Mr. Fortune's Maggot

by Sylva Townsend Warner. New York: The Viking Press. 1927. 12mo. viii+241 pp. 2.00.
WHEN Miss Warner’s publishers decided a year ago to bring out an American edition of her first novel, Lolly Willowes, so little faith did they have in a sophisticated public’s finding amusement in its whimsical, tenuous story that they purchased it in sheets from the British firm sponsoring it. No such lack of courage was displayed in the case of Mr. Fortune’s Maggot, nor indeed is there any reason for doubt that this second novel should follow the first through several editions.
The story discovers Mr. Fortune, a late recruit to missionary ideas, in the comparative opulence of a well-furnished South Pacific missionary community. There his peace of mind is arrested by the insistent urge to take up residence upon the island of Fanua among people who. in the words of Archdeacon Mason, ‘are like children, always singing and dancing, and of course immoral,’and who, worse still, ‘have no word for chastity or for gratitude.’ Despite the Archdeacon’s warning, Timothy spends seven delightful, unhurried years among the Fanuans, years in which he makes but a single convert and ends by losing his own Clod in an earthquake which destroys the still-cherished pagan idol of his convert. Filially Mr. Fortune leaves Fanua—for what better things, or worse, the reader is left to conjecture.
One searches far afield to discover anything approaching a parallel to Mr. Fortune’s Maggot. Unless it be Barrie, there is no one now writing with the courage to project such delightful whimsicality upon a world so sure of its literary sophistication. Vet Barrie hardly serves, for he would have emphasized his fancy, while Miss Warner’s effectiveness in moulding such slight material seems to lie wholly in her simple acceptance of its actuality. Just as in Lolly Willowes the strange experiences of the spinster were told as incontrovertible fact, so Mr. Fortune’s quiet adventures on Fanua are accepted so frankly by the author that the reader can never doubt their reality. Perhaps the parallel is to be found in Defoe, with Timothy, a more venerable and surely more naive Crusoe, displaying a Briton’s traditional refusal to indulge in that, mild surprise at strange sights and people which would have overcome a less stolid nature. No straining for odd effect, no departure from simple narrative style, assists the author in making Mr. Fortune a rare delight. Yet in the end he is just that, and one is bound to admit that Miss Warner has succeeded in controverting critics who rule that no second novel is ever so good as a first.