by Rose Macaulay. New York. Boni and Liveright. 1925. l2mo. viii+310 pp. $2.00.
A MORE delectable piece of fooling than Orphan Island would be hard to find. This tale is made up of preposterous episodes recounted with the most matter-of-fact gravity, and of satire like the fire of machine-guns.
Orphan Island is a community founded by Miss Charlotte Smith, a Mid-Victorian spinster shipwrecked while transporting fifty orphans from London to San Francisco. Born an autocrat, but hitherto unabetted by circumstance, she now finds herself supreme; and swiftly and firmly she establishes the traditions, social, political, and religious, of her Victorian girlhood.
Seventy years later there lands on the island a rescue party composed of Mr. Thinkwell of Cambridge, his sons Charles and William, the one a somewhat dilettante writer and the other a passionate naturalist, and his schoolgirlish daughter Rosamond. Miss Smith is now, at ninety-seven, a formidable tyrant ruling over two sharply divided castes: the Orphans, the vulgar, the offspring of the bereaved infants who sailed from London; and the Smiths, the lords of the island, the progeny of Miss Charlotte and her consort, the Irish ship’s-doctor, a sad dog, long since eaten by a shark and better forgotten. Whatever is comme il faut, in thought, speech, or action, is Smith; whatever is otherwise is Orphan; but Smith and Orphan alike are sternly dominated by the precepts taught to Miss Charlotte in her youth. Into this community, whose notion of contemporary England is derived from Wuthering Heights, comes the very modern Cambridge family.
The tale dances along, mocking, fantastic, and vivid. Certain pictures are indelible: the languid Charles Thinkwell, fleeing desperately from a huge, aggressive tortoise, which he tries to placate with smiles and ejaculations of ‘Good turtle! Nice turtle! Down, sir!’; Rosamond Thinkwell, an onlooker at the island ball, drunk with the soft island night and the strange Victorian tunes played by the island band, pulling off her shoes and stockings and hurling into the light wild dance on the grass in the moonlight; Miss Smith, arriving august at the feast fur the visitors, to the strains of ‘God Save the Queen,’ and later closing the revel with a somewhat reproving speech: ‘Innocent revelry’s one thing, sensual dissipation quite ‘nother. ‘Member, dear children, tomorrow’s the Sabbath. . . . No common, Orphan manners. . . .’
Three pleasing personages of the story are Flora Smith, exotically irresistible, the centre all the romance; Jean, the Scottish nurse, who, through seventy years of wearying for ‘hame, harae, and an Aberdeen haddock tae eat,’ keeps in Scottish silence the improper secret of Miss Smith’s past, to reveal it at last with Scottish inexorability at the Birthday Banquet; and William Thinkwell, the simple and direct, who at once asks the Orphans, ‘But I say, don’t you want to be rescued? We came here to rescue- you, you know.’ For the answer to this question, the reader must continue to the end of the book. There is no doubt that he will.