On Re-reading Evan Harrington
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On Re-reading Evan Harrington book
The 'Battle of the Bull-dogs', however, comes at the climax of the 'fourth act' of Evan Harrington; it is the delusive victory, snatched against cruel odds, which is to be reversed by nightfall; the earlier chapters, though rich and full, move more easily. Siegfried Sassoon, who, like the present writer, first made acquaintance with Meredith in the rich afterglow of his somewhat belated fame, when to taste his work, however negligently, was an obligation upon any young man or woman inclined to literature, describes his reaction on re-reading Evan Harrington after some twenty years. After the seventh chapter - this is the one in which Evan, under the weight of his mother's expectations, accepts the duty of paying his dead father's debts by the only way open to him, that of becoming a tailor - he decided that the novel 'was so far a classic performance; clear narration in ripe and sound English; rich material; the characters introduced with precision and with controlled gusto: and a sense of being conducted by admirably unhastened stages towards the development of events. At the end of the twelfth chapter I was feeling as comfortable as ever.' And he sums up his impression of the book with the words, 'a vintage flavour and the mellowness of an old master'. 3
The twelfth chapter describes the annual supper which Tom Cogglesby gives at the Green Dragon at Fallowfield to the locals and all chance-come visitors. We stand on the threshold of the Countess de Saldar's campaign at Beckley Court and of Evan's ordeal there, which cover the middle three acts of the comedy. Already the texture is thickening. We meet a number of characters not, as all previous ones have been, clearly connected with the Harringtons. They are the future agents and instruments of the family fate-Susan Wheedle, Drummond Forth, Harry Jocelyn and the Honourable Ferdinand Laxley; they are placed prospectively in position, but their relevance is not yet discerned; they are not yet fully identified, least of all to Evan. Retrospectively, we seem to have had hints enough, but at first reading they may well be submerged in the elaboration of the rural festivity and the
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characteristic accumulation of pressures - innate pride, general and immediate situation, chance, and large potations of good ale - that bring the hero to declare himself publicly the son of a tailor. By now the reader perceives that his pleasure is dependent upon his alertness.