by Margot Asquith. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co. 1928. 12mo. 331 pp. $2.50.
THE Countess of Oxford and Asquith’s Octavia has been said to resemble the work of Jane Austen. In all humility, but with the utmost vociferuusuess, the present reviewer dissents from this judgment. It is true that the first few pages, and a subsequent paragraph or two, are Written if not in imitation at least in obvious mindfulness of the great Jane. But these passages are in a sharply different, key from the bulk of the book, to which they stand in rather arbitrary contrast. And, moreover, the slightly arid crispness of the countess is poles apart from the soft luminosity, as of candlelight, as of hawthorn-filtered sunlight, that mellows, without dulling, the shy wit of Jane. But to multiply points of unlikeness is futile; Octavia is no nearer to Jane Austen than it is to Michael Arlen.
In a novel built around the author’s bright image of his early self, a certain chirrup sometimes makes itself heard. Such a chirrup rises from the pages of Octavia, insistent as cricket fiddling in August. For the young Octavia is in so many particulars five young Margot of the Autobiography, and the incidents of the novel are in so many cases transcripts from that lively volume, that only wary readers will avoid inferences too large and identification not well founded,
Octavia is simply the best rider in England. She is beautiful. She is irresistible. Men of all ages and all temperaments, from the quiet Professor 1 lorncastle to live horsy young Tilbury, fall at her feet thick as leaves in Vallombrosa. She is a thinker, and finds most of her circle obtuse. In her middle teens aud earlier, her pronouncements upon life and other abstractions are incisive and rather acid. But when, at seventeen, she makes her triumphant sally into the world, her conversational style alters abruptly; it becomes ingenuous, tentative, questioning. In action, however, her decisiveness suffers no such eclipse.
The chapters that deal with Octavia’s hunting experiences are thoroughly absorbing, Here speaks, with most telling matter-of-factness, a past mistress of the sport. Those readers whose relations with horses are cordial but superficial will feel that their eyes have been opened by the countess’s equine characterizations; the portrait of Havoc, for instance, a horse of ’little conscience, no sense of humor . . . giddy and impressionable’; given to ’tortuous antics done out of swagger ; ’a silly horse, in short. In vitality and reality the hunting episodes far surpass the rest of the narrative.
Into the latter part of five book Aphrodite flits pertinaciously, only to be shown the door again and again. For her ultimate license to hold revel, she has to thank none other than Coventry Patmore, a passage from whose works, submitted to Octavia by the intuitive professor at just the right receptive moment, topples over that young rebel’s policy of austerity toward her husband. It is not unthinkable that the poet’s eyebrows might have risen as high as to his hair at the application made of his admonitory verses; however, the reader’s concern is not with him. but with the reclaimed Octavia.