The Intellectual Generosity of John Buchan

As a change after the serious moralisings of Realities of War, I’ve been reading John Buchan’s Castle Gay (1930). It’s not one of Buchan’s very best – nothing like as resonant as The Three Hostages, which more and more seems to me one of the key novels of the 1920s – but it’s still a good read.

One thing that struck me was Buchan’s generosity to those he disagrees with politically. Dougal Crombie, who in Huntingtower (1921) led the Gorbals Diehards, and is clearly a character Buchan is very fond of, has by the time of this sequel become a committed Socialist. This is a long way from Buchan’s own views – he had made engaging fun of the Socialist Sunday Schools in Huntingtower – but he clearly respects the right of a character to have views of his own.

Similarly, in Mr Standfast, there is a pacifist who clearly stands against the values of the novel, but who demonstrates his courage without changing his convictions. In Huntingtower the disillusioned modernist poet Heritage (who wanted to title his book Drains, and regards the war as futile) is allowed to blossom into a hero.

This intellectual generosity and willingness to concede virtues to one’s political opponents is pretty rare in novels of the time, whether in thrillers, middlebrow novels or more literary works. The more I read of Buchan, the more I admire him.

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