If Summer Don’t (1921)by Barry Pain

Title page of the first edition.

Here’s an odd one, It’s a parody, by the humorist Barry Pain of that mighty best-seller of 1921, If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson. My copy of Hutchinson’s novel was printed in March 1922, six months after the first publication in August 1921. It is the twentieth edition (which maybe means impression, but it’s still pretty impressive.)

Hutchinson’s book was not only huge best-seller, but was also taken seriously as a modern novel that said important things about England and the war. It hit the mood of the time precisely.

Pain’s introduction skewers the book on two grounds:

Firstly, though Nona is a real creation, Effie is an incredible piece of novelist’s machinery. Secondly, I detest the utilization of the Great War at the present day for the purposes of fiction. It is altogether too easy. It buys the emotional situation ready-made. It asks the reader’s memory to supplement the writer’s imagination. And this is not my sole objection to its use.

I think those are good objections. Hutchinson’s Effie, the poor persecuted mother of a war baby, is a creature from melodrama, not from observed life; and the war is definitely used (as, to be fair, in many other novles of the twenties) to hammer home the writer’s prejudices and to prove his point for him.

Pain’s hero is Luke Sharper, and he is very like Hutchinson’s Mark Sabre:

Luke Sharper. Age, thirty-four. Married, but not much. Private residence, Jawbones, Halfpenny Hole, Surrey. Favorite recreation, suffering.

Suffering indeed. Like Sabre he suffers from a bossy wife who does not understand him. Like Sabre he adores a lovely woman who happens to be married to an aristocratic rogue. Like Sabre he is unhappy and undervalued at work.

But whereas Sabre works for an educational publisher’s and finds an outlet for his soul in producing under-appreciated anthologies full of subtle but glorious patriotic feeling, Sharper works for a jam manufacturer. His literary output consists of books about jam-making; the first is called The Romance of the Raspberry. nobody wants to read these, though Jona (Hutchinson’s Mona transformed) likes to hear about them.

“Say some more,” she said, “I like to hear you talk, Funnyface. Funny old ears. Funny old cocoanut with, oh, such a lot of milk in it. You do think a lot of thinky thoughts, don’t you. And you put them all down in those dear little books of yours.”

Sharper has wider literary ambitions, and tells his wife a plot that has occurred to him. Previoully he had thought of witing his own biography, not as it was but as it ought to have been (i.e. with more admirable suffering).

He planned it all out in his mind. He pictured himself wrongly suspected, loathed by everybody (except Jona), suffering horribly, terribly ill. He thoroughly enjoyed it.

What he tells her is the Effie plot from the novel. He revels in the imaginary suffering, but Mabel, his practical wife, rips its implausibilities apart. This makes him suffer more, as does the spring cleaning with which she drives him out of the house, but you’ll be pleased to hear that he finds a happy ending of a sort.

Hutchinson’s book was famous enough for this parody to be published in America – though under the title If Winter Don’t. I suppose that helped Americans realise it was about If Winter Comes, but it misses the joke about the misery of Mabel’s spring-cleaning, which was so interminable that he feels summer will never arrive.

You can find the American edition on Project Gutenberg at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/27375/27375-h/27375-h.htm

These days few readers are likely to take Hutchinson’s novel seriously, but it is worth remembering that Ford Madox Ford was clearly sufficiently impressed to produce his own work following Hutchinson’s plot-pattern: A thoughtful old-fashined conservative, at odds with the vulgarity of modern life and with an incompatible wife, goes to war and suffers, and then becomes vilified because of an imagined sex-scandal with a younger woman. Ford, of course, did it all much better.

Not many novels earn the tribute of a full-length parody, and the existence of Pain’s book is evidence of the success of Hutchinson’s. The success might even have come as a surprise and embarrassment to Hutchinson himself, or so this 1923 Beerbohm cartoon suggests:

Beerbohm’s caption:
MR. A. S. M. HUTCHINSON, MUCH EMBARRASSED
Success! So this was she! In his youth he had often dreamed of her; but he had not imagined her quite like this. This was she! Success!

One symptom of Hutchinson’s success was that a spinoff ‘If Winter Comes’ song became popular, and, as I have writeen before, was in turn parodied by the wonderful Billy Bennett.

2 Comments

  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted July 17, 2021 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    As so often, you point me towards something new – thank you!

  2. Steve Paradis
    Posted July 20, 2021 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    “If Winter Comes” was filmed twice. The 1923 film seems to be lost; not so the 1947 one–updated to the second war.


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