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Books: Tour de Force

2 minute read

TESTAMENT—R. C. Hutchinson—Farrar & Rinehart ($3).

When Ray Coryton Hutchinson’s fourth novel, Shining Scabbard, was published last year, one excited English reviewer called him “one of the very few living English novelists who will be read fifty— perhaps a hundred—years hence.” Other reviewers did not hurl their hats quite so high, but they agreed on Hutchinson’s amazing virtuosity.

Onetime ad writer for a mustard concern and sober-living father of three, Author Hutchinson* wrote The Answering Glory, an intense story of a woman missionary in Africa, from the snug purview of his London suburb. Although he was only eleven when the Armistice was signed, The Unforgotten Prisoner was an apparently first-hand account of English and German War victims. And he wrote Shining Scabbard, a grim novel of French family life, with no closer acquaintance with France than French literature.

His most ambitious tour de force so far, Testament is Author Hutchinson’s try at assimilating Russia: a Russian novel, with an all-Russian cast of characters, covering the last years of the War and the first years of the Revolution. In its length (693 pages), its crowded, turbulent background, its hero-intellectual (a Christ-like count who opposes both Tsarism and the Revolution), Testament is clearly patterned after the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

To hurried readers Author Hutchinson will appear to have met these great Russians on their own ground. He gives a remarkably sympathetic characterization of Russian intellectuals and professionals; he writes exciting, if confused, narrative; even achieves some of the massive tediouness of the Russian novelists. But where the Russians succeeded best—in portraying the Russian peasantry who shaped the character of the Revolution—Author Hutchinson fails: the brilliant Russian surface of Testament cracks open to reveal dim, confused sketches of the real thing, a novel that at the core is English after all.

*Not to be confused with A. S. M. Hutchinson, who wrote If Winter Comes (see p. 86).

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