The Golden Virgin - Critical reception

 

 

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Critical reception:

 

In particular let me start with the cuttings HW himself placed in the front of his own file copy.

 


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But immediately came the awful faux pas committed by Kenneth Allsop, which completely ruined the publication day for HW, embarrassing him publicly. It had all started so well, as can be seen first by a major article by HW printed in the Daily Mail in June; then by a telegram from Allsop addressed to HW, who was on holiday with John Heygate in Ireland.

 


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Kenneth Allsop's Daily Mail article, 7 September 1957; apart from the faux pas about the Military Cross the article is very good:

 


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The final Daily Mail item adds a most extraordinary poignancy:

 


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The build-up to the book’s publication had begun earlier in the year.

 

Liverpool Daily Post, 26 June 1957 (‘Brother Savage’, Books and Bookmen – I do not know who ‘Brother Savage’ is, but obviously a member of the Savage club, and knows HW well.) This evidently regular column is written in an easy ‘chatty’ style:

 

Admirers in London of Henry Williamson’s books have long since resigned themselves to losing touch with him personally from time to time. He lives as far as possible from cities and the roar of the crowd . . . but they are quite happy about it, as long as in his retreat he continues to write such splendid books as “Fox Under My Cloak”. . . . Its successor is announced for the late summer. “The Golden Virgin” is a continuation of Phillip Maddison’s story. . . .

 

The setting of the story is war and especially the Golden Virgin of Albert Cathedral, all but shattered by German shells yet offering to Phillip and many like him the symbol of life that would be upright, noble and fundamentally simple in its beliefs.

 

Books and Bookmen, August 1957, ‘On the Way’ (unsigned – but is ‘Brother Savage’ as is shown):

 

Henry Williamson is a writer who in his own lifetime seems already to have secured a place in posterity. In The Golden Virgin he writes once again of Phillip Maddison . . . and is concerned with new aspects of the first “war to end wars” . . . [The wording here is exactly the same as that of Brother Savage as above – but includes a further sentence at the end:] A symbol like itself, now poised perilously between standing and falling.

 

Smith’s Trade News (compiled by William Lloyd), 7 September 1957:

 

Henry Williamson’s magnificent large-scale saga of the life and times of Phillip Maddison is carried a stage further in this latest volume which has been selected as the Daily Mail Book of the Month. . . .

 

How he finds inspiration in the Golden Virgin of Albert Cathedral which has almost been destroyed by German shells, and makes it a symbol of a future which will develop the best side of him, is narrated with great power and compassion. Character drawing, as is customary with this writer, is firmly executed.

 

News Chronicle (David Holloway),11 September 1957:

 

. . . a further long instalment of the gigantic Maddison saga . . . The period covered is a few months either side of the opening of the Battle of the Somme . . . There is far less about the actual fighting . . . [Phillip] is still having trouble with socially superior officers and will not believe that he can be any sort of success with women. . . . The occasional battles are vivid. So are many of the scenes of London in 1916. But through most of the 446 pages the pace is deathly slow.

 

Coventry Evening Telegraph (the name is cut off but appears to be ‘Bookman’),12 September 1957, 11” column, plus irrelevant photo of a ship which presumably illustrates another book reviewed:

 


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[It continues:] I am quoting from [The Golden Virgin] . . . in an all too inadequate attempt to give you some idea of the honesty and understanding you will find in a fine novel. . . . This book, like its predecessor “A Fox Under My Cloak”, is filled with compassion, . . . war is only part of the pattern so vividly created.

 

Phillip Maddison’s idealism; his uneasiness; his groping after some meaning to his life; his fears; . . . I have read nothing that has brought the period and its people . . . so alive.

 

When he finishes his grand design we shall, I believe, have a work of fiction that will not be forgotten.

 

Yorkshire Evening Press (S.S.), 12 September 1957, 10” column (those initials are suggestive, especially combined with the final quotation – could it be Siegfried Sassoon?)

 

The holocaust that was the Somme . . .

 

Henry Williamson is a man with an obsession . . . And Williamson’s obsession – magnificent enough for any man – is to find the ultimate meaning of the mass slaughter that used to be called the Great War, to penetrate to the truth lying beneath and behind all the destruction and sorrow. The author sees it all as a tragedy of massed lovelessness, of an unavailing – and often unrecognised – search for love . . .

 

There is also a memorable picture of Maddison’s repressed, embittered father: and all the time we can feel at work the pen of the historian, tracing the gradual change from an old England to a new . . .

 

On laying down the book one can only exclaim: “The pity of it”.

 

Truth (Eric Gillett), 13 September 1957:

 

The Golden Virgin is the famous statue on Albert Cathedral [continues with the legend] . . . [the scenes of trench warfare] are authentic and one can be enthusiastic about [their] accuracy. The rest of the book is curiously old-fashioned and outmoded.

 

The reviewer makes the very unfortunate error of calling Phillip ‘Paul’, which may have been the root cause for HW’s long and somewhat irate letter in the issue dated 27 September 1957 – but he was also no doubt still upset about Allsop’s perfidy, as his response seems a little out of proportion: ‘May I ask for space to implement what your reviewer says about my novel?’[‘implement’ seems an odd word to use here?] HW proceeds to give reasons for Phillip’s ‘(not Paul)’behaviour – which is obvious to anyone reading these books with empathy – but he also states most interestingly:

 

Phillip is hypersensitive . . . He is also, unknown to himself and others, shellshocked – a condition not at that time recognised. He is basically loveless . . . The theme of the book, as exemplified by certain good soldiers who befriend Phillip, is that men who are calm, with inner harmony, are those who have love in their lives. With this love, faith in god, surety of honour, sense of duty, and courage. By contrast, lack of love creates fear and hate . . . All the characters in the book reveal, in their kind or unkind behaviour towards each one another . . . the underlying theme of love and the loveless. . . . [Phillip knew] that the real enemy of the war was not the German soldier. It was hate.

 

[HW was by this time working on his next volume of the Chronicle,  the title of which was Love and the Loveless.] His final paragraph looks forward from the point of this novel, but specifying that Phillip’s father had been denied love, and his whole life ‘had been spent at a desk in the City of London, under artificial light'.

 


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HW also wrote to Wolverhampton's Express and Star. Unfortunately there is no copy of the original review, although again his response seems out of proportion; but perhaps this cleared the angst out of his system!

 


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The Bookseller (Whitefriar),14 September 1957:

 

The Mail did a fine piece on a fine book. . . . Until I read The Golden Virgin [after Allsop’s review] I had judged his The Gold Falcon [1933] to be his best effort. Now I know better. For forty years Williamson has been obsessed by World War I . . . I won’t be surprised to see him hailed as that war’s greatest novelist.

 

The Times, 19 September 1957, also printed in The Times Weekly Review, 26 September 1957:

 

Mr. Henry Williamson can write about animals . . . but when it comes to human beings he is tied by his memories and his limitations as a novelist to one type existing at one moment in history. . . . For Mr. Williamson it is always July 1 1916, that day of doom and destiny . . . Wherever Mr. Williamson is, there is the chalk country of the Somme, and this identification of himself and his writing with the past is as passionate as it is natural and unrestrained. But “past” is the wrong word. With Mr. Williamson it is the present and this sleight-of-mind, combined with his keen bird-vision for detail, make his battle scenes unique. His writing . . . [is] a corrective to, and a complement of, the war poems of [Grenfell and Brooke – who appear in his story] . . . the slant of his emotion inclines more towards Mr. Sassoon.

 

[However, this reviewer does not like Phillip in the home scenes:] falling in love and interminably brooding about himself.

 

The Observer (Tom Hopkins – HW noted: ‘Original editor of Picture Post & left-wing intellectual'), 22 September 1957; that he had no empathy with the First World War is very apparent by his opening sentence:

 

The Golden Virgin – she is a statue on a ruined church and scarcely enters the story . . . The book is a long-winded, slow-moving compilation . . . The author is not really at home with people . . . He turns with relief to nature, to his knowledge and insight into wild creatures and their lives; to the quotation of poetry that he loves.

 

The Sunday Times (Hilary Seton), 22 September 1957:

 

The first world war, as it was fought, as it appeared to those at home, and as it was endured by Phillip Maddison . . . Henry Williamson has once again re-created it with harrowing, frequently sickening detail, permeating the scenes of action with a living minute-by-minute intensity and transmitting to the narrative his own, very deep feeling. The suffering of a nation is compellingly illustrated.

 

Oxford Times, 27 September 1957:

 

Mr. Williamson is concerned in this long, too long, novel with another stage in the life of his Phillip Maddison, at home and in France during the 1914-18 war. . . . This one feels must have been very much what it was like for the young man of 40 years ago to be faced with the hell of no-man’s land. Here are the setting, the men, the action, the horror, all set down dispassionately and graphically. The story of Phillip at home, before and after the battle, is far less gripping.

 

Oxford Mail (B. Evan Owen), 19 September 1957:

 

The World of Henry Williamson

 

There is no better chronicler of the 1914-18 world war then Mr. Henry Williamson, one of the few living novelists capable of writing in the grand manner [then basically goes through the plot].

 

Eastern Daily Press (M.P.), 13 September 1957; the reviewer takes the reader through a résumé of the plot – of which he considers the pivotal point is Phillip’s meeting with Father Aloysius and the religious connotations:

 

Not yet for him the fold of Catholicism, but the gates have been opened. [War does Phillip good] helps to stay the moral rot; and it does the same for Lily, his pick-up girl at home . . . [they] arrange to go to Mass together: and it is then that the Golden Virgin in the battered cathedral of Albert must have smiled.

 

In its wide compass of human nature and of war and in the subtle beauty of its prose, this is a novel of entertaining distinction.

 

Western Morning News, 27 September 1957:

 

. . . another grand volume in the saga of Phillip Maddison, now grown to one of the longest life stories ever written. That it becomes more enthralling as each volume is added derives from the intense feeling with which the author develops each episode. . . . no formal plot other than life itself.

 

The author’s dramatic contrast between life at home and at the front at that time is in no way exaggerated. But above all Williamson is concerned with the spiritual evolution of his young hero, displayed objectively without comment. . . .

 

Such a realistic novel should live in literature a long time.

 

North Devon Journal & Herald (Elizabeth Mitchell), 3 October 1957:

 

Over the years in the Maddison saga Mr. Henry Williamson has been building up with infinite care the character of a sensitive boy in a loveless world.

 

Phillip Maddison has the mind of a poet, but lacking the understanding, guidance, and affection his complicated nature needs he has become guilt-ridden and unsure of his abilities. Now at the age of 21, in the middle of the great holocaust of 1914-18 war, he begins to find his way.

 

Greater tolerance for himself and for others, and love for mankind make the answer he finds: “Love was before the stars were flames, and Love would remain when they were burned out. Love was the spirit of the universe, shining in the Abyss.”

 

Glasgow Herald, 19 September 1957:

 

Forty years after, and with too many uncounted wars in between, one is inclined to approach a novel about the First World War with reluctance. . . . fearing that [The Golden Virgin] is yet another version of “All Quiet” is to be hopelessly, wonderfully wrong. . . .

 

Phillip Maddison, unheroic hero, goes to the mud of the Somme from a real world of suburb and tea, muddled morality, and Nash’s magazine. . . .

 

The battle scenes and the dreadful details of trench life are written with remorseless realism: but Phillip, his friends and his girls, bring alive a whole era in which both Julian Grenfell and Siegfried Sassoon fall into place, and the speeches of Lloyd George are given a bitter perspective.

 

Manchester Evening News (David Brett), 21 September 1957, 9½” column; opening with a précis of HW’s description of the scene pre-1 July 1916, the reviewer continues:

 

. . . Flesh and blood can stand just so much, and the long-drawn agony of Mr. Williamson’s war, meticulously remembered, dispassionately described, goes on and on until it bites deep into the marrow . . . [It] is like watching a very old news reel . . . uncut and uncensored, stark and horrible. . . . Terrifying in its actuality, damning in its implication. A record for all time. . . . Yet the author makes no attempt to shock. Why should he? . . . The flower of a nation thrown into a glory-hole; withering, dying in mud and terror and on the uncut barbed wire.

 

This reviewer (one of only two I found) also covers Portrait of a Rebel by Richard Aldington [to whom The Golden Virgin is dedicated], his biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. As with several of Aldington’s biographies, this exposes Stevenson’s weaknesses – that he claimed a grandiosity that had no basis. The reviewer ends: ‘And in Richard Aldington’s harshly-fair appreciation all the brave, unquenchable, uncompromising spirit of the man bursts into flame.’

 

The Spectator (Francis Wyndham), 27 September 1957:

 

While we are waiting for the great English novel of the Second World War, Henry Williamson continues, with unhurried dignity, to write about the first. . . . This is an old-fashioned novel, slow-moving, full of documentary detail and centred on the sensitive youth . . . The battle scenes are very fine, the fruit of vivid experience that has been digested for forty years.

 

Queen (Michael Harrison), 1 October 1957:

 


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The Golden Virgin . . . is a masterly novel in every way: the mature work of a mature writer, who can survey the past without sentimentality, yet whose bitterness has a vintage quality, where an all-embracing charity has purged out the rawness of blind instinctive protest against the unfairness – the waste – of life. . . . This latest novel . . . centres the spiritual development of young Phillip Maddison. . . . Bewildered because he seems to be unable to conform, in his own mind, to the classic, copy-book conception of a hero . . . [but] boasting, evading, hoping, dreaming, getting tight, and reaching out to the stars, Phillip Maddison, at twenty-one, grows up. He is at once both the epitome and the symbol of Man. The Golden Virgin has tenderness uncorroded by self-pity; it has nobility based on, and never divorced from, the simple, the common, way of living. It is a memorable – a wonderful – book.

 

Time and Tide (Fred Urquhart), 28 September 1957:

 

Has any study of the work of Henry Williamson been published? If not, such a critical appreciation is overdue. . . . [And how does the Flax of Dream series compare with the new series? – then proceeds to précis the plot of The Golden Virgin] . . .

 

Mr. Williamson gives the best picture I’ve ever read not only of the ‘nightlife’ of London but of the lives and feelings of its ordinary suburban citizens of that era, with a more authentic atmosphere [than most other books]. I read it with fascination . . . [greatly] due to the unsentimental yet sensitive unfolding of the character of Phillip. At times one feels like kicking him for his pomposity and priggishness . . . yet here is a portrait of a fundamentally nice youth – a young man whose emotions are understandable.

 

[The Golden Virgin] demands closer inspection . . . I should not be surprised if eventually Mr. Williamson’s sagas about Willie and Phillip Maddison come to be regarded as two of the major achievements of twentieth century literature.

 

The Bookseller, 5 October 1957 (‘Under Review’, Henry Puffmore); this is the second review in this journal). It is in direct response to Fred Urquhart’s review above, and is actually an oblique warning to reviewers to stop being slick and clever. It refers to John Moore’s September Moon, given similar treatment to The Golden Virgin:

 

Mr. Fred Urquhart’s review of . . . offered a reasoned opinion. A number of early reviewers had seemed . . . [to regard] the author’s hero as something of a bore, [and the story] pedestrian. But Mr. Urquhart thought a critical appreciation of this work was overdue. . . . I contemplate with interest the possibilities of even later reviews.

 

[The Bookseller was the bible of the literary world – everyone read it:so who rose to this challenge?]

 

Books and Bookmen, October 1957 (unsigned but I think one can assume ‘Brother Savage’, as in the earlier ‘B&B’ reviews – but this cannot have been in response to Puffmore’s challenge – it would have been written well before. However it makes a nice juxtaposition!) A superb write-up as ‘PERSONALITY OF THE MONTH’ – even if one or two ‘facts’ are incorrect.

 


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The Times Literary Supplement, 11 October 1957,10” column (This was in response?) This is the review pasted into the front of HW’s own copy.

 

The Golden Virgin is the sixth volume of Henry Williamson’s roman-fleuve of the Maddison family. The period is 1915-16 and the setting South London and the Western Front. . . . It is difficult to know what to admire more, the skill of the characterisation or the art by which the character is subordinated to the theme without contrivance and without loss of humanity. The theme is the war. Like a distant barrage it thunders incessantly in the mind even when Phillip is reliving some idyll of childhood or adolescence. . . . Richard Maddison reads garbled accounts of trench life with the enjoyment [of a schoolboy]. . . .

 

This double vision cuts Phillip off from his family and friends. He is driven in on himself, a self that his father’s early harshness has taught him to despise. [where will he find the courage to face the Front Line – no answer to that – but when time comes, he leads his men over the top] . . .

 

The pathos is intensified by the hero’s youth . . . he desperately wants to do the right thing but what is it?

 

Not the least valuable aspect is the scrupulous fidelity to contemporary detail. Advertisements, quotations from newspapers, dialogue, all are in key. The restaurants of the West End, the streets of South London materialize before the reader’s eye like an Edwardian photograph brought to life. The same gifts of accurate observation touched with poetry reconstruct the unnatural landscape of the trenches and people it with the officers and men of Kitchener’s Army.

 

The Daily Telegraph (John Betjeman), 11 October 1957:

 

For some years now that excellent nature writer Henry Williamson has been turning his attention to pre-1914 South London suburban life. In “The Golden Virgin” he traces the career of Phillip Maddison (why does he spell Phillip with two “l’s”) on leave in south London in 1915 and in the second and finer half of the book, in the Battle of the Somme.

 

The description recalls the thunder of guns, the squelching horror of that First World War . . . without a trace of self-pity and a deep understanding of fear.

 

The Cork Examiner, 10 October 1957; a whole broadsheet page of ‘Book Reviews’ from a good old-fashioned daily newspaper – sent no doubt by John Heygate (it does not have the usual ‘Durrant’s’ news-cutting service tag). An interesting factor with all these reviews within HW’s own archive is the number of other book titles they contain – all look interesting but few have stood the test of time. On this page alone there are 22 titles, most of which get several column inches coverage: one on the R101 airship, The Millionth Chance, James Leason; Up and Out, John Cowper Powys; two books on Mary Kingsley; in the ‘shorter Notices’ appear The Railway Children and new translation of Pinocchio. Of great interest is a long analysis of Portrait of a Rebel, Richard Aldington’s assessment of Robert Louis Stevenson (27” column) – only the second one I found in this whole file:

 

While exploring, and perhaps exploiting, elemental causes, biographer Richard Aldington specialises in exploding current mythologies. Typical of his dynamiting method are two recent works on D. H. Lawrence and Lawrence of Arabia. . . . [Concerning RLS] Aldington characteristically concerns himself with the essential man dimmed under his own deliberate poses . . . in demolishing the “plastered saint” conveys a ruthlessly human portrait . . . [wherein] RLS is returned to us more of a hero than ever.

 

HW and The Golden Virgin gets an 11” column under the heading ‘To End All Wars’:

 

When fears of a third world war [and when others are writing about the Second] . . . it is a trifle surprising . . . a novel relating to the first war, the Kaiser’s, as it is sometimes called [and states that the overall effect is of a saga].

 

Against the canvas of England fighting the war “to end all wars” . . . the portrait presented is of a young man puzzled by something but not sure what. [Catholics are presented as an answer.]

 

The theme of the novel (taken from the Albert statue and not the ‘blonde maiden’) is the existence within every man of an impersonal love for his fellow man, a love which is a motive force for living. When the novel comes to an end, Maddison is on the threshold of discovery of that love. . . .

 

Sphere (Vernon Fane, ‘The World of Books’), 19 October 1957:

 

[The Golden Virgin] is new novel about a young man and his sometimes rapturous, sometimes agonising development of mind and spirit during the First World War. It always seems too long between Williamson’s books, which is as complimentary [as one could be] . . . the present one, with its deeply serious tone but its grace of touch, is as satisfying as its predecessors.

 

Universe, 25 October 1957, 5½” column:

 

The title derives from . . . [the golden virgin of Albert] . . . the young subaltern whose wartime experiences are told in prose that reaches an almost epic level when it comes to the mud, misery and meaningless massacre of the Somme battles of 1916.

 

East Essex Gazette (The Looker On), 1 November 1957, 36” column, including photo

 

THE FLOWERS OF THE FOREST

 

Forty Years after: Henry Williamson’s great book of the first world war

 

BATTLE OF THE SOMME

 

. . . there appears what must surely be one of the great war books of our time. [The reviewer refers to John Osborne ‘who looks back in anger’ and ‘tells us his object is to make us feel’, but this demands a sympathetic skill]. Mr. Osborne may one day find that skill. Mr. Williamson is alive with it.

 

The book recounts the experiences and bewilderments of a sensitive young man, Phillip Maddison, in south London and on the Western Front – all unquiet on the Western Front – between the first blooding of Kitchener’s Army at Loos and the Battle of the Somme. [The reviewer then details that battle.]

 

The re-creative power of the book is uncanny. Everything at home and overseas will be found “as you were” by those who lived in those times and shared in them. The colours, drab or bright, are in perfect register. The lonely desperations of this boy are revealed with uncommon insight in a cool, clear prose style. . . .

 

Now, as November 11 comes round once again with Flanders poppies and old memories, this truthful and beautiful book, magical in its heart-searching and compelling to read, lays its garland of flowers at the base of the cenotaph in Whitehall, erected long ago to commemorate the great company who died in “the war to end wars”.

 

Few in those days could have been brought to believe that the next generation would go armed once more along the road to Bapaume.

 

At the bottom of this long piece is appended the following quotation: it does not say so, but it is part of the quotation HW places at the beginning of Part One of The Golden Virgin.

 

The Illustrated London News (K. John – against whose name HW has written: ‘The daughter of ‘Tenby Jones’, the painter in G.V.’ i.e. Augustus John), 9 November 1957:

 

 

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St Martin’s Review (William Kean Seymour), November 1957:

 

MY CHOICE THIS MONTH

 

. . . [re Tarka and Salar] but for some years past Mr. Williamson has been producing instalments of a great work of fiction [WKS includes The Flax of Dream in his overall view] . . . the million or so words already written demonstrate the genius in conception and the steady fulfilment. . . . Mr. Williamson analyses [Phillip] and his family and associates as tenderly and as remorselessly . . . each paragraph is flooded with illumination and conviction. . . .

 

So powerful is the writing and so lucent with light and pulsing rhythm that The Golden Virgin must be acclaimed independently as one of the great war novels of the century. . . . Mr. Williamson makes no concession to the popular taste for larger-than-life heroes and happy endings: he is an artist first and last and his work will endure as an unforgettable picture of a lost generation.

 

Books and Bookmen (Reginald Moore), December 1957 (their third bite at the cherry!):

ASKING FOR OBJECTIVITY

 

A controversial Russian novel ‘promises more than it provides [Vladimir Dudintsev, Not By Bread Alone: widely reviewed alongside HW’s The Golden Virgin in many columns]; a Finnish historical novel written with fidelity. . . [Mika Waltair, The Etruscan]; a finely balanced story of the Great War I enhances a novelist’s reputation [HW, The Golden Virgin]; a novel about entertainers contains splendid, vibrant and living characters [Norah Hoult, Father and Daughter].

 

. . . Henry Williamson’s The Golden Virgin is as good a novel of the Great War as I have ever read. The picture is so complete. [The reviewer takes the main features of the plot and succinctly places their value in Phillip’s development – especially Fr Aloysius] whose faith and philosophy are helping to bring something good and enduring out of the muck and muddle of war. . . . [But whatever Phillip does] we know that it is only an interlude between acts of tragedy that involves them all. A fine sensitively balanced story that enhances Henry Williamson’s already considerable reputation as a novelist.

 

BBC Network Three: ‘The World of Books’, 23 November 1957; This had been scheduled for 7 December but last minute change:]

 


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Reviews also appeared of the 1963 paperback edition (mainly just mentions of the book):

 

Smith’s Trade News (‘Whitefriar talking’), 28 September 1963, very short column.  Panther’s top title is Xavier Herbert’s Soldier’s Women (Australian war & sex setting). The list includes The Golden Virgin.

 

Retail Newsagent (Stephen Mogridges), 12 October 1963, short column; again the star title is Soldier’s Women (413 pages) – then:

 

Continuing the series of novels by Henry Williamson dealing with World War I Panther now reissue his massive volume The Golden Virgin. This follows the fortunes of his hero Phillip Maddison after Ypres. 383 pp. 5/-

 

National Newsagent, 19 October 1963; Top title here is Philip McCutcheon’s Bluebolt One (spy thriller) and again Soldier’s Women.

 

War is also the subject of The Golden Virgin . . .

 

Irish Times (B.P.F.), 16 November 1963; the main review here is for Penguin reissues of Colette’s works (11” column) – lesbianism being the ‘tag’. The Golden Virgin gets 2 inches:

 

. . . [not as good as A Fox Under My Cloak] . . . Williamson labours deep in the mines of the past, throwing up great heaps of rubble with gleams of his own vein of ore. [Interestingly mentions Thomas Mann, with whom I have compared HW.]

 

“There is poetry in the book”, said Carlyle while toiling over his translation of “Wilhelm Meister”, “and prose, prose for ever.” Williamson’s plodding lower-middle-class prosiness is a barrier to those who dislike, or ignore, the real power and vision behind.

 

Evening Argus (Brighton) (Gordon Thomas, ‘Paperback Parade’), 10 October 1963:

 

‘Great’ War? – great book

 

More than 500,000 of Kitchener’s men fell in the unspeakable agony of the Somme . . . A generation of children without fathers; a generation of women without husbands. [The reviewer first mentions Covenant with Death, John Harris’s terrific novel about Kitchener’s men and the battle of the Somme.]

 

Today that bitterness is kindled again in a novel that must rank as one of the greatest about the Great War – indeed any war. It is THE GOLDEN VIRGIN . . . sixth in “A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight” – a series which has rightly won unstinted praise. Panther have done justice with a superb jacket that, like a Giles drawing [cartoonist of note] you can look at and find something new each time you look.

 

A great part of this book is concerned with the Somme - a battle that destroyed thousands of lives in a mere matter of moments. . . . Twenty-four years later it had started all over again – against Hitler.

 

Nobody seemed to learn.

 


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