyard Browne), March 1933 (10 x 3½-inch column); as this article looks at fiction from a serious and objective viewpoint it is worth including the opening critical passage:


Contemporary creative writers can be divided into two classes: those who are aware of the decay and imminent collapse of European culture and of the existing social and economic systems, and those who are not. The division is fast becoming more distinct. Those in the first class, whether they are despairing and destructive or eager to build – and raise a flag on – a new world, are dealing explicitly with some aspect of the “world situation”. They are concerned that their work shall have social as well as literary importance. They desire to be read for profit as well as pleasure. More or less they merit the epithet “serious”. The others, among whom are most of our more popular writers, remain profitably out of touch with the unpleasant dilemmas of the day, and are disinclined to accept direct social responsibility for their work. They are content, even proud, to receive the approval of the committee, and provide enjoyment for the members of the Book Society. It is probably truer as well as kinder to attribute their behaviour to stupidity rather than to avarice. I cannot join with the militant highbrows in their malicious abuse of these simple, prosperous people for deliberately lowering the standard of taste and undermining the foundations of culture. Critics without a sense of fun may do even more harm than the silliest or vulgarest best-seller. But I do join them in their reluctance to consider seriously the work of writers who will not or cannot tackle relevant problems.


[There follows a paragraph on Nobody Starves by Miss Brody, which meets the reviewer’s criteria but he does not entirely feel the book succeeds. The final paragraph deals with The Gold Falcon:]


“The Gold Falcon” is very personal. It is apologetic and consolatory. Manfred, “airman and poet of the world War”, who had written when the War was over, a scandalous autobiography called “Farewell to Poetry”, forsook his wife and son to seek “personal sunrise” in New York. The book is the story of his search, which is by turns honest and theatrical, but always egotistic; and the apology is implicit in the story. Finally he tries to fly back to England alone. Something goes wrong with his machine and he drowns in mid-Atlantic. The consolation appears, unconvincing and perfunctory in the last chapter, where the wraiths of Manfred and Ann meet and know one another. The book is valuable not merely because it is probably sincere, but because there are many “haggard” or refractory lovers in our generation. Yet I am afraid it will be read for the amusement of deciphering the names of the literary figures mentioned, and for the hope of gossip. It deserves to be read for better reasons.


The Isis, 1 March 1933:


The author of “The Gold Falcon” also has his charges to make against the post war era. . . . There is a lot of fine writing here, but the combination of extreme contempt and pity which the author feels for his character is a little wearying at times. . . . the guess is not a difficult one.


Mr. Henry Williamson – whom one or two people, incidentally, have decided is the author of ‘The Gold Falcon’ – has written one of the best books of animal stories that I have read in ‘The Old Stag’. His peculiar charm of style lies mostly in the fact that he treats his tales purely objectively. . . . Further it has been excellently illustrated by C. F. Tunnicliffe.


Aberdeen Press & Journal, 1 March 1933:


The author of this book has shown discretion in keeping his identity secret. Undoubted talent is revealed, but it has to a large extent been misused. There is much good writing, but “the adventures of Manfred, airman and poet of the world war”, are shoddy and hardly worth recording. Manfred is constantly exhorted by his publisher to do exactly as he wishes to do. In the fulfilment of his desires he reveals a moral weakness and the almost hysterical working of his mind. The reader may be disgusted at these revelations, but his interest is absorbed in the battle between the higher and lower instincts of this nerve-ridden man. The ending of the tale is worth all the rest put together, despite its containing some excellent pictures of modern life in New York.


Weekend Review (J. B. Priestley), 4 March 1933:


HERE AND NOW by J. B. Priestley


Under this title Mr. J. B. Priestley begins in this issue a new

weekly feature dealing with the events and personalities of the day.


[Opens with a long rambling paragraph about having a cold! Then that as people still think he is a reviewer he gets sent books and also gripes that he doesn’t get good reviews in the USA although he always praises American books --- ]


Easily the worst book is that gigantic oozing slab of self-pity, that anonymous work carrying the wet trade mark of Henry Williamson, called The Gold Falcon. A good alternative title for this work would have been ‘Whine, women, and sob’. This is the kind of book that makes you despair of the literary life altogether, and hurries an author into apprenticing his son into the mercantile marine. What is one to say about a writer who will not put his name to a novel and yet introduces into it, under the thinnest disguises, a number of his fellow writers? I figure in it as P. B. Bradford, a coarse vulgar fellow, at best a second rate imitation of Arnold Bennett. Coarse and vulgar perhaps; possibly second-rate; but why – in the name of literary good sense – Arnold Bennett, an author with whom I have little in common, whom I admired only with many reservations, and who thoroughly disliked me?


As stated previously – Priestley got his own back! This brought its own criticism:


gf review1


Poetry Review, April 1933. This treats Human Being by Christopher Morley alongside The Gold Falcon:


. . . We may even guess that Morley is the author of the anonymous Gold Falcon, some of the scenes and situations, notably the observatory-like New York eyrie, being very similar in both books, and both come from the same publisher. . . . What concerns us, however, is not the authorship but the subject of the book – [precis of plot] Manfred . . . is too introspective and withdrawn and thereby loses much of what he went to America, or rather New York, to find. In his spiritual pilgrimage he is influenced by David Torrence, who apparently is D. H. Lawrence, and his personal friend G. B. Everest, in whom one recognises Lawrence of Arabia, and Wilfred Owen, his war-time colleague, who is considerably quoted. Other contemporary literary figures pass through the book or are referred to, frequently in a more candid than complimentary manner. Contemporary social life in New York is very vividly entered into, and the many episodes related include the quite startling lecture by Manfred on “Hamlet and Modern Life” . . .


We are reluctant to conclude that both The Gold Falcon and Human Being are novels of frustration. In some senses both are allegorical pictures of the contemporary spirit in literary and business life, and both might have been written by D. H. Lawrence to illustrate the quotation given in the review in this number of THE POETRY REVIEW of Richard Aldington’s latest book. In both there is the cruel tragedy of “Philoctetes agonizing on his lonely isle.”


Daily Telegraph (Rebecca West), 7 March 1933 (8-inch column):


If the anonymous author of “THE GOLD FALCON” is really the distinguished writer he is said to be he must have placed his powers in storage while he was writing it, except for the thrilling passage at the end . . .


The rest of the book makes us regard neither the author nor his hero with a loving eye. . . .


[Miss West takes great exception to the cable Manfred sends to his wife.]


One is given to understand . . . that there is some moral or spiritual or intellectual cause for Manfred’s misery, and indeed there are in life innumerable causes of this sort. The failure of “The Gold Falcon” to show any such cause . . . [means the author lacks the power to write a good novel].


When one remembers the beautiful writing in mediums other than fiction that this author has given us, one hopes that he will remember that sometimes a man’s best friend is his otter . . . who was a complete and consistent character and, above all, sent no cables.


Oxford Times (E.E.), 3 March 1933:


The author of “The Gold Falcon”, whoever he be, [has no intention of hazarding a guess!] . . . has produced a story of remarkable beauty, a clear satirical portrait of the present generation, and surely, a sincere, complete portrait of himself. . . . [considers the secretive elements to be a distraction] . . .


The work of art does not fail because of this masquerade. Rather it helps to make it the work of fiction it is, and to intensify the vital realty of all that is taking place. [precis of plot]


And the star which sets upon Manfred rises again, we are led to think, upon the hopes of a new world.


Irish Times, 4 March 1933:


[Opening paragraph relating the plot.] Not everybody will read the same intentions into “The Gold Falcon” . . . It is a disturbing and at times puzzling book; but for the sheer beauty of telling it is one of the precious things of today’s literature. . . . [whoever the author is] he has written a noble and moving tale which will enhance any reputation.


The Guardian, 3 March 1933:


The anonymous author of this vigorous narrative has produced a remarkable volume. In the course of more than four hundred pages he tells us much about New York, especially its nightclubs, speakeasies, its prices . . . and its capacity for alcohol: he works off a lengthy and unimpressive lecture on Shakespeare’s Hamlet; he raises, in a poignant manner, the whole difficult question of Post-War restlessness in the combatants who survived the War; but fails to find a solution; and he ends with a really fine description of a solo flight across the Atlantic, ending in disaster. The adventures of Manfred, airman and poet . . . will rouse mixed feelings: it is intensely alive and, on the whole – though it includes passages both tedious and unpleasant – rapid and appealing; but it is discursive to a degree and lacking in unity.


News Chronicle (Lionel Hale), 8 March 1933 (6-inch column):


. . . For here again is that grey goddess Futility. . . . Now it may be crassness or prejudice, but it is difficult not to think of this novel that an uncommon lot of fuss is being made over nothing . . . his feelings, as described (and with what detail!) are simply not the emotions of an adult. . . .


The fullest and frankest tribute must be paid to much, nearly all, of the writing. It was only this that prevented me from wishing that Manfred had died on the way over to New York instead of on the way back.


Illustrated London News, 8 April 1933:


. . . Manfred, the hero of “The Gold Falcon” goes [to America] to escape from himself – from his wife, his family, his fame as a writer, his recollections of the war, his memories of his late mistress, everything that made the present tedious and savourless to him. In America he found a warm welcome and a new romance, but he continued to feel very sorry for himself. One gets irritated by his ready recourse to self-pity; after all, he had a great deal to be thankful for. A little emotional stiffening would have made “The Gold Falcon” a more attractive book; but we must allow the author a sense of beauty and a sensibility to suffering.


Granta, 17 May 1933:


This book won great but transitory popularity recently. But it deserves a more permanent respect. It is a book which tells a very personal story . . . But the implications of the story are not merely personal. The obsessed loneliness and search for love are universal symbols; and if their hunger is made more plausible by a war-neurosis, it is not a hunger confined either to soldiers or neurotics. Manfred, though he does not confess it, does not want to love: he wants to be loved, and he pathetically trails his passion from one woman to another who promises to be more loving. Such a search, a search for a life not from within but from the outer world, is terrible and hopeless. Manfred points both the terror and the hopelessness by resolving suddenly (absurdly) to fly the Atlantic, back to his dying wife, and to death.


The profound content of the story then lies in the fierceness with which it lights up that lost battle, to build a life not from the personal soul but from the world of other people – whether the sensual, the Anglo-Catholic, the public school or the Communist world. Manfred’s attempt is to build from the sensual world but it is an attempt symbolic of all other attempts.


The anonymous author has sought, perhaps not wisely, to heighten its air of the more-than-personal by making Manfred (who purports to write biographically) a composite picture of a dozen other war-poets, in which Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon predominate. (Indeed in its flatter moments one might guess the book to be Siegfried Sassoon’s idea of the life of Robert Graves.) But what survives of the book – a book to read and to ponder – is not Manfred: it is a universal story of the world and the spirit.


(Whoever wrote this would seem to have some knowledge of the rift between Graves and Sassoon, but the writer clearly had not discovered that many considered Graves as a serious contender for the authorship of The Gold Falcon.)

The American edition:


There are a huge number of reviews from across America and many of them are very perceptive. It is interesting to see how the Americans saw a book that was basically about their own culture. Only a selection is possible here but nothing of importance has been left out. Here the discussion about the identity of the author really hotted up – but became rather a distraction from the book’s content and worth. Let us start with the considerable detail that rather set the scene for others to follow – or not as will be seen!


Everything began with the so very loyal and supportive Frank Swinnerton (who steered the book through the English pre-acceptance phases), writing from England when the book first appeared.


gf swinnerton


Then the Saturday Review gave it an enormous amount of attention over several issues as follows:


Saturday Review of Literature, 15 April 1933 (note the date: the book was not published in the US until the following August):


Last week we promised you Earle Walbridge’s letter on “The Gold Falcon” which we hear Smith & Haas are to publish over here . . .


. . . I can now turn to marshalling my internal evidence that Robert Graves is the author of “The Gold Falcon . . .


If the author of that novel is not Graves, it is a man who has steeped himself to the point of saturation in the details of the latter’s personal affairs. . . [mentions the title of Graves’ book . . . is on intimate terms with Siegfried Sassoon & T. E. Lawrence . . . unhappy marriage (is related in “Goodbye . . .” , etc, BUT –] it is news to me that Graves has been over on this side at all, much less eaten large oysters here at the Harvard club, but evidently he has.


It will require [large publishers’ advertisements] to convince me that the author is not Robert Graves.


Saturday Review of Literature, 6 May 1933:


gf review2


Further: unsourced, undated, unsignedbut probably also from the Saturday Review of Literature. The article opens by referring to Earle Walbridge (above) as feeling embattled: despite the fact that someone has refuted his own theory, he is standing by it. The source continues:


We have had a long letter from ‘Kimball Flaccus’ . . . who contends that he can prove that the book was, beyond all doubt, written by Henry Williamson. . . . Mr. Flaccus is far removed from the New York fray, being up at Dartmouth and one of our best undergraduate poets.


[He quotes from the Hamlet lecture in The Gold Falcon] . . . the very same lecture which Williamson delivered under the title “Hamlet and the Modern World” in Hanover, New Hampshire, during the winter of 1931, and later, I believe, at one or more New England Colleges. I was fortunate enough to hear the talk and never have I been more deeply moved by any address. Williamson, frail, tragic, and silver-haired, was his own Hamlet; I went away from that hall with tears in my eyes, and pity in my heart for poets upon whose sensitive minds the experience of the World War had laid a terrible brand.


[Flaccus then quotes the passage from Professor West’s book The Dreamer of Devon published in 1932, about this lecture.]


Professor West remarks also that “The loneliness one feels in a city like New York struck particularly hard at Williamson, for his is a personality which cannot stand complete and forced solitude in a city for long periods of time.”


[Flaccus also states that Prof. West reveals that the skiing incident actually happened.]


I can vouch for the truth of this reported incident, for I was a witness to it myself, and Alexander Laing, author of the recent novel “The Sea Witch” was a fourth party on the expedition, and remembers the sublime awkwardness upon skis of our distinguished visitor who is nevertheless so nimble with the pen. . . . [elisions are the paper’s own here – ending this piece]


Pasted under this is yet another item from the Saturday Review but again undated.


gf review3


Saturday Review of Literature (William Rose Benet), 2 September 1933 (27½-inch column):


Unhooded Falcon


Fairly recently, in ‘The Phoenix Nest’ in this periodical, we presided over a discussion of the English edition of “The Gold Falcon” as a roman à clef and also in an endeavour to pierce the anonymity of the author. Mr. Earle Walbridge was perfectly sure that the author was Robert Graves, although the evidence accumulated overwhelmingly in favour of Henry Williamson. The back files of The Saturday Review of Literature have now supplied us with final identification we regard as incontrovertible, quite aside from the fact that the speech Manfred makes for Mrs. Dawlish Kelt on Hamlet and Modern Life was identified for us as a speech Henry Williamson actually made at Dartmouth College when on his late visit to the United States.


[The reviewer goes on to give further evidence from HW himself – e.g. he gave away his Greenwich Village residence in a review of an Arnold Bennett book in this publication (30 December 1930) etc.]


Now as to the story: in the first place we found it intensely readable; obviously it was the work of a practiced hand; at the end, in the description of Manfred’s attempted flight across the Atlantic to his dying wife, we entered one of the most breathless and thrilling accounts of flying in modern fiction. [But it does not quite bring off the ‘mystical’ ending –] though the attempt was gallant and moving.


What shall be said for the hero of this story? In the first place it is the story of a poet, and no one can deny that in his prose Henry Williamson truly merits the title of poet. The book is obviously an account [though changed and transformed] of the quest of his own spirit. We do not mean in the least that the story is a verbatim account of his own experiences. For certain material in it he indubitably drew upon certain impressions of the American scene remoulding them to make the design of his romance. That is what every novelist does. Those who seek autobiographical data in novels will always find themselves hopelessly entangled in the novelist’s mixture of the purely imaginative with the actual.


Manfred is a product of the late World War, of – to borrow the title of one of Williamson’s other books – “The Wet Flanders Plain”. [Story line follows.] Williamson’s study of the poetic nature under these circumstances, that nature is always, like the “haggard or refractory hawk” “wild and intractable” is of more than ordinary interest. But the author brings out another element complicating the poetic temperament – a disorganisation of Manfred’s nature due to the effects of the war, a dislocation of objective.


Life has lapsed into dark bitterness in England. The land is full of ghosts. The bright, almost brassy sunlight of New York in the new world, the hard, clear outlines of things, the impact of spirited youth seizing for gaiety upon the new night-life nurtured by the Amendment of Mr. Volstead, the suddenly accelerated tempo of existence, and, on the other hand, the desert loneliness of that vast gridiron of streets (and never has the grim loneliness of New York to the recluse writer been better described than in this novel!) all but serve further to derange a sensitive and somewhat goblin temperament dashed against them. Out of these surroundings shines suddenly a beautiful and selfless love of a young girl. . . .


The story moves swiftly, vividly, along the rapid course of his essential life while . . . he is working on a new book for his publisher. For the purposes of fiction the inevitable stroke falls . . .


A Puckish humor, the humor of a poet, glints intermittently through the account of Manfred’s joys and sorrows. Self-pity is sometimes too evident. . . . His falcon, the symbol of his soul, is of erratic flight. But there are beautiful as well as grim passages in the book that impress indelibly. The characterisations of contemporaries are often trenchantly satirical. The poet’s examination of himself is ruthless, though there is very little he seems to be able to do about it.


. . . This is a novel with remarkable good writing in it. The New York background and atmosphere are extraordinarily well caught . . . And the flight descriptions are some of the best this reviewer has ever read. They make one thoroughly believe in the poet’s falcon.


HW underlined the more penetrating phrases of Benet’s review.


Atlantic Journal (Milton Hopkins), 27 August1933 (6½-inch column); (HW published a number of articles in this publication – see Atlantic Tales, HWS 2007; e-book 2013):


Why the author of such a surpassingly brilliant novel . . . should wish to keep his identity secret is hard to comprehend. The author is probably an Englishman and is most certainly a prominent figure in the literary world. Suppositions concerning his identity would be unavailing, for he writes with the caustic bite of Somerset Maugham, the verve of Conrad, the mysticism of D. H. Lawrence, and the sharp sense of the satirical of Richard Aldington. . . .


The climax of this novel is as startling and as gripping as certain of Conrad’s masterly prose epics . . . The denouement is a thing of sheer genius and artistry in its combining of the real and the unreal in such a way as to leave the reader pondering for a long time . . . whether or not he has construed this last tender scene in the way it was intended.


A great charm . . . lies in Manfred’s minute scintillatingly barbed thrusts at the literary great. . . . There is also an extremely original and erudite theory offered by Manfred, in the course of one of his lectures on “Hamlet and Modern Life”.


Post (Horace Gregory), 31 August 1933 (20-inche column); this is rather a tongue-in-cheek article by someone standing in for the regular reviewer and who surmises ‘I can well imagine that the British reading public would find all this delightfully exotic.’


An Anonymous Tale of a British Genius at Large in New York


Within the next few weeks at dinner parties there will be much speculation as to the authorship of “The Gold Falcon”. Who is this person hiding . . . somewhere we have met him . . . It is impossible to remember the name for so many English visitors of the same sort have descended in New York and have returned home again. . . .


All this is not to say that Manfred did not appreciate New York, for often he catches the color and life of the city as it must appear to a visitor through a haze of our very bad imitation rye and scotch. There are times when one feels sorry for him and wishes he had died in the trenches as did his favourite poet Wilfred Owen [not the happiest of expressions ever written]. . . .


Cleveland Press (Elrick B. Davis), 2 September 1933 (21-inch column):


Whoever Did ‘Gold Falcon’, It’s Swell


Questing Soul Torn by Love Plus Life and Manners


Mostly American in scene, it is a novel that has set all literary Britain at a new guessing game. Now it is published here. It is a swell guessing game, but it is a better novel. There would be no real point in trying to guess who wrote it if it were not a very remarkable novel indeed. It is a very remarkable novel. . . . [goes on in this vein] . . .


Whoever wrote “The Gold Falcon” is touched with genius [precis of plot] . . . Well. “The Gold Falcon” has a story – a vivid, unconventional, nervous, compelling story. It has a theme and indicates a philosophy so provocative that sometimes it hurts.


It has more than that. It has humor that is sometimes cruel as acid and sometimes light-hearted as patter and always sure and always incredibly generous. . . .


What makes this [the best book] in a long, long, time, is its dissection of a questing soul in self-realized torment.


Dallas Morning News (William Wilson), 3 September 1933 (12-inch column):


[This anonymous book] has caused a sensation in England and which, because of its depth of content, its master craftsmanship and its compellingly beautiful style, deserves the highest praise. . . . [precis of plot] . . .


Manfred is certainly not a type character. He has the loneliness natural in one who thinks upon a high plane; he craves a love which he believes no woman has ever given him. He has the melancholy of Hamlet. . . . The war with its wanton inhumanity left him neurotic. It made him suffer deeply, but poets are the better for suffering. [Suspects this is autobiographical therefore anonymity understandable] . . .


All [the other characters] are unconventional, all are living rather frustrated lives, all are people the reader will follow with interest. [Names the most important with succinct portraits] . . . “The Gold Falcon” is not a book which can be read casually and dismissed easily. Obviously written by one who has thought and felt, it will mean most to those readers who have thought and felt.


New York Times Book Review, 3 September 1933:


gf review4a


gf review4b


Robert Graves was quick with a scathing response:


gf graves1


New York Herald Tribune (Eda Lou Walton), 3 September 1933 (about 20-inch column):


This novel, one of the best I have read in some time [some suggestions as to the author] . . . As a matter of fact, the story is, with divergence, Robert Graves’ own story, the same tale as was unrolled in “Goodbye to All That”. My guess would be that this astonishing book has been written by Laura Riding, or by [her] and Robert Graves in collaboration.


“The Gold Falcon” is a modern psychological mock-epic in which the hero is conscious every moment of his own Byronic sufferings. . . .


. . . The egotism, the romantic frenzy and bitter irony of the hero are the Byronic Manfred’s own; so, also, is the worship of the sun. But “The Gold Falcon” is also a most excellent study of war neurosis. The modern Manfred is the sum of all war novel heroes.


The style of the book is one of conscious exaggeration, tending at times towards a hysteria and at times towards the absurd. Often the tone of parody is here, but the book is no parody; both the author and the reader are kept in constant awareness of the intense seriousness of the character study. Manfred is the complete egotist, and also the complete critic of himself. . . . he becomes the symbol of all men who have suffered and endured and to no end whatsoever.


The reader beginning the book is conscious only of the deliberate artistry; gradually this artistry becomes so right for the dramatic effects that he reader forgets it and feels the constantly flickering emotions and personalities that come through it. Deliberate sentimentality, deliberate and pompous rhetoric, deliberate sublimity of style – all throwing the modern psychological searchlight direct upon the scene of character.


“The Gold Falcon” has attracted much comment and interest in England. It will terrify, annoy and amuse its American readers.


Robert Graves and Laura Riding promptly riposted:


gf graves2


These two reviews are so percipient it is a shame that their author rode the wrong authorial horse.


Robert Graves was a difficult and unpleasant man, who took offence and flared up easily. There was no love lost between him and HW anyway. He no doubt knew that HW had received one of the very few copies of Goodbye to All That containing the (terrifying and powerfully savage) anti-war poem by Siegfried Sassoon written, when in hospital with fever from wounds, in a letter to Graves, who had printed it without permission; all copies of the book had to be withdrawn (and were then published with several blank pages). Added to this was the fact that Graves revealed much information about Sassoon’s own army service in a book that was supposed to be his own biography, despite knowing that Sassoon was actively writing his own war volume. Sassoon was extremely upset by this behaviour, which caused a rift between them that was never healed. Graves certainly flared up now.  HW later approached Graves, sending him a postcard explaining that it was not his fault that these reviewers took up the attitude they did: Graves’ reply was to return the postcard enumerating all HW’s sins! It is known that Graves admitted that he made up several items within his own book anyway, so, although a good racy read it was not the great autobiographical work the public always thought it.


gf graves3


gf graves4


Louisville Courier & Journal (Mary Gaunt), 3 September 1933 (18-inch column):


. . . No novice could produce such a finished piece of work . . . [some general thoughts about whom the author could be] . . . [then long outline of the plot] . . .


That his book may be at least partly autobiographical is fairly evident. “The Gold Falcon” is not a novel in which there is a main character called Manfred. The book is Manfred, a point that is often painfully [obvious]. Manfred with his wit, his bravery, his doubts, dreads, hopes, and fears lives so vividly that the writer must almost be Manfred. Be that as it may, the author has created an amazingly arresting character and a book whose wit and philosophy envisage the death of an Old world and the birth of a New.


Florida Times & Union (M.E.F.), 10 September 1933 (8-inch column):


As a parting salutation to a very serious piece of writing, nothing is quite so fitting as anonymity, especially if the work is sincere and personal, and records suffering, laughter, courage, peace, fear, and, although defiant of life itself, all that makes up the ultimate defeat of living.


Manfred, war-time airman and poet, feeling that Europe is dying and that the old-world traditions are feeble and spent and cold, comes to America. . . . He is like a modern Ulysses. . . . all move across a scene which varies like the colours of a kaleidoscope, realistic, transient. . . .


Published last week in America, [following earlier English edition] The Gold Falcon will doubtless repeat its success . . . Several Englishmen and at least one American have been accredited with its authorship but Henry Williamson appears to be the most likely.


. . . drawing unforgettable pictures of New York as an Englishman would see it. . . .


A very serious book, sad and sometimes depressing in the relentless sweep of man’s sensibilities through torture and pain and loneliness, to certain defeat, even to death, which, as Manfred discovered, is kinder than love.


Salt Lake Times, 17 September 1933:




So clearly is there an autobiographical note in this book . . . William Rose Benet finds evidence pointing conclusively to Henry Williamson . . . if this were not so one might be inclined to agree with those who find the style of the writing proof of Robert Grave’s hand.


Indubitably it is the work of a poet, almost every page bears signs of the poetic fire and discontent. There is excellent writing here, brilliant in many passages, but also often a lack of restraint, a conscious striving for effect that, coupled with a peculiar symbolism and indefiniteness of intention, irritates the reader even while he is attracted and interested. “The Gold Falcon” is indeed a strange bird, whose erratic flight is followed with a good deal of bewilderment.


Manfred, the English poet whose spiritual struggle is depicted, is a supreme egoist, embodiment of all the postwar neuroticism and unrest; and often a bit of a bally ass, as he himself would admit. . . . [Analysis of the plot with comment follows.]


Durham Herald-Sun, N.C., 17 September 1933 (wherein the reviewer manages to contradict himself but perhaps it was a typographical error!):


There is very little doubt that the author of “The Gold Falcon” is not the young Englishman Robert Graves. The authorship has been accredited to such writers as Henry Williamson, T. E. Lawrence, Graves, and Christopher Morley. Williamson can easily be dismissed: he, along with two of the Powys brothers, writes strictly of English country life. Lawrence would have no cause to write such a book. Morley could perhaps write it, but he does not possess ample lyric flow.


Not only is Graves the author by process of elimination, but also for three reasons: [all based on comparison with “Goodbye to All That”, including fact of same publisher !] . . .


. . . The story in itself is fanciful, a mystical allegory conceived in grand poetic style, but it seems to lack unity of design and idea.


Richmond News (Mark Lutz), 15 September 1933 (14-inch column):


Romance, Realism and Fantasy Are Mixed in “The Gold Falcon”


If you like guessing games then . . . but what will give you real pause is whether “The Gold Falcon” is intended as satire or tragedy. A mixture of romance, realism and fantasy does not help you in arriving at an answer. . . .


. . . The descriptions of New York and the New England countryside are exceptionally well done . . . There is the question of whether the author intended Manfred to be the spokesman and representative of a whole generation and the novel to be a poetic allegory.


Whatever his intentions, whoever wrote “The Gold Falcon” has turned out an uncommonly interesting narrative in spite of its confusing unevenness of balance . . . it is obvious the book was written by an author of conspicuous talents.


New York World Telegram (Harry Hansen), 31 August 1933; (14 x 3-inch columns):


. . . may be classified as a love story or as a burlesque or as the story of a sensitive man’s search for inner peace among emotional bewilderment. In any case it has both brilliant and commonplace passages and exhibits both weakness and strength. . . . The title indicates . . . the hero’s inner predicament, his emotional maladjustment, his attempts to adjust himself to marriage, love and a post-war world and to defeat his own narcism.


The author is generally agreed to be Henry Williamson . . .


Present against their wishes are [list is quite astute so scanned in here for interest:]


gf characters3


He has, however, not been vicious in his caricatures. [Precis of plot follows]


The ending is moving, emphasising the author’s fine qualities, which are displayed rather unevenly in the rest of the book.


Wichita Beacon (W.M.), 18 September 1933 (9-inch column):


This tantalizing Byronic allegory has inspired critics of the East to considerable speculation as to who the author really is. [Edith Walton/Graves] . . .


Truly a bewildering story is The Gold Falcon. Its hero seems to be in a torment of his own making, because he is unable to adjust himself to the world about him. At times the author seems to be merely poking fun at the world. Then again he seems to be immersed completely in bewildered bitterness and indecision.


It might be called a study in arrested development. For Manfred seems to have ceased to progress after the war, as so many who went thru it. . . .


Macon News & Telegraph (Ben B. Johnston), 15 October 1933 (9-inch column):


Bitter commentary


[paragraph re speculation of author – prefers Morley but others Graves]


Whoever wrote the book did an excellent piece of work [precis of plot].


The plot has little to do with the interest and charm of this book. Its hold on the reader’s attention by its subtle exposition of Manfred’s personality and temperament – notably the dual nature of his emotional needs – and by its brilliant use of incident and topical detail in heightening the drama of his disillusion.

1947 edition:


There are very few reviews for the new edition in the archive files but they are of interest as a post-World War Two attitude and thought – free of the original obsession over the name of the author.


gf review1947a


However the pièce de résistance appeared in the Tribune, and despite many of the plot details being now very familiar, the reviewer makes some very pertinent comments. I think it is therefore worth reproducing the whole article:


gf review1947b






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