The George and the Crown

by Sheila Kaye Smith.New York: E. P. Dutton and Company. 1925. 12mo. xiv + 361 pp. $2.00.
WHY has Griselda become a man? Following an evident fashion, Miss Sheila Kaye-Smith, in The George and the Crown, has endowed a British male with all the virtues once thought appropriate for heroines. Her Daniel Sheather, a village innkeeper’s son, with a streak in him of romantic Channel-Island blood, has patience, fortitude, devotion, a sort of promiscuous domesticity (he is made not for love but ‘for marriage’), and the only thing he is said to do well is the household cooking. However, he is an engaging figure, not too good to be loved. He is a doormat under the insolent selfishness of relatives and friends; fate plays him tragic pranks, but his patience remains intact and convincing.
Here are none of the shrill eccentricities which have been used to make other male Griseldas interesting, from Simple Septimus to the Mark Sabre whose winter came and went. His creator keeps him solid and human because she has understanding and honesty. The George and the Crown is above all a notably honest book.
We are given the story of his pathetic loveaffair with the blowsy Belle, who belonged irrevocably to his friend and who came to him sometimes for comfort when she and her Ernley got on each other’s nerves. The tale has not the epic, the ‘Hardyesque’ qualities which criticism presumes to expect of its author. These people are neither peasants nor gentry. The impersonal element is not the solemn heath; it is the shattered social system of England. But, since the middle folk are coming to dominate the scene in England as elsewhere, the book gains in importance and immediacy, perhaps, as much as it loses in spaciousness.
Miss Kaye-Smith is not a writer of inevitably effective prose; her emotional scenes are in some rare instances perilously near to flatness. But her plain style at its best is firm and alive. The flight of Daniel to his ancestral islands and the miraculous interlude of his happiness there have passages of surprising beauty. In this Channel episode the narrator’s voice is less often thickened with useless place-names. For the most part, she is interested in people, not in words, and her simplicity, carries her thought with masterful confidence into subtle depths of soul.
In all its parts the story is admirably sustained, and Daniel Sheather, with ‘short defiant nose and English mouth,’ is a figure of truth any novelist might be glad to have us discover in his gallery. We leave him, still seeking, tireless in his Griselda virtues, and pay him the tribute of a heartfelt hope that he will find his homely comfort at last.