The Hounds of Spring

by Sylvia Thompson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. (An Atlantic Monthly Publication.) 1926. 12mo. xii+264 pp. $2.00.
A SWEET and mellow English rural setting; a prosperous, happy English family, waking incredulously to the reality of war and later ravaged and shattered by it — this seems very familiar material. But in The Hounds of Spring it takes on extraordinary newness. This is a novel of much power. It is closely knit, with a firm hold on its central idea —the evil spiritual heritage of war. Certain pictures stamp themselves sharply and deeply on the reader’s memory: the young lovers, Colin and Zina, in their punt under the willow branches, remote and secure in their small heaven before the premonition of catastrophe has crept in like a cold stirring of wind; the scene of their parting, with its taut emotion and its restraint; the shell-shocked Colin, once so poised and strong, crying helplessly in the Strand, his nerves stampeded by the harsh jangling of a war-time tune on a barrel organ. The element of suspense is superbly managed; and, while expectation is deceived now and then, it is never cheated.
Rather strikingly for a novel so modern in spirit, this one has an almost even balance of interest between plot and psychology. The characters are drawn with humor and keenness, and are very living. At one point, and that a vital turning-point, there is a somewhat gross improbability — the too-quick despairing of Colin’s friends when he is reported by the War Office as ‘missing — believed killed ; but, with this substantial exception, the impression is of absolute truth and consistency. The sympathies and the frictions of family life are skillfully presented; as in the controlled resentment, almost; animosity, that grows up between the mother bereaved of her son and the daughter bereaved of her lover, and in the illusionless relation between the two sisters. Each portrait is clear-cut: Colin, the idealist, who, although he pays toll to the spiritual demoralization of his time, keeps a remnant of faith in the future; Zina, lovely and appealing, but with ‘parsimony of pain’ her only motive; her father, the Anglicized Austrian, who, with his dash of un-English sentimentality, is yet so sane, tolerant, and wise; his wife Cynthia, with her passion of love for her son and her cool, kind, critical affection for her daughters; young Wendy, at the beginning of the story a fat, greedy, and argumentative child, at the end a valiant, honest, clear-headed, ignorant, cocksure girl, type of the world’s perilous hope. The title, with all its beautiful suggestion, is grimly chosen, yet not altogether ironically. For there is at least ‘the half of a broken hope’ at the end. In the quiet, nobility of Colin’s talk with Wendy in the green moonlight under Magdalen Tower, in the wistful boy-and-girl groping of Wendy’s speculations with the Oxford youth in the midst of the clashing vulgarity of the Armistice gala night, there is a suggestion that the ‘battle against disenchantment’ which alone can save the world may already have begun.