chapter  74
1 Pages

C. Day-lewis, Review, 'listener', November 1938

The gist of this new play is a war-crisis between two countries, Westland and Ostnia, which represent the totalitarian and the monarchist-democratic state. It is not entirely the dwarfing effect of the recent crisis which makes 'On the Frontier' seem the least successful of the Auden-Isherwood plays: it possesses neither the vitality and invention of 'The Dog Beneath the Skin' nor the deeply realised moral conflict of 'The Ascent of F6'. Through the character of Valerian, the Westland industrialist, we are given a different but less subtle aspect of the problem of power than was offered by Michael Ransom in 'F6'. Charming, ironic, the complete a-moral Superman, Valerian is equally contemptuous of the common herd ('The truth is, Nature is not interested in underlings - in the lazy, the inefficient, the self-indulgent, the People'), and of the neurotic Leader whom his own wealth and cleverness have raised to power. The best scene in the play is the one where this Frankenstein loses control over his monster. A moment after deciding that he will propose to Ostnia a nonaggression pact, the Leader gets word of an incident on the frontier and declares war instead: up to this moment Valerian has been the absolutely dominant figure: now, in a flash, all his apparently infallible calculations fall