A Captain Departed

byA. W. Smith
[Yale University Press, $2.50]
A CHILDHOOD in Russia, school days in England, Sandhurst, the Western Front, post-war campaigns to and fro across southern Russia, and a final touch of regimental duty in India — such is the opening panorama of life from which this Captain has departed. It was, so to speak, an amicable parting; and the break with this lively past marked not a disillusionment but a recognizing of the fact that in reality he had never been a part of it. As so often in the generation emerging from boyhood in 1914, life presented itself not as a following of the personal path or as a drifting with the natural current, but as a set of unimagined experiences forcing themselves quite impersonally upon the individual. Whatever the reaction, the experiences themselves came rather as mass-production phenomena achieved au hasard by unknown outward circumstances. A Cap-tain Departed accordingly is in no sense an autobiography, but a singularly vivid and sensitive record of this outer experience; more precisely, it is a record of scenes, episodes, memories, and passing states of mind which in some way failed to become experiences. The continuing impression of rather gray monotony is in sharp contrast to the vividness and sharpness of observation; the two together express with singular nicety the author’s interest, as an abseever, in scenes which remained alien and external.
This record of the attitude of mind of a specific generation has been set down in the style of the period — the telegraphic dot-and-dash prose which came in with (but outlived) the extreme short skirt of the 1920’s This broken manner is used in no slapdash fashion, but with the most workmanlike care and finish, and in comparison with most practitioners the author does not rely for his effect upon the lurid episode or a constant vociferation of the gros mot. In the style he has chosen he is as consistent and methodical as a French pointilliste; and he has the rarer gift of realizing the limits of an unflexible technique. Thus, the Western Front is renounced after a single episode-impression, and nearly always his subjects are chosen and treated with the same sense of restraint and fitness. The best, such as the minute sketch of a riot in India, stand as models of convincing writing.