Kitty V

I’ve finished the book. What interests me is the way that Warwick Deeping has mixed together so many of the familiar motifs from novels about healing men damaged by the war. These are:

  • The love of a good woman. Generous caring Kitty gives tough love and provides what his possessive mother could not.
  • The countryside. In London he was caged. By the river he can express himself.
  • A caring community. At his mother’s there were just paid servants and people who came out of obligation. At Kitty’s house there’s a small community who respect each other and work together.
  • Work and a sense of purpose. Essential to Alex’s cure is Kitty’s business, the tea-and-dancing place by the riverside. He loses his sense of futility because he identifies totally with the project, and knows he can contribute to it meaningfully.

I suspect Deeping had read his Kipling; if not, he certainly shared his philosophy. Kipling’s Masonic stories also offer work and a sense of purpose as a cure for the war-damaged. In Kipling’s imaginary Lodge – Faith and Works 5837 – in a converted garage just around the corner from Brother Burges’s tobacco shop, visiting war-wounded are set to work, one as an organist, though he has to be carried to the organ-loft, others to the recitation of ritual; the familiar words of the ceremony stir the memory of the Visiting Brother who had forgotten everything. It is important to both Brother Burges and to Kipling that they should be conducting the ritual for themselves, not having it done for them. This is a place of self-help and mutual help, not of top-down charity. The community is supportive, but gives men a chance to be useful through working –

“You’ll often find half-a-dozen brethren with eight legs between ‘em, polishing and ronuking and sweeping everything they can get at”

In Deeping’s novel, Alex finds self-respect from obsessive polishing of the dance-floor, and by finding a role as drummer in the dance band. His mother had given him a servant and surrounded him with useless luxuries; Kitty knows better, and wants him to stand on his own two feet (Yes, he does so literally at the end, as I bet you’d guessed).

Deeping doesn’t want us to miss this point, and breaks out of the fictional narrative with one of his authorial comments:

“For Alex was using his wits, and if more of the post-war neurasthenics had had Kitties to stimulate them, the failures would have been less dismal and less obvious… He cleaned knives, boots, silver, saucepans; he washed up dishes, peeled potatoes and split firewood…”

This isn’t a stupid philosophy. I suspect it made great sense to his readers – middle-class people who responded when he wrote about the romance of business and the rewards of work.

In the end I liked the book a lot more than I thought I would.

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