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The Graftons: A Novel

A Novel

Archibald Marshall

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
This novel, though it is complete in itself, deals with the same characters as "Abington Abbey." Its publication gives me the opportunity of replying to some criticisms of that novel, which would apply equally to this one. The criticisms to which I refer have to do, not with faults of authorship, to which it would not be becoming to reply, but with matters for which an apology, or at least an explanation, may be offered. The first has been that in such times as these a novel dealing with minor currents of life as they existed before the war is something of an anachronism. Perhaps it is. In the fourth year of the war, life as it is depicted in these two novels seems already far away. But what is a novelist of manners to do, granted the assumption—admittedly debateable—that he is to go on writing novels at all? He must either write about the war, in one or other of its far-reaching effects upon life, or else he must leave it alone altogether. At least, those are the only alternatives that I have felt to be open to me; and, after having written one novel with the war as its deliberate climax, I have chosen the latter. When the war is over, it will be possible to take its adjustments into account as affecting everyday life, but while it is going on I do not think it is possible. It looms too big. Minor affairs would have their values in contrast with it, and truth would suffer. If further justification were necessary, I think I could find it in the relief it brings from the heavy weight of the war to turn one's mind to those happy days in which life presented problems of less appalling significance than now, and to gain the comforting assurance that those days will come again. This relief I know to be felt by readers as well as by writers of fiction. The second criticism upon which I should like to have my say is that the life I have depicted in those of my novels whose scenes are laid in the English country has been for some time a thing of the past, and after the war may be expected to disappear altogether. My American critics, kind as most of them are, often seem to accuse me of presenting an idyllic picture of a state of things which is based upon rotten foundations, and either of leaving out of account or of deliberately shutting my eyes to the rottenness. I should not accept either charge. If it were worth anybody's while to read through those novels of mine in which the economic conditions of English landholding are touched upon, I think he would find in the first place that I have nowhere defended whatever abuses may still attach to the system, but have frequently satirised them; and in the second place that economic questions play but a small part in my fictions. I think that if I had left such questions alone altogether there would be no criticism to meet. I could point to a dozen novelists who write about the same sort of people, living in the same surroundings, as I do, against whom it would not be brought, because they take the conditions for granted, and their readers take them for granted. If I touch upon such questions here and there it is because they interest me as factors in the lives of my characters; but they are not the factors which I have chosen as the main thesis of my novels, except in one instance. In "The Old Order Changeth" I did seek to reflect the renewal that is always going on in English landowning, and always has gone on since the beginning,—where the new men come in to dispossess the old; and the social disturbance that takes place at each such upheaval, before the new become absorbed in their turn into the old.