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Books: Class Romance

3 minute read

DERELICTS — William McFee — Doubleday, Doran ($2.50).

Chief Engineer Spenlove is a garrulous, ironic, goateed alter ego whom William McFee invented in 1920 in Captain Macedoine’s Daughter. Last week Mr. Spenlove ambled forth again. As in The Harbourmaster and The Beachcomber, Derelicts is the story of Mr. Spenlove telling a story. The listener is again a rich American woman passenger (this time on a luxury cruise to the West Indies), whose incredible patience really entitles her to be called the story’s heroine.

Derelicts is only superficially a sea story, only superficially a novel. It is really a slow-motion stalking horse for McFee’s very positive views on the relationship of social classes, particularly in the U. S.

Since becoming a U. S. citizen after his retirement from the sea to Connecticut in 1925, big, blond, 57-year-old William McFee has brooded constantly over the misfortune that Americans (unlike Englishmen) have no solidified caste system. As a result, he says, the U. S. masses are forever filled with diseased aspirations to ape the rich, and the U. S. rich are forever uneasy in their “fear of revolt and the destruction of their ordered existence.”

This social mess has a particularly un fortunate effect on love: it results in what Spenlove-McFee calls another Gresham’s law,* in which good love, i. e., based on mutual class interests, hasn’t got a chance. Through Spenlove, a lower middle-class student in “the natural history of the well-to-do,” Author McFee has a direct mouthpiece for his ironic reflections on the state of the U. S. rich (whose uneasiness, one gathers, serves them right).

Through the story which Spenlove tells to socialite Mrs. Colwell, Author McFee portrays the stanch stuff of the British aristocrat, one Captain Remson, who suffered many cruel misfortunes after his unjust dismissal as a young officer from a crack British steamship line. The worst of these was his marriage to a beautiful U. S. heiress, a friend of the woman to whom Spenlove tells the story. (Captain Remson’s wife had been too corrupted, apparently, by the slack code of U. S. high society to understand an English gentleman.) Remson finally ended up in the South American jungle, where legend had it he had found gold mines. Actually his treasure trove was an ideal woman and ideal peace, manifesting “a character that seems to me likely to carry him through our times and on into better times.”

*Bad money drives out good.

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