The Charlotte News

SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 1936


Grand Story Of The Irish School
In Kathleen Pawle's First Novel

By Kathleen Pawle. 274 pp.
Dodd, Mead. New York. $2.50

Reviewed By

Coming to Miss Pawle's novel after the immoderate and virtually indecent praise I had felt constrained to heap on Keith Winter's "Impassioned Pygmies," I was all set to give it a handsome lacing--both by way of getting that saccharine taste out of my mouth, and by way of defending my valuable reputation as a cynical and destructive fellow. But alas! It looks as though I'm going to be converted into a blurbist, willy-nilly and despite my best intentions to do right by my readers, if any.

I can tell you, indeed, that Miss Pawle is a young Englishwoman now living in California, and that therefore, and for all the fact that she has got herself married to an Irishman and has spent some years in the country, she has, under all the rational rules, no business to set up to interpret Ireland.

Echoes of Synge

I can tell you, again, that she has plainly read her Synge and her Yeats and her Joyce with assiduous devotion. There are passages where one hears again and too clearly the rhythm of "the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead"--passages where the Playboy and the tramp of the Glen of Wicklow too-obviously shine through--passages that might just as well have come out of "Cathleen in Hoolihan," or "Deirdrez" or out of "Ulysses" or "Portrait of the Artist" or "The Tinker's Wedding."

I can tell you also that occasionally her hand falters and is unsure, that toward the end, faced with the problem of disposing of a troublesome multitude of characters, she comes down with a bad case of hematomania and proceeds to murder them with an abandon which, even in Dublin in 1916, seems a little far-fetched. And there is a passage somewhere in which Miss Pawle makes a Cockney schoolboy of twelve--a product of London's Hammersmith, a gamin soul, full of precocity and enterprise, and no withdrawn dreamer--so ignorant of the "facts of life" that he inquires seriously if to kiss a gal is sure to land her in the maternity ward!

Best In a First

But having told you all that, I must tell you in the end that none of it matters. I must tell you that Miss Pawle has written what is in the large, one of the best first novels I have clapped eyes on in many a moon--a novel so engrossing that I could not let it go until I had completed it.

The tale she tells is a fine melodramatic and full-bodied one. Briefly, it is the tale of Ignatius Proudfoot from his twelfth year to his seventeenth; of his family; of his love for the wildly imaginative girl Maureen McCarthy; of his schooldays at Dublin and his friendship with Jeremiah O'Sullivan, the Cockney Irishman, with Paddy Nolan, with Finlay, the son of an English squire with Irish blood in his veins, with McDowell, who wants to be a priest, and with Healy, obsessed with hate for the English and dreaming solely of one thing, the liberation of Ireland in a sea of blood; and of how, under Healy's influence, these boys all become involved in the abortive rebellion headed by Padraic Pearse, of how Healy kills Finlay for having gone over to the side of his native England, how McDowell is shot along with Pearse, and how Proudfoot and Maureen are forced to flee to America.

Grand Irish Picture

And on the framework of that tale, Miss Pawle has hung a magnificent picture of Ireland and the Irish. And what a country it is! A land so old, so steeped in memory, that medieval ruins are of no account as things belonging to a mere yesterday, a land set about with the mounds of the Old People, where as every good Celt knows, the fay folk have their dwelling and come out at night to play under the misty moon, a land alive, haunted at every step, with the ghosts of a past so remote that it survives only in legend--with the ghosts of Finn and Ossian and Diarmuld and Grania and Ouchulain and the Hein of the West--of the Great Red Kings and the Great Black Kings of Tara's hall and the rock of Casel and the hill of Ward.

And what a people! At once the proudest and most abject, the most finely imaginative and most sottish, the bawdiest and the purest, the most completely hedonistic and the most completely Puritanical, the bravest and the most incalculable of the Western world. A people who, whether or not it be literally true that they ever went swinging into battle kicking a football before them, would certainly have done so had the notion occurred to them. A people who having fought steadily for a thousand years for freedom, have always sold it for a song when it seemed within their grasp. A people gloriously devoid of that contemptible virtue, modesty--a people of whom the last and most fallen man still confidently counts and announces himself "the King of Ireland's son!"

Good Characters

The character drawing in Miss Pawle's novel is of the first order. From Father O'Neill, the glorious priest, down to that other O'Neill who died "as an O'Neill might wish to die, brandy by his side, his lips to his Crucifix, fully conscious and in great pain at the end," and down to Danny Fannigan to the boozing Dublin Jarvey, nobody appears in these pages who is not fully limned and convincing. And her painting of such historical figures as the poet, Pearse, and the labor leader, Connolly, give me a far more satisfying sense of reality than the accounts of people who know them in the flesh.

Finally, the book is extraordinarily eloquent. Miss Pawle, indeed, must have a good deal of Irish blood in her somewhere--or she has made that perilous climb to kiss the stone. For the gift of blarney is certainly with her. There are times when her eloquence--and her eloquence in her own right--actually approaches to that of Synge himself.

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