Posts Tagged ‘1912 Novel’

The Prelude to Adventure by Hugh Walpole ~ 1912. This edition: Macmillan and Co., 1925. Hardcover. 310 pages.

One of Walpole’s more obscure early works, and perhaps deservedly so, for what an odd little tale this is. The Prelude to Adventure is the fourth novel by the subsequently very prolific Hugh Walpole – a reliable book-a-year man for the next three decades – published when he was twenty-eight.

It concerns a Cambridge undergraduate, one Olva Dune, and, with Walpole himself only 6 years past his Cambridge graduation, one can assume that the college scenes at least are portrayed with accuracy.

The God angle as well stems from personal experience. Walpole, son of an Anglican clergyman, lost his own religion as a young man, and at first refused to admit it to his family; his subsequent writings frequently contain characters grappling with the “Is there a God?’ quandary.

“There is a God after all.” That was the immense conviction that faced him as he heard, slowly, softly, the leaves, the twigs, settle themselves after that first horrid crash which the clumsy body had made.

Olva accidentally kills a despised fellow student in a moment of righteous rage, all unwitnessed, except by God, wherein lies the key to the tale, as Olva Dune struggles mightily with his conscience and his newly wakened awareness of a Higher Power. Things are complicated by his confession to a religion-addled compatriot, and even more so by his falling in love.

There is much inner dialogue, and a rather odd non-resolution at the end, with Olva apparently dodging the earthly penalty for his crime of passion, and instead heading out with a rucksack to hike about and undertake whatever penance God will put upon him. The four people he confessed to seem to think this is a fine compromise, and the last chapter is paradoxically titled ‘First Chapter’:

The sun was rising, hard and red, over Sannet Wood and the white frozen flats, when Olva Dune set out…

Often referred to as a psychological drama, and that does sum it up as well as anything: Carl Jung in a letter to the author describes this as a “psychological masterpiece”. Fair enough; Jung should know.

Though Prelude concerns an unsolved death (though we of course know who the killer is, and Olva ends up confessing to four other people on separate occasions), it’s not a murder mystery in any sense of the term, though it is sometimes described that way by people who obviously haven’t actually read the thing.

Walpole himself described it as a Fantasia, and that suffices as well as anything else. I’ve happily read a fair bit of Walpole over the years, and this turned out to be a work on the lower end of my personal enjoyment scale – much too overwrought and frenetically stream-of-consciousness – and though it has its moments I can’t say that I recommend it for Walpole neophytes. More of a completest’s novel, I would say.

If you are curious, check it out for free on Project Gutenberg. Early hardcover editions start at just a few dollars on ABE, but because it is long out of copyright, most of the offerings you will find are print-on-demand.

My rating: 4/10

Read Full Post »